Former Congresswoman Linda Smith, now with Shared Hope International, says the burden to satisfy commercial sexual demand falls heavily on children. Half of global trafficking victims are children. Smith's research shows that the average age at which a girl is forced into prostitution is between 11-14. Children may be at greater risk for sexual exploitation now than at any time in history.
Children are primed to accept pornography and sex trafficking through the messages they encounter daily in media and pop culture. Modern music glorifies the lives and actions of pimps. The Kaiser Family Foundation has found that the TV shows most popular with teens also feature the highest numbers of sexual situations.The Kaiser Family Foundation. Sex on TV 4. 2005 Pg. 56. http://www.kff.org/entmedia/upload/Sex-on-TV-4-Full-Report.pdf The RAND Corporation found that greater exposure to sexualized messages on TV correlates to higher rates of sexual activity and pregnancy.The Rand Corporation. Research Highlights: Does Watching Sex on Television Influence Teens' Sexual Activity? 2004. http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/2005/RB9068.pdf The sexualization of teens and young children, especially young girls, prompted the American Psychological Association to issue a report on the danger of over-sexualizing young girls.American Psychological Association. Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. 2007. http://www.apa.org/pi/wpo/sexualizationrep.pdf
The pornography industry encourages this sexualization of children. A common genre of porn, known as "barely legal," purports to feature girls who have just crossed the legal age of 18, but who are still innocent and needing sexual training. Gail Dines, a professor of sociology and women's studies at Wheelock College, calls this type of porn
Some experts also believe that early exposure to pornography normalizes the idea that sex is a commodity, thereby increasing the demand for trafficking victims. The concern, according to Dines, is that, "We've never before brought up an entire generation of boys on pornography.” One research study found that 93 percent of boys and 62 percent of girls had been exposed to Internet pornography by the age of 18. The average age of exposure to Internet pornography for boys is 14.3 and 14.8 for girls.5Chiara Sabina, Janis Wolak, David Finkelhor, “The Nature and Dynamics of Internet Pornography Exposure for Youth,” CyberPsychology & Behavior. December 2008, 11(6): 691-693.
Melissa Farley, a leading anti-trafficking researcher, connects use of pornography to an increase in demand for commercial sex. She told Focus on the Family that "pornography is men's rehearsal for prostitution." Pornography promotes the message that women exist to serve men sexually and have little worth apart from what they can offer through sex. When men can't convince or force their girlfriends or wives to act out what is shown in pornography, they often turn to prostitution to satisfy their deviant sexual desires.
The women who find themselves in the world of prostitution and sex trafficking live a miserable existence. They are often forced to "service" dozens of men each day, and suffer physical, verbal or sexual abuse if they don't comply. A U.S. survey of more than 2,000 prostituted women over a 30-year period found that the most common causes of death were homicide, suicide, drug and alcohol-related issues, HIV infection and accidents. The homicide rate among active female prostitutes was 17 times higher than for women in the general population.Canadian Medical Association Journal. (2004, July 24). "Prostitution laws: health risks and hypocrisy." Another study found that 68% of prostitutes studied in nine countries were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Farley, M. (Ed.). (2003). Prostitution, trafficking, and traumatic stress. Binghamton, NY: The Hayworth Maltreatment and Trauma Press.
Sex trafficking may seem to be a distant problem – not one that occurs in our own backyard. Yet, feeder industries that create the demand for commercial sex exist all around us. Adult bookstores, strip clubs and porn shops are present in many communities, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such businesses can be regulated and zoned away from churches, schools, parks and residences due to the negative secondary effects they can cause. It will be difficult to end sexual trafficking without also taking significant steps to curb pornography and sexually oriented businesses.