Sex Trafficking & Illegal Pornography: Is There a Link? Part 2

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., examined the link between sex trafficking and illegal pornography.  Part I looked at the first two connections—Part II examines two more reasons there is a connection between sex trafficking and pornography.

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Comments by Laura J. Lederer

3. Pornography is used in sex trafficking and the sex industry to train women and children what to do.

In a survey of 854 women and men in the sex industry in nine different countries, half of them reported that pornography was used to train them as to what to do in the sex industry.[1] In another survey in the U.K., 35% of trafficked women were exposed to pornography in the course of being trafficked, including being shown pornography to ‘groom’ them into prostitution.[2] Supreme Court of Canada R v Sharpe (Clough, 2008) found that there is “clear and uncontradicted” evidence that child pornography is used for grooming and seducing victims.[3] In discussions with a former federal and state prosecutors, they indicated that in many of the cases prosecuted, the offenders utilized pornography to groom and train women and children for prostitution, commercial sexual exploitation, and other illegal sex acts.  In the process of grooming, the perpetrators used pornography to create the conditions which allowed them to abuse the woman or children, and the victims were prepared gradually for the time when the offender  engages in sexual molestation or rape.[4] A new study now taking place, The European Online Grooming Project (2009 – 2011), is the first European research project that will study the characteristics, behavior and motivations of sexual offenders who have used the internet to groom young people. Researchers are conducting a retrospective study that will review online groomers case files, provide a report of the research and policy literature from each partner country, and interview strategic stakeholders concerned with the management and prevention of online grooming. The main phase of the research involves in-depth interviews with online groomers in the UK, Italy, Belgium and Norway. The final phase of the research encompasses dissemination events to policy makers, professionals, teachers, parents and young people.[5] Finally, a new study by the Australian Institute of Criminology reviews the literature on on-line child grooming for sexual offenses against children, including child sex trafficking offenses.[6]

4. Pornography creates and provides rationalizations for exploiters as to how and why their sexually exploitive behaviors are acceptable.

The late Norma Hotaling, a survivor of child sex trafficking in the United States, and the founder of SAGE, believed that illegal pornography and other related materials normalize prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation of women and children, allowing men to more freely engage in these criminal activities.  In the words of Dr. Mary Anne Layden, pornography creates “permission giving beliefs” that illegal and abhorrent sexual behavior is not harmful. Finally, my colleague, Dr. Gail Dines, has conducted more than 20 years of research on the harm of pornography to the performers used in its production, the users of the material, family systems they are part of and society as a whole.

Conclusion and Recommendations:

Enforce the Laws on Sex Trafficking and Pornography

In conclusion, there are numerous links between sex trafficking and pornography.  Four important ones are:

  1. Some types of pornography actually are sex trafficking.
  2. Some perpetrators are trafficking and/or exploiting women and children and recording the acts they perform.
  3. Pornography is used in sex trafficking and the sex industry to train women and children what to do.
  4. Pornography creates and provides rationalizations for exploiters as to how and why their sexually exploitive behaviors are acceptable.

National and international law enforcement agencies and academia should share best practices and research, including establishing an information repository or Data Center for applied research purposes. While more research is needed to provide evidenced-based indicators of the links between sex trafficking and illegal pornography, we should not wait to act.

A multidimensional response to all the forms of commercial sexual exploitation of women and children is likely to offer the greatest benefits.  The focus should be on effective coordination and collaborative activities among governments, law enforcement agencies, professionals such as teachers and health workers, and other public and private organizations to enforce the laws already in place – sex trafficking laws, pornography laws and obscenity laws.

Law enforcement officials need to pro-actively seek out cases of sex trafficking involving the production of pornography, or the use of pornography to force or coerce women and children into prostitution or other forms of commercial sexual exploitation. Partnerships between law enforcement officials and NGOs, especially NGOs with a survivor-centered approach are essential.  Former pornography survivors like Shelley Lubben, and NGOs  like the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, can help legislators and law enforcement understand the links between sex trafficking and pornography and respond more effectively.  We need to act now as many young lives are at stake.


[1] Farley, Melissa

[2] The Poppy Project, Ibid, footnote 11.

[3] According to Professor Jonathan Clough, this quote came from the judgment of McLachlin CJ (together with and Iacobucci, Major, Binnie, Arbour and LeBel JJ) in R v Sharpe [2001] 1 SCR 45, para [91].

[4] Private interviews with federal and state prosecutors, information available by request from Global Centurion (2010).

[5] European Online Grooming Project, Julia Davidson, PhD; Professor of Criminology, Kingston University, London, England, 2009. http://www.childcentre.info/child-safety-internet-conference/public/13._Moscow_conference_presentation_Davidson_2009.pdf

[6] Online Child Grooming: A Literature Review on the Misuse of Social Networking Sites for Grooming Children for Sexual Offenses.  Thanks to Professor Jonathan Clough for sharing this resource.

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