Thursday, May 23, 2019

On Human Trafficking and Pornography

            I have found myself wondering lately, concerning the attention our culture pays to slavery of the past, while we seem to dismiss most discussions of slavery today. Don’t get me wrong – the slavery of our past was indeed a terrible thing, and we should never forget the magnitude of human suffering it caused. 

            Part of never forgetting, though, is that the memory of past transgressions, should always keep us mindful that we do not allow them to be repeated. Unfortunately, while we have enacted numerous laws against slavery in its various forms, we have not eliminated it. Slavery is still a thriving business, right here in the United States and other ‘First World’ countries. 

            We have moved slavery under a broader category of Human Trafficking, and while the modern term seems to imply gentler connotations, the reality is just as brutal. Human beings are captured, using various means, and subjected to a life of forced servitude. In over 90% of human trafficking cases, this servitude takes the form of sexual slavery.  

            The statistics are not encouraging in the least. The majority of human trafficking victims are female, with the preferred age range being under seventeen, but those outside of those demographics are by no means safe. Young women subjected to sexual slavery, usually as prostitutes, have a life expectancy averaging six to seven years. The hazards these women face include violence from both their pimps and their ‘customers,’ disease, and the effects of long-term substance abuse, as narcotics are often used as chemical ‘chains’ to keep the victims trapped in their situation. 

Current estimates are that, worldwide, over four and a half million people are trapped in slavery, with again, over 90% of those victims subjected to sexual exploitation. Less than 10% are enslaved in more conventional forms of labor. Human trafficking is the fastest growing segment of organized crime today, with profits estimated in the billions of dollars. 

            But prostitution is not the only venue of sexual slavery imposed on the victims. Pornography use has skyrocketed in the internet age, and the demand for ‘adult media’ far exceeds the capacity of studios utilizing willing performers to fill. The majority of women who willingly perform in porn movies quit after one or two movies, citing the experience as one they have no wish to repeat.  

            The market, however, demands new content, and one rule of market dynamics is that, if there is a demand, someone will find a means to fill it, if one exists at all. This is true whether we are talking a capitalist system, a socialist system, or the strictest communist system. When there is a demand, there is the potential for gain in filling that demand, even if it is illegal. When there is potential for personal gain, there are those who will pursue that potential. 

            It’s not difficult to understand the demand for pornography. It offers sexual gratification without coercion, without commitment, and without condemnation. Whatever the viewer might find exciting, porn never reviles the viewer. Instead, it figuratively says, “That? Oh, that’s right over here. Enjoy!” Pornography viewing has reached unprecedented levels, even among those that, historically, were not considered the typical audience for such media. Forty years ago, pornography was considered primarily a man’s vice. The accepted view was that women were not as ‘visually stimulated’ as men, and therefore, not susceptible to porn’s allure. The internet, however, has proven that conclusion wrong. 

            Porn viewing by women has increased by magnitudes in the internet age, because the World Wide Web offers the feeling of anonymity in viewing. What inhibited women from viewing porn before wasn’t that they were not curious about it, or that it wasn’t exciting for them, but rather the perception that would be concluded about them, were they seen buying porn or going to an ‘adult theater.’ Considering how often women must deal with ignorant assumptions being made about their sexual proclivities due to such innocuous things as how they dress, or even that their smile was misinterpreted as a ‘come on,’ we can only imagine what they would have dealt with, had people found out they enjoyed watching adult movies. 

            Other segments of the audience had similar inhibitions to porn viewing before the internet. Men who needed to maintain a certain image of moral respectability, for example, would not want to be seen patronizing any segment of the porn market. Today, a disturbingly high percentage of Christian pastors admit to struggling with porn addiction. When it’s as close and as easy as a couple of clicks away, and we assure ourselves that no one will know, it can be a powerful temptation. 

            Many of my Christian readers, at this point, may be expecting a thesis concerning the moral dangers of viewing pornography. Such aspects have already been addressed and disputed in countless formats, and I suspect that, were I to rehash such discussions, it would be to an audience of individuals who had already made up their minds how they feel about the issue. 

            Instead, my point in this blog post is to address that hidden cost of pornography – that which is not so much the effect on ourselves, but rather, on those victims that we may not realize are victims. 

            It’s difficult to estimate the percentage of pornographic media available that is made using willing performers versus those using sexual slaves. Criminals do not tend to advertise their criminal endeavors, as that tends to attract unwanted attention from law enforcement authorities. The videos are not going to announce that the performers are victims of human trafficking, essentially being raped for the entertainment of the viewing audience. Instead, they want to promote the image of free-spirited people enjoying uninhibited sexual encounters. Even videos that portray rough encounters imply that the participants are willing and enjoying themselves. That’s part of the fantasy. 

            The reality, though, is that anyone who has watched internet pornography has a high likelihood of having seen media containing victims of human trafficking. Whether we like it or not, supporting the pornography website by visiting and viewing, supports the human trafficking industry. The website makes money by number of visits, and those supplying the content share in that profit. Even if the site provides “free” videos for viewing, they are making money on the site via one means or another. The cost of hosting such a site isn’t cheap, between sufficient storage space for many gigabytes of video data, the servers to recall those videos seamlessly for viewers, and the internet bandwidth to accommodate multitudes of viewers at any given time. For a small, personal website, such costs are minimal, but for a site hosting volumes of video content, those costs are too much for someone to absorb just because they might like hosting a popular site. They have to recoup those costs, or shut down the site before it bankrupts them. To keep the viewers and the money flowing, the site owners must regularly add new content, and for that, they must get it from those who produce it. 

            And many of those who produce it, do so with slaves. 

            It’s not a pleasant thought, that a private indulgence is likely contributing to the ruining of someone’s life. We’re not talking about a temporary inconvenience. We’re not talking about a job that was unpleasant or humiliating, but which the person has the choice of whether they will ever do such a performance again. We’re talking someone who faces a strong likelihood of an abbreviated life of degradation and abuse. Even if they beat the odds and survive to be rescued, they face the long-term effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, possible lingering physical injuries or disease, and the fear of someone recognizing them from a video they were forced to make. 

            Refer back to that market dynamic of supply and demand. Most law enforcement efforts on human trafficking focus on the supply side – those who are abducting people or trading in victims. For every one they convict and imprison, however, there are others ready to step up and fill the market. With money to be made, the lure is powerful to disregard the laws and – more importantly – human decency. 

            Where the real attack on human trafficking must come from, is the demand side. We, as a culture, must ask ourselves if we are willing to refuse an indulgence that feeds this market. We must decide if the allure of porn is more important to us, than the freedom of innocent people being enslaved to make it. We must realize the video fantasy being enjoyed, is the result of a living nightmare for those being watched. It’s not enough to indulge the delusion that the videos only feature willing participants. That isn’t the case, and in the absence of the ability to accurately determine which are voluntary and which are forced, we must default to the side of compassion and safety. We cannot assume the best in this case, for doing so only perpetuates the problem.  

            We can decry the slavery of yesterday, but if we do not take even the most basic steps to combat the slavery today, then future generations will look on us with the same disgust we look upon the societies of the past that tolerated slavery. It’s not enough to demand more laws, or tougher enforcement. We need to eradicate the demand, and it starts on our own computers. 

            Don’t wait until it’s your daughter, or your sister, or the nice girl you went to school with, that you see in the video, before you accept the reality of sexual slavery in pornography.