Friday 2nd October saw campaigners from across the world gather in major cities, including London, Los Angeles, and Montreal, to protest outside the offices of Pornhub-owner Mindgeek as part of the global #TraffickingHub campaign. CEASE UK are proud to have led the London-based protests, and it was a fantastic turnout, highlighting that this is not just a fringe issue of concern, but a burgeoning grassroots movement comprising of people from all walks of life and backgrounds.

During the course of the day, passers-by were intrigued and shocked by some of the signs and slogans, including: “Don’t download my abuse”; “Pornhub is TraffickingHub”; and “Mindgeek built an empire on abusing women”, with several stopping to ask who Mindgeek are and what trafficking has to do with porn. For some, the very fact there were links between porn and trafficking at all came as a shock, with some not realising that the two have become increasingly and inextricably linked over the past two decades. But, as Dr Gail Dines, author of ‘Pornland’ and expert on the rise of internet pornography, points out, “porn creates the demand for trafficking”.

Typically, there are two dynamics at play in the context of sex trafficking and porn: those who have been forced to make porn during the course of other exploitation, including or resulting from trafficking; and those in porn (on sites such as Pornhub) who fit the definition of trafficking.

It is a fine distinction, but not all people who have been trafficked will have necessarily been trafficked to make porn exclusively (for example those exploited through prostitution who also happen to have their exploiter create pornography of them); and not all people who are involved in porn have necessarily been trafficked (or exploited) in the same way that the definition of trafficking might apply to the first group. Although clearly, both groups are trafficked and then subsequently exploited in the commercial sex industry generally.

In relation to the first group: in 2008, Melissa Farley undertook research examining the links between prostitution and trafficking. In this research, she interviewed 854 women, men, and children in prostitution across nine countries. A staggering 49% said that pornography had been made of them while being prostituted. Bearing in mind the extraordinarily high rate of those in prostitution who are thought to be victims of trafficking (conservatively estimated at 1 in 7 in Europe, for example), this demonstrates that there is almost certainly an overlap between those who are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation generally and those who subsequently have porn made of them as a “secondary” form of exploitation.

This is not new. Almost two decades ago the United Nations recognised the increasing links (and market size) between trafficking and “child pornography”. To quote: “In response to the increasing international traffic of children for the purpose of child prostitution and child pornography, in 2000 the UN General Assembly adopted this Optional Protocol to the aforementioned Convention, aimed at extending the measures to guarantee the protection of the child from sexual exploitation.”

Due to the incredibly hidden nature of these demographics, statistics on this are very difficult to discern; but the evidence suggests that the global sex trade generally (including prostitution, trafficking, and child sexual exploitation) is inextricably linked to the porn industry specifically. Those who are exploited through prostitution are often trafficked, and that same demographic often have pornography made of them while being exploited for other means. Bearing in mind the increasing difficulty in disentangling commercial sexual exploitation, trafficking, and the internet – in other words, everything is advertised and accessible online whether it’s porn, prostitution, or “child porn” – this would suggest these links are only becoming more entrenched.

Regarding the second group –  those who appear in porn specifically – different legal definitions of trafficking would suggest this number is on the one hand enormous, but also hidden.  

For example, take the definition found in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in the US:

“the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.”

The conjunctive here is “or”, not “and”, which is a very important legal distinction. If somebody is “recruited” for the purpose of a commercial sex act, they have been trafficked. If they have been transported for the purpose of a commercial sex act, they have been trafficked. While the TVPA requires “force, fraud, or coercion” to have been imposed on the victim, which may skew statistics somewhat when acknowledging that not everybody who agrees to something necessarily has the “freedom or capacity” to substantiate that consent, there are still reports as to how prevalent this is.

For example, the GirlsDoPorn lawsuit last year found 22 women who had been exploited through fraud/coercion, although the lawsuit alleged the number of women was actually in the hundreds; looking further afield, this is also prevalent in Japan where women are tricked (read: frauded) into “modelling shoots” that then transpire to be porn shoots.

On this point: “In 2016, 100 women sought help from Lighthouse, which supports victims of human trafficking, and People Against Pornography and Sexual Violence – a dramatic rise from the 62 cases recorded for the whole of 2015 and just 36 the year before.”

This would also fit the Palermo Protocol definition of trafficking: “the recruitment … by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion,… of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services…”

When considering these international definitions of trafficking, the number of women globally who would fit the criteria to be considered a victim of trafficking (into porn) almost certainly numbers into the thousands, particularly when including porn sets, which as Fight the New Drug points out, contains “professional porn performers who have been tricked, forced, or coerced into doing a sex act on their “no” list, or having sex with a performer on their “no” list.”

For the unfamiliar, trafficking may seem one million miles away from the porn industry, which is undeniably visible and to an extent, “mainstream”. But the links are there. Trafficking thrives on, and in part drives, the entire industry. In the digital age, it is no longer possible to view different commercial sex industries as distinct; they are all fundamentally connected and reliant on each other for a continual supply of human beings to exploit, abuse, and profit from.

CEASE UK will not stop in our mission to push this conversation into the mainstream, and to change the conversation from “how can we make the porn industry better?” to “how can we abolish it entirely?” For those who care about the human rights of others not to be exploited, abused, and trafficked, it is time to shine a light on an industry that has profited from, and continues to profit from, exactly those things.

Image courtesy of Amy Lewis