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Human Trafficking Education

Porn and Human Trafficking: The Facts You Need to Know

By August 26, 2021No Comments

When it comes to sex trafficking, many people know that it can happen in the prostitution industry. But how are porn and human trafficking related?

Sex trafficking hides in brothels and hotels, where “johns” (people who pay for sex) can purchase time with a trafficked individual to exploit them. But there are other forms of sex trafficking outside of forced prostitution. The commercial sex industry is diverse. Human trafficking occurs in each sector, especially within the pornography industry.

How are porn and human trafficking related?

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines human trafficking as any situation in which “force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control” are used to exploit another person. If any of these qualifiers are present, it’s human trafficking.

In the porn industry, human trafficking takes multiple forms. Unfortunately, because of the way porn is produced and distributed, trafficking can be hard to identify.

What trafficking looks like in the porn industry

Trafficked individuals are often exploited in more than one way. Some traffickers take pornographic photos of victims as a means of control, threatening to shame them by exposing the photos to their families. Traffickers then sell the content by uploading it to porn sites while simultaneously exploiting the victims through prostitution.

In other cases, survivors are exploited solely for the purpose of producing pornography. If a minor is involved in commercial sexual activity, it is classified as human trafficking — without question or exception. This means exploitation through child sexual abuse (sometimes referred to as child pornography) can always be classified as sex trafficking.

At The Exodus Road, we take this kind of trafficking very seriously. In Operation SCOPE, our investigators encountered online exploitation of children first-hand. Operatives provided police with evidence that the trafficker was selling pornographic content featuring four teenage victims. The trafficker was arrested and is now facing charges. Today these young girls are free and have been restored to their families.

How common is human trafficking in the porn industry?

Data from Webroot Cybersecurity estimates that 28,258 users are watching pornography every second, and 35 percent “of all Internet downloads are related to pornography.”

High rates of consumption mean high demand. It’s important to pay attention to what consumers are looking for.

In one study, data aggregated from 400 million web searches revealed that the most popular term related to sexual searches was “youth.” One of the most searched terms on popular porn site Pornhub is “teen.” This term has remained in the top ten for six years.

It’s clear that the demand for child sexual abuse content is high. As previously stated, this material always counts as sex trafficking.

The UK-based nonprofit Internet Watch Foundation works globally to identify, remove, and disrupt online child sexual abuse material. Internet Watch Foundation receives and processes data from reporting portals hosted across four continents and 50 nations. In 2019, IWF assessed 132,676 URLs that they could confirm offered access to child sexual abuse imagery. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which serves as the “clearinghouse for child pornography reports” in the US, receives an average of one million reports each month.

In the last several years, Internet Watch Foundation’s research has also revealed a trend in the creation of “self-generated child sexual abuse content.”

Self-generated child sexual abuse cases involve “children [who] are groomed, deceived, or extorted into producing and sharing a sexual image or video of themselves,” which is then uploaded and distributed across pornography sites.

– Internet Watch Foundation

In 2019, approximately 29 percent of 132,676 web pages analyzed by Internet Watch Foundation contained “self-generated” content. Even if it seems to be created by the child, this is still human trafficking. When porn is distributed, companies that own porn websites profit from the sexual abuse of these children.

Adults can also be groomed, coerced, or manipulated into producing “self-generated” content. Data behind child porn consumption provides a glimpse of how widespread human trafficking is within this industry. However, it is not a complete picture. The pressure for porn actresses and actors to appear consensual makes it difficult to differentiate consent versus coercion.

Any time pornography is produced and distributed at the expense of an individual, against their will, human trafficking has occurred.

The 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report from The U.S. Department of State highlighted an example of this. The report revealed that some traffickers in Asia pose as model or actor agencies. They use “fraudulent recruitment techniques to coerce Japanese men, women, and girls into signing vague contracts and then threaten[ing] them with legal action or the release of compromising photographs to force them to participate in pornographic films.”

Even in the mainstream porn entertainment industry, recruiting and employing actors and actresses can involve deception, threats, and drug use. Porn producers sometimes act as pimps on the side, selling their performers as escorts.

In 2020, Derek Hay, owner of porn entertainment agency LA Direct Models, was one of several defendants “charged with pandering” in accounts of “unlawfully [procuring people] for the purpose of prostitution.” Porn actresses attested to being pressured by Hay into prostitution through a partnering business. They were threatened with repercussions upon refusal. The four women who filed initial complaints remained anonymous for fear of facing “retaliatory physical or mental harm and the ruin of their careers by a powerful industry insider.”

These actresses are survivors of human trafficking. This is just one known example of what could be thousands of undocumented cases of trafficking in the commercial porn industry.

A phone emerges from underneath a blanket on a bed.

What about porn content on free websites?

According to Internet Watch Foundation’s research, 95 percent of the nearly 133,000 URLs assessed were hosted on platforms where it is free to create an account and upload porn.

Free accounts do not mean that no one is profiting. Approximately “90 percent of free porn websites and nearly 100 percent of pay porn websites buy their material” from an outside source. If traffickers upload exploitive content of trafficked individuals for free, website owners still profit from the traffic generated.

This is where the line between legal pornography and human trafficking becomes blurry. Several of the world’s most popular porn sites have been found to host illegal content alongside legal content.

You can see an example of this in a recent campaign launched against Pornhub. Pornhub is arguably the largest porn website in the world. Responding to the extensive library of illegal material on the site, thousands of voices have advocated for the website to be shut down.

Types of content Pornhub profits from include cases of human trafficking, with over 100 confirmed cases displaying child sexual abuse (according to an Internet Watch Foundation investigation). With approximately 42 billion visits annually, Pornhub profits millions each year from illegal and abusive content.

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The Truth about Sex Trafficking

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Porn has a global impact on human trafficking.

Globally, porn is a 97 billion dollar industry. The US accounts for 12 billion of it. In 2017, the International Association of Internet Hotlines (INHOPE) “traced online child sexual abuse material to over 70 countries,” and more than 60 countries in 2018. With the majority of porn accessible online, pornography featuring an overseas trafficking survivor is just a search away.

Though human trafficking looks different in the porn industry than in the prostitution industry, data makes it clear that it is happening.

The scale of human trafficking can seem daunting, but at The Exodus Road, we know that every rescue and every arrest matters. We keep fighting for the sake of the four young girls rescued from exploitation in Operation Scope, and for the sake of the many survivors still enduring abuse who deserve freedom.

For the last decade, The Exodus Road has become an expert in helping police find and free survivors of human trafficking and arrest traffickers for legal prosecutions. You can partner with us to help find and free people around the world who are trapped in human trafficking.