Digging Deeper: The Seamless Fabric that Fuels the Demand for Sex Trafficking

To some, the commercial sex industry is a whole cloth, seamlessly interwoven with  prostitution, pornography, stripping and all other forms of commercial sexual exploitation  all part of this same fabric. If we want to understand how sex trafficking has exploded into the fastest growing business of organized crime in the world, http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/march_2011/human_sex_trafficking we need to look at all the aspects of the commercial sex industry

In the business of commercial sex, pornography serves as the marketing vehicle. Or, as Morality in Media President r Patrick Trueman, a former pornography prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice, testified before a congressional subcommittee several years ago, "Pornography is a powerful factor in creating the demand for illicit sex."

Experts say pornography consumers develop sexual addictions and desires for the types of sex depicted in explicit material. Men then demand this from their wives—or find other, more willing sexual partners. Some young prostituted women learn how to "perform" by mimicking what they are shown in pornography. Many sexual predators use pornography to show children what they want them to do. Virtually all collectors of child pornography, some experts say, are also molesters of children.

Something else the porn industry doesn't advertise is the tremendous overlap among porn stars, strippers and prostitutes. It's not unusual for the same women to engage in all three. Dr. Barrett Duke, vice president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, views it as a continuum.

"If you look at the progression of women who begin in the pornography industry, maybe they'll start out in the strip clubs or something like that, and they stay there for a while," Duke told Focus on the Family's Citizen Magazine. "But as they move further along in this sexual exploitation timeline, as they become older and of less interest, they end up moving into some of the other more degrading forms of sexual exploitation."

Like sex traffickers who often get their victims hooked on drugs and alcohol to more easily perpetuate the cycle of violence, drug and alcohol addiction eventually becomes a vicious circle for most involved in the commercial sex industry.  It takes drugs and alcohol to numb their conscience, and then it takes more sexual exploitation to support those addictions.

Dr. Donna M. Hughes, professor of women's studies at the University of Rhode Island, estimates from her research that at least a third of women in prostitution have been involved in the making of pornography and that patrons of prostitution are twice as likely to be porn users.

"That can be everything from sort of amateur stuff, where a john brings his camera and wants to take pictures, to some of the women who may be stars for a few months in the pornography industry," Hughes told Focus on the Family. "And where do they go after they've had their few months of stardom with a couple of movies? They usually go into stripping, which usually then just turns into prostitution."

It was Hughes who first used the term "seamless fabric" language.

"The categories we have for things like pornography, stripping, prostitution—we tend to think of them as really separate categories," she said. "But if you're actually in the sex industry, they're quite seamless. There are so many variations that I think our old categories are rather obsolete."

Feminist researcher Dr. Melissa Farley agrees. "The more distinctions we make about what johns and pimps do, the more we're letting them win," she told Focus on the Family. "Just because there's a camera in the room doesn't mean it's not prostitution."

Until we realize the seamless nature of the commercial sex industry – and take steps to limit the supply of the commercial sex industry – we will continue to see the dark work of sex trafficking grow and thrive.

In her 2007 book Prostitution & Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connections, Farley quoted Roger Young, a retired Nevada FBI agent who participated in major pornography investigations: "What happened to common sense? The fact that there is a camera filming the prostitution doesn't change the fact of the prostitution. Pornography is essentially a crime scene surveillance tape. You can't say to someone, hey, let's go rob a bank, but if we film it, then it won't be robbery."

"Pornography is men's rehearsal for prostitution," Farley told Focus on the Family.

Trueman, who has dealt with numerous sexual predators and addicts, confirms this view from his own experience. "They'll all tell you, they got into pornography, and that led them to the strip club," he said. "And that led them to the prostitute. … They get into pornography, they get into sex, they get into using trafficked women."

While estimates vary, experts told Focus on the Family that the average age of entry into prostitution has fallen to 12 to 14 years. The seamless fabric of the commercial sex industry represents a huge and growing threat to America's youth.

Growing Market

We now know that the issue of sex trafficking isn't just an international problem.  American children are victims of the sex trade, and they are being trafficked within the United States.

Many are runaways or "throwaways"—kids neglected or abandoned by their families—who trade sex for survival.

The problem is particularly acute in "hub" cities for sexual trafficking, such as Atlanta and Las Vegas. Since 1994, Shared Hope International has documented nearly 1,500 sexually trafficked minors in Las Vegas coming from 40 states—as many as 400 on the streets at one time.

Former Congresswoman Linda Smith founded Shared Hope International to expose the growing problem of domestic minor sex trafficking. Smith told Focus on the Family pornography is a prime gateway for children to become exploited.

"When they start, they think they're in control," she said. "But once they get into the porn industry, that girl is going to be in trouble. She will become a forced prostitute in most cases if she continues. Now, it could be one act that somebody convinces her to do, and she wishes she hadn't. But once that's out there, she's victimized over and over again by people seeing her moment of vulnerability—or maybe stupidity."

Curb the Demand

Daniel Weiss, founder of The Brushfires Foundation (a non-profit ministry helping those impacted by sexual brokenness), laid major blame on the tolerance of porn, which in turn fuels demand for illicit sex.

"There is no difference between porn, prostitution and sex trafficking," Weiss said. "Together they form a seamless fabric of exploitation and abuse. If we ignore the threat of pornography, as is happening today with law enforcement agencies throughout the nation, we allow the sexual exploitation of women and children in the criminal sex industry to flourish."

Lisa Thompson of the Salvation Army agrees: "I think we need to completely retool how we're conceptualizing pornography," she told Focus on the Family. "Pornography is prostitution for mass consumption."

When the Salvation Army was founded by William and Catherine Booth in the 19th century, a major part of its original ministry to the downtrodden of London was rescuing "fallen women" from prostitution. That's still part of its mission.

Thompson, the Salvation Army's liaison for Abolition of Sexual Trafficking, challenges people not to discount the plight of adult women. Considering the falling age of entry into prostitution, she said, that 22-year-old street prostitute may have been victimized nearly half her life. "She's grown up in prostitution," Thompson said.

The Salvation Army works with communities and law enforcement agencies to provide support services for "survivors" of prostitution. But Thompson said "the church has really got to step up" and start dealing with this issue in a big way—prevention programs for children, more sex-addiction treatment programs for adults.

She noted that one of the biggest sex-trafficking cases in recent years involved girls and women being trafficked out of Toledo, Ohio, along truck routes across America. Two of the girls—cousins, 14 and 15—were abducted right off the street in Toledo and forced to become truck-stop prostitutes.

"If Toledo, Ohio, is a hotbed for recruitment of prostitution, it's time for the heartland of America to wake up," Thompson said. "I mean, we're not talking about Vegas or New York City or Atlantic City— places that we associate with vice. We're talking about good old apple-pie middle America."

Thompson and others are convinced that just arresting women doesn't work, and results in victimizing them all over again. They want to see more resources aimed at helping the girls, and more pressure on the demand side of the sex trade—the buyers and users.

"It is a severe injustice when American girls are held in physical and mental slavery and then punished for the crime that is committed against them," said Shared Hope's Linda Smith.

Fighting Against the Injustice

Barrett Duke longs for a complete about-face that sends pimps and pornographers "back into the shadows."

"We've got to find a way," he said. "The good people in this country are going to have to say 'we've had enough.' The good people of this country have got to start fighting back."

That fight, Duke said, should begin with pornography. "In a lot of ways, pornography is the gateway to most of the sexual deviancy that we're seeing in this country."

And the church should lead the fight. "It's time for pastors to start calling sin 'sin,' start calling pornography 'sin' and start developing programs in churches that can help men— and women— caught up more and more in pornography," Duke said, "and begin to provide help groups, counseling and other kinds of services to help make people aware of sexual addiction and help them come out of sexual addiction."

But it may get worse before it gets better.

Dr. Gail Dines, a professor of sociology and women's studies at Wheelock College in Boston, has written and spoken on what she calls "pseudo" child pornography, the "barely legal" type of porn that appeals to fantasies about sex with children. She points to studies confirming the sinister nature of this growing market for teen porn as a gateway to child porn and pedophilia. "For some of these men [in one study], the teen sites were just a stepping stone to the real thing, as they moved seamlessly from adult women to children," Dines said.

"We've got a whole generation of men now who are aroused by [images] that look like children," Dines said. "We've never before brought up an entire generation of boys on pornography. The average age of downloading their first pornography is about 11-years old."

To Smith, the battle has become very personal. Besides her relationships with a number of girls Shared Hope has helped to rescue, she's also concerned for young boys she says are being lured by the sex industry. She said Shared Hope has confirmed reports by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children that some Internet pornographers are using misleading domain names, spam, pop-ups, tracking and other high-tech tricks directed at boys 8- to 12-years old.

"We found over 5,000 sites with key words and phrases that are associated with selling to kids, and in those it's very clear they're marketing the images to boys," she said. "I just cried, 'That's the age of my grandsons. They're after my grandsons.' They all play sports, and they all go online, and they all play these games, and they're typing them and sending them porn."

The fight against sex trafficking is similar to the long battle that William Wilberforce undertook to end the slave trade in Great Britain. It took time to change public perception, but ultimately the tide of opinion changed.

"We're intending to go to war against the victimization of our children," Smith said.

Portions of this article were written by Stephen Adams and originally appeared in A Grassroots Guide to Protecting Your Community from Pornography, published in August 2008.

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