The Link Between Pornography & Human Trafficking


In 2016, the National Human Trafficking Hotline found that 7,500 cases of human trafficking were reported that year —an increase from 5,526 cases that were reported in the previous year. The increase in human trafficking cases worldwide suggests a corresponding increase in demand. Examining the causes of the increase in both trafficking and demand is a critical step in effectively and systematically battling the issue of human trafficking. Today, we’ll take a magnifying glass to one of those causes -  the insidious, yet the inescapable link between pornography and human sex trafficking.


First, the basics.

Human sex trafficking is defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the cornerstone piece of human trafficking legislation in United States, as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or solicitation of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age” .

The definition of pornography is in flux as it changes to meet the ever-expanding global internet marketplace. Merriam-Webster, however, describes it in its most basic form as
“the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement”.

In the United States, adult pornography is a legal industry, globally generating about $13 billion annually. Meanwhile, sex trafficking in the United States is a decidedly illegal industry, generating about $99 billion annually.

How, then, are they connected?

This caustic and seemingly secret link manifests itself in many ways in the trafficking industry - from supply-and-demand to the incidental psychological effects of violent pornography.

According to Fight The New Drug, a few years ago a team of researchers compiled the 50 most popular porn films and analyzed the amount of aggression and violence found within each one. The movies contained a total of 304 pornographic scenes, 88% of which contained physical violence and 49% of which contained verbal aggression. What’s more is 95% of the victims in pornographic films responded in a neutral or positive manner to that violence.

A positive response to violence in pornographic films promotes a dehumanizing and aggressive idea of sexual behavior. When emotions of arousal are connected to violence and aggression, the brain learns to associate sexual behavior with those things, which can make viewers less compassionate to victims of sexual violence and exploitation. To make matters worse, when pornographic films show people enjoying violence and aggression, the viewer is led to believe that people enjoy being treated this way. This is certainly not the case for every individual, but a study done by the University of California did find that individuals who consume porn are more likely to support statements that promote abusive actions and aggressive sexual behavior towards women, suggesting a link between the consumption of porn and common attitudes toward others. Pornography has the power to increase the demand for sex trafficking, as viewers can become increasingly absorbed in acting out what they see on screen.

In addition to spurring demand, pornography is a force harmfully wielded within the sex industry. Victims of sex trafficking reported being forced to watch porn in order to learn what they will be expected to do. Further than being used essentially as a training manual for victims, pornography is also often times utterly indistinguishable from sex trafficking. Nearly half of sex trafficking victims report that pornography was made of them while they were in bondage. This content can be used for financial gain as an online product or as an advertising tool, with the viewer none the wiser on the true story behind the camera.  

Pornography has hit us like a tsunami of dehumanizing sexual violence and the impact of it continues to be hotly contested and certainly controversial. I encourage you to see this as a launching pad for your own research into this topic. Consider looking into the data on Fight The New Drug, an organization providing information on the corrosive nature of pornography. Additionally, you can check out the Typology of Modern Day Slavery from the Polaris Project to learn more about the causes of sex trafficking and ways you can spot it and stop it.

Are you struggling with a pornography addiction, or know someone who is? Stay tuned to the Dressember blog for resources to help overcome porn addiction.


About the Author

Torie Pfau

Torie Pfau is a tiny person with big dreams. She loves telling stories, trying new recipes, and exploring the world.