Sex Trafficking & Illegal Pornography: Is there a link? (Part 1)

Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to participate in a briefing before Congressional staff examining what Congress can to do enforce existing obscenity laws.  Enough Is Enough President Donna Rice Hughes explained that kids have free and easy access to hardcore obscenity via the web (complete remarks can be seen here).

Another one of the speakers, Laura J. Lederer, J.D. a leading voice in efforts to end human trafficking, examined the link between sex trafficking and illegal pornography.  The next two blogs will include a snapshot of Laura’s thought-provoking comments.

•   •   •

Comments from Laura J. Lederer, J.D.

Sex Trafficking: What it Is

According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, sex trafficking is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.”[1] The law further defines severe forms of trafficking as sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.  In other words, by our human trafficking law, any child found in a commercial sex act is per se trafficked.

According to the U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, a wide range of estimates exists on the nature and scope of human trafficking.  The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that at least 12.3 million people are commercial sexual servitude or forced labor at any given time.[2] Other experts estimate as many as 27 million people have been trafficked into sex slavery or other forms of slavery.[3] The TIP Report note that sex trafficking comprises a significant portion of overall human trafficking.[4] According to the Report, when a person is coerced, forced, or deceived into prostitution, or maintained in prostitution through force, fraud, or coercion, including psychological coercion, that person is a victim of sex trafficking.  Sex trafficking can also occur alongside debt bondage, as women and girls are forced to continue in prostitution through the use of unlawful debt purportedly incurred through their transportation or recruitment – or their crude “sale” which exploiters insist they must pay off before they can be free.[5] The TIP Report also discusses child sex trafficking and related abuses, including commercial sexual exploitation of children, child prostitution, child pornography, the sale of children, and child sex tourism, all of which are sub-categories of sex trafficking.[6] Here the numbers are also staggering. UNICEF reports that across the world, there are over one million children entering the sex trade every year and that approximately 30 million children have lost their childhood through sexual exploitation over the past 30 years.[7] In Southeast Asia alone, there are currently around a million children involved in the sex industry, some younger than 10 years old.[8] Clearly this is an industry that is taking the lives of women and children and it must be stopped.

There are numerous links between sex trafficking and illegal pornography.

Today, this blog will highlight the first two direct links

1. Some types of pornography actually are sex trafficking:

Pornography industry insiders note that the production of pornography often matches the very definition of “severe forms of trafficking,” – force, fraud, or coercion are used to prompt the performance of those featured in pornography.[9] For example, teen girls, boys, and women are being recruited into the pornography industry with fraudulent promises of legitimate jobs at exaggerated pay rates.  Once these victims are recruited and arrive at the trafficking destination, they are being held there by means of debt bondage, physical force and psychological coercion. Their pay for work performed is given directly to their “agent” or trafficker and these debts are deducted before any money, if any remains, is given to the victim.  The victims are given the “choice” to perform “privates”, which is illegal prostitution, to pay off their debt.  If the victims attempt to leave and/or speak out against the industry, they are physically and emotionally threatened to hold them captive and to keep them from seeking help from law enforcement agencies.[10]

2. Some men are trafficking and/or exploiting women and children and recording the acts they perform.

In preliminary findings from an international case law database that Global Centurion is building, over 25% of child sex traffickers took pictures or video recordings of the rape, sodomy and sexual abuse they performed on the children. This figure is much higher if perpetrators who commit sex trafficking crimes and have pornography or child pornography are counted, since law enforcement does not often bother to distinguish whether the photos taken are of the victims or other children from other criminal activities. The figure is also a conservative one because often charges pressed may not include recording of sexual exploitation, or production, distribution, or possession of child pornography.

For example:

  • An American was convicted of traveling to Cambodia and engaging in illicit sexual conduct with three minor girls, traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, and purchasing the girls in order to produce pornographic videos.  In January 2004, he was detained by the Cambodian National Police Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Office. They received a tip concerning suspicious activities in his hotel room. There were four minor girls in the hotel room when he was arrested.   He was sentenced to concurrent terms of 360 months’ imprisonment.
  • On January 20, 2010, the U.S. Embassy confirmed the case of a 51 year old  American teacher who allegedly sexually abused a 12 year old Cambodian girl in Preah Sihanouk Province.   When arrested, police found 8 ecstasy pills, 9 grams of marijuana, various sex toys and 34 CDs with videos of naked children on them.
  • An American who worked part-time as a professor at a Cambodian university was arrested by Cambodian authorities in June 2006 for sexual violence against multiple child victims.  When authorities searched his home, they found three minor female victims, aged 9, 10 and 11, various drugs, children’s clothes, and rope and cloth strips, used to bind and gag them while he assaulted them, and hundreds of pornographic images, including those of children engaging in sex acts.  Four additional minor victims, ranging from 10 to 14 years in age were found as well.  He was immediately deported. He was convicted on seven counts of PROTECT Act violations.
  • On January 22, 2010, an American, age 59, was arrested by the Cambodian National Police and extradited to the U.S. by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  He was charged with having sex with three girls between the ages of 12 and 14 in Cambodia. According to an investigation by U.S. authorities, he allegedly engaged in sex acts with underage girls in Cambodia, whom he found by contacting Phnom Penh taxi drivers who knew the location of brothels holding minors. He allegedly paid $3000 to the taxi driver and $4800 to the brothel owner to have sex with underage girls recording the acts in pornographic pictures.

Finkelhor and Mitchell’s (2005) study of child pornography possessors arrested in Internet related crimes indicated that 40% of the men in their sample were ‘dual offenders’ who sexually victimized children and produced/possessed child pornography.[11] In a study by the Poppy Project in the U.K., women had photographs taken of them by traffickers/pimps, for example, while a gang-rape was taking place.  Women also reported that in the places they were trafficked, pornography was constantly available to men buying sex. Further, some of the women’s traffickers watched pornography regularly. These women were repeatedly raped by the traffickers, with one of these women stating that her trafficker used pornography prior to, and during, his repeated rapes of her.[12]

•   •   •

Stay tuned for part II of Laura’s comments examining the link between sex trafficking and illegal pornography.


[1] Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, Public Law 106-386, Sec. 103 (8): SEVERE FORMS OF TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS.—The term ‘‘severe forms of trafficking in persons’’ means— (A) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or (B) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. Sec 103 (9) SEX TRAFFICKING.—The term ‘‘sex trafficking’’ means the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act. Sec 103 (3) COMMERCIAL SEX ACT.—The term ‘‘commercial sex act’’

means any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.

[2] U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, 2010, p.7.

[3] Kevin Bales, Disposable People

[4] U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, 2009, p.21.

[5] Ibid, p 22.

[6] Ibid, p 22-25.

[7] UNICEF UK, 2004 Statement on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

[8] Ibid.

[9] http://www.nationalcoalition.org/images/purejustice/Exploited%20White%20Paper%20(2).pdf. Pp 7-8.

[10] Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking ( FCAHT) is circulating a petition that makes this argument and asks Attorney General Eric Holder to examine the links between pornography and sex trafficking and then take action by prosecuting these cases under the TVPA.

[11] Wolak, J., Finkelhor, D., & Mitchell, K.J. , “Child pornography possessors and the Internet: A national study,” 2005; National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Alexandria, VA. (CV81)

[12] The Poppy Project, “When Women are Trafficked: Quantifying the Gendered Experience of Trafficking in the UK,” Apr 2004

http://www.eaves4women.co.uk/Documents/Recent_Reports/When%20Women%20are%20Trafficked,%20April%202004.pdf

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2 Comments

  1. I think there is a definite link between these two forms of commercial sexual exploitation. Not only does pornography feed the demand for the purchase of sex, but pornography itself can be a form of trafficking. It seems fairly cut-and-dry to me. When a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion it is sex trafficking, and if reports about what happens in California’s porn industry are the norm, then there can be no doubt that pornographers are guilty of this crime.

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