How is porn related to sex trafficking?

We’ve been talking in the month of April in our Monday series on porn and how to recover from it. We started by talking about the effects of porn; we looked at 4 things you had to do if you spouse used porn, and then yesterday we turned to the 4 stages of recovery in porn use. (Plus we’ve had a lot of extra posts about porn!).

I’ve been trying to show that porn harms your brain, your sex life, your sex drive, your sexual response, your libido, and so much more, plus it does tremendous emotional damage to the spouse of the porn user.

But one of the things I’ve also said repeatedly, both in posts and in the comments, is that even if you don’t believe any of that, porn is wrong because real people are being hurt. Porn is heavily implicated in sex trafficking.

I asked Connor to do some research into this, and write a post for me on porn’s effects on the human trafficking industry, and here we go!

Trigger Warning

This post will be discussing porn and its relationship to sexual trafficking. It will involve acknowledgements of sexual violence, manipulation, underage exploitation, and rape. If you have experienced a related trauma in the past, or are otherwise concerned about about how you might react to a discussion of these topics, this post may not be for you. I will not be going into graphic detail, nor will I be including testimonies from porn actors and actresses who were trafficked. There are other sites dedicated to fighting porn, such as Fight the New Drug that include such stories for those who are interested in hearing their perspective, but be warned, it can be pretty upsetting. Finally, there will be no sudden twists in the post. As long as you read the headings, you will know what is coming up, and can decide whether to read on from there.

This is not going to be a fun post

It will be informative. It will hopefully be helpful. But it will not be fun.

I am a cheerful, easygoing kind of guy, who likes to find light and humour even in dark situations. Things don’t bother me. Things don’t get to me. But researching this and writing about it leaves me feeling just… heavy. I struggled for a whole day with how to convey the information while still keeping things relatively light, only to conclude that I can’t. With everything I have learned about the realm of sex trafficking, I am personally convinced that it is the single most vile and depraved thing the world has to offer. This is a heavy topic, but that is all the more reason that we SHOULD be talking about it.

I am not here to heap guilt on the shoulders of those who already feel convicted about their porn use, but to start a conversation. If you have been struggling with the temptation of porn, this might motivate you to work on improving, or to just drop it altogether. If you know someone else who is struggling, or who simply doesn’t see the harm in watching porn, encourage them to read this post.

With all of that preamble out of the way, let’s get right into it.

Truth about Porn's Role in Sex Trafficking

Pornography is not just an individual problem

Last week, I wrote about how the consequences of porn use are serious, but not cataclysmic or irreparable for porn users themselves. But you are not the only one affected by the images you look at. The porn industry and the sex trafficking industry have a troubling and symbiotic nature, such that you can’t feed into one without feeding into the other. To boil the relationship down into three key points:

  • Porn increases the demand for sex trafficking,
  • porn uses sex trafficking, and
  • porn determines what happens to the victims of sex trafficking.

What is Sex Trafficking?

The accepted definition of sex trafficking as laid out in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) defines sex trafficking as when: “a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age. [1] A commercial sex act is “any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person. [1]

Sex trafficking, then, doesn’t just apply to the typical mental image of starving women chained up in a shipping container or drug den. People who drive themselves home from a porn shoot with a paycheck in hand are also victims of sex trafficking if at any time they were incited to do anything with which they were not comfortable.

Where is Sex Trafficking?

It’s everywhere. It’s a lot more common than we typically think, even in America, the Land of the Free. In fact, America is one of the larger hubs for sex trafficking [2] Despite being a hugely under reported crime, in 2018, the National Human Trafficking Hotline still identified 8,498 active cases of sex trafficking and 16,137 survivors [3]. And not just the “driving home with a paycheck” kind.

It’s not just people brought to America from other countries, either. In fact, the majority of victims of sex trafficking (especially minors) are U.S. Citizens [4]. This is a problem that is right on our doorstep.

Who is the typical victim of sex trafficking?

Kids right from our communities. I will talk more about some risk factors later, but in terms of demographics in the states it is mostly young American girls. In 2008, There were believed to be at least 100,000 victims of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) in America [2] and 4 in 5 victims are female [3]. That was over a decade ago, and sex trafficking is currently the fastest growing illegal industry. This next statement really turns my stomach though. The average age of people trafficked into prostitution are 11-14 years old, and most females are dead (killed) within 7 years. The leading cause is homicide, followed by AIDS [3, 4].

I repeat, children all over the country are being tricked, coerced, or abducted into prostitution, only to be murdered before they reach adulthood.

So trafficking is bad, and I feel sick. Let’s move on to the core of this post.

How is porn related to trafficking?

Earlier, I laid out three connections that I want to expand on. There are other connections to be made, like the fact that youth who come from homes where they or another household member uses porn are at greater risk being involved with trafficking as a victim or a perpetrator, but these three are major unavoidable factors.

1) Porn increases the demand for sex trafficking

Porn is an advertisement for sex trafficking, both figuratively and literally. The sexual acts depicted in porn and what people generally experience in real relationships are quite different. Porn depicts sexual encounters that are faster, longer, and often performed by surgically and digitally enhanced people.

In consensual porn, all participants seem to love everything that happens to them, even when it is painful, violent, or degrading in nature. In porn that is… less consensual (let’s call it what it is: rape porn or revenge porn), one or more people can generally get away with whatever sexual and aggressive acts they want, consequence-free. There is porn to satisfy every taste and every fetish.

Porn finds a lot of appeal to people in providing a sexual fantasy that they likely cannot satisfy in their real world relationships. Real people have likes and dislikes. Not everything feels good, and many would prefer most forms of pain stay far away from the bedroom and their sensitive parts. Good sex takes time and understanding and work.

But porn provides an alternate reality of sex that promises maximum selfish intensity with less need for effort or empathy. Over time, many porn users find themselves seeking novel kinds of porn, to keep the same level of excitement. Eventually, for some, just watching is not enough. They want to act out what they have seen in porn, or to indulge their niche tastes. That’s where prostitution comes in.

However violent or degrading a person’s sexual desires may be, there are ‘services’ out there that will sell them time with someone who is expected to provide the experience they want. All too often, what the prostitute feels comfortable with, and what the buyer (referred to as a john) expects do not align. And if the john feels he is being deprived of what he feels entitled to, things can turn violent or forceful. In many other situations, the prostitute never had a choice to begin with, being forcefully drugged and locked in a room by the pimp.

And how do people connect with these ‘services?’ It’s often through the porn sites themselves. Almost all of the ads on porn sites are either for more porn, or for paid sex services. And there is a reason for that:

Porn sites funnel traffic toward traffickers.

Now one could argue that as long as they aren’t buying sex themselves, they are not supporting trafficking when they watch porn, which is a great time to bring up my next point.

2) Porn uses sex trafficking

I don’t just mean the ad revenue that porn sites get from prostitution ads whenever you watch free or paid content. I mean trafficking runs rampant in porn itself.

A reminder: the legal definition of trafficking is inducing someone to perform a commercial sex act using force, fraud, or coercion. The best case scenario is that a porn actor or actress who is their own free person, and who only ever engages in sex acts they are comfortable performing. Is that totally free of coercion? When your boss asks you to do something, do you feel free to say “I don’t feel like it. Not today?” Or do you feel your boss may threaten to dock your pay or fire you? If your food and rent is dependent on getting your next pay check, how free do you feel to say no to the guy paying you?

But it’s not usually the best case scenario. When actors show up to a professional porn shoot, they are required to do consent interviews at the beginning to explain what they do and do not feel comfortable with, and exit interviews at the end to confirm whether everything that happened was consensual. But they don’t get paid until after the exit interview.

Here’s the thing. If a women says there was anything that she wasn’t okay with, the shoot is unusable, and she doesn’t get paid. What’s more, if she tries refusing an act or asking to stop during the shoot (for example because of pain or injury), she will often be threatened. Her agent may threaten to cancel her other bookings because it makes him look bad, and the production company may threaten not to hire her again, and to tell other companies to avoid her as well. porn stars have even been threatened with legal action for refusing to complete a shoot. Nobody in the porn industry wants to work with someone who ‘difficult’ and won’t do whatever they are told. So they lie. There is pretty much no way to know if someone in a porn video actually felt safe and consenting for the whole thing.

Furthermore, it is common for people in porn to be on various narcotic substances on and off the set to help them cope with pain and abuse they have to endure to get paid. The result can be a vicious cycle, because a trafficker can exploit a drug dependency for more control. If you don’t believe a drug addiction alone is enough to motivate unwilling people to disregard their sexual comfort zone, look at Joe Exotic from the Tiger King documentary, who got not one but TWO straight boys to marry him because he fuelled their meth addiction.

And this is not the worst of it. Porn is very frequently used by traffickers to break and control their victims. Videos will not just be used to desensitize them to the violence and humiliation their trafficker wants them to endure, but they will often be filmed in sex acts against their will and have the video uploaded to the internet to serve as blackmail. They are also forced into pornographic shoots, both legitimate and illegitimate, to produce videos that serve to advertise themselves to potential johns. Sometimes the actresses you see on screen from ‘reputable’ porn studios are going back to a locked room in a basement so they can be sold out to the new customers they brought in.

Find freedom from porn!

Your marriage, and your thought life, do not need to be held captive to pornography.

There is freedom. 

Beat porn–together!

3) Porn determines what happens to victims of sex trafficking

Finally, the point that gets to me the most. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t paying a cent to porn, if you only watch porn with 100% consensual enthusiastic adults, or if you only consume porn in animated or game form without any real people in it, and here is why.

Traffickers look to porn for inspiration. They look at what people are watching to see what they should offer to customers. They make their victims watch the videos, look at the pictures, or read the stories to instruct and educate them in how to do the things that will be demanded of them. Your browser history is their consumer research. And this happens very commonly with the kinds of traffickers who have children and teens hooked on drugs and locked away, because they have full control.

Even the most niche or extreme desires will have traffickers catering to them because there is a better chance of cornering the market. What’s more, animated and literary porn can cater to fantasies that push or exceed the limits of the human body, which leaves sex slaves as the primary way to live out those fantasies. And don’t forget, the average victim of sex trafficking is starts at 11-14. That means there will be some who are older, but there will also be a proportionate amount who are younger.

If you take nothing else away from this article, please remember this. Whatever sex act is depicted in the porn you consume, there will be a sex trafficker in your own country who is inspired to force a little girl or boy to perform it. There is a reason the average victim of sex trafficking doesn’t live to see their 18th birthday.

Can we please let the facts about human trafficking change how we think about porn?

I can not stress enough how hard it was to educate myself on this topic and to write this post. The rabbit hole goes so deep and there is so much pain. Especially as a father, I struggled to find the motivation to keep reading and keeping researching. As Rebecca can attest, this has just had me ruined for a few days while I wrote it, but I am glad I did. I think this is a conversation that should be happening a lot more because there are women and children (and men) who need light shed on their plight.

I hope this changes the way you think about the porn industry. If you are up for it, I encourage you to read some of the stories out there from people who have been rescued from the sex trafficking industry. Just before the sources, I will leave an infographic from the University of New England with some more stats.

And remember–if you are struggling with porn, you CAN beat this. Please check out Covenant Eyes–they have great filters and accountability tools, plus a ton of ebooks and online communities to help you in your journey. Plus you can protect  your kids as well. You get a month free when you sign up with Sheila’s link!

P.S. To leave you with one last thought, Fight the New Drug has a t shirt that says “Porn is to Trafficking as Cigarettes are to Cancer,” and while I don’t know that I would wear that out to the grocery store, I think it is a great analogy. Your second hand smoke can do nothing but harm to the ones around you, and though you won’t necessarily get cancer if you smoke, the more smoking people do, the more lung cancer there will be.

Human Sex Trafficking: An Online Epidemic #infographicYou can also find more infographics at Visualistan


  1. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106–386, Section 102(a), 114 Stat. 1464.
  2.  Polaris Project. (n.d.) 2018 U.S. national human trafficking hotline statistics. https://polarisproject.org/2018-us-national-human-trafficking-hotline-statistics/
  3. Hornor, G. (2015). Domestic minor sex trafficking: What the PNP needs to know. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 29(1), 88-94.
  4. Kotrla, K. (2010). Domestic minor sex trafficking in the United States. Social work55(2), 181-187.

Has this changed how you see porn? What stood out to you the most? Let’s talk in the comments!

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