Skip to Content

Pornography, Prostitution, Prey – The Link Between Sex Trafficking and Pornography

Sharing is caring!

Pornography, Prostitution, Prey – The Link Between Sex Trafficking and Pornography

By: Shasta Walton (Columbia Southern University)


Sex trafficking is booming business with pimps cashing in on men, women, and children daily in almost every city in the US. Sex trafficking is a business run like all others by means of supply and demand. The ultimate goal is to eradicate sex trafficking by educating the public on the reasons behind its popularity as an income source for traffickers. Pornography and its effect on sex trafficking were researched, in order to determine if pornography increases the demand for sex trafficked victims. The goal was to prove or disprove the link between the legal commercial sex industry and illegal sex trafficking. Research confirms that viewers of pornography are likely to engage in real life prostitution thereby fueling a need for sex work victims to fulfill their fantasies born via pornography usage.


Pornography, Prostitution, Prey

Human trafficking is one the most critical human rights issues of our generation. On one side, anti-traffickers examine and point to the supply and demand side of the debate. On the other side, proponents want to see human trafficking treated as what it is, organized crime. Sex trafficking is one form of human slavery. Victims of sex trafficking include men, women, and children. Traffickers profit off the victim’s commercial sex acts. These commercial sex acts can take place in homes, businesses, on the streets, or even online. With technological advancements like the internet, pornography is more readily available than ever before.

Researchers believe they can tie both pornography and sex trafficking together and by doing so offer a means to end the crime before it takes place. Supporters of sexual consumerism are unwilling to connect the illegal sex trade to the adult entertainment industry. Anti-trafficking experts agree that the best way to put an end to sex slavery is to isolate and address the demand that fuels the sex trade. Advocates of the sex industry argue that greed alone is responsible for human trafficking. Human trafficking first became a federal crime in 2000. Since 2000 US laws have continued to change and expand as human trafficking is better understood. While greed does play a role in the sex trafficking industry, it is reckless to deny that pornography is the major gateway to sex trafficking because in doing, so victims of the pornography industry have no voice and the consumers of pornography are not held responsible for their contribution to the trafficking problem. If no one is held responsible for inciting the demand laws will continue to chip away at what is only the tip of the iceberg thereby solving nothing.


The Literature Review

To better understand sex trafficking and the plausible motivations behind the crime it is necessary to understand what sex trafficking is, and how sex trafficking is both similar and different to the adult entertainment industry. This review will also expound on each position of this controversy first addressing those who view sex trafficking as an opportunity for the greedy and those who argue that pornography should remain protected under the first amendment. (Vance, 2013) followed by the argument that participation in sexual consumerism naturally fuels the demand for sex trafficking victims.


What is Prostitution?

Prostitution is in simple terms exchanging sex for anything of value. Many believe that prostitution only includes money for sex, but prostitutes also trade sex for housing, food, clothes, trips, and protection. Prostitution is illegal in every state in the US except Nevada. Over the years numerous studies have found that women who are involved in prostitution enter as minors. Prostitutes admit to childhood abuse, sexual abuse, and drug addictions. Many prostitutes live in poverty; some are even homeless and believe that prostitution is the only way they can survive. (Shively, Hunt, Kliorys, & Wheeler, 2012) Some argue that the majority of prostitutes love what they do and find sex work personally fulfilling and rewarding. (Weitzer, 2011)


What Is Pornography?

            The word pornography is Greek in origin and means porni (prostitute) and grahein (to write). Pornography was and remains stories of prostitution. (Rose, 2013) Today pornography takes on many different forms such as books, magazines, DVD’s, and streaming movies. In the pornography industry, there are many who profit from sex and even more who pay for these sexual experiences. Even on sites where the user watches porn for free the owner of the site profits via digital advertisements. In the paragraph above prostitution is defined as the exchanging of sex for anything of value, from there it is clear to see that pornography is a media format of physical prostitution.

What Is Sex Trafficking?

Sex trafficking much like pornography and pimp managed prostitution is a commercial sex business with third parties controlling the finances, schedule, and location of trafficked victims. According to the law, sex trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain commercial sex acts. The exception to this is minor victims (there is no requirement for force, fraud, or coercion). (“What Is Human Trafficking? n.d.) In 2015 there were 5,544 reports of potential sex trafficking; those numbers do not include the unseen victims. The faces of sex trafficking are men, women, and children. They include both US citizens and foreigners. Victims of sex trafficking come from similar backgrounds as the prostitutes mentioned above. Traffickers make up a broad range of people. They can be business owners (massage parlors, bars, clubs), family members, significant others (especially boyfriends), pimps, and even diplomats. Traffickers use various tactics to keep victims enslaved. They use physical and sexual assaults, threats, and manipulation among other methods. (“Human Trafficking 101”, 2016) The purchasers of sex trafficked victims may or may not know their purchase is a trafficking victim. The variety of people who purchase trafficked men, women, and children may be even broader than those who traffic them.

A Greed Fueled Business

Advocates of the adult entertainment industry defend the rights to buy and sell pornography and argue that anti-traffickers mislead the public by publishing dramatic stories of victims, inflated or fictitious statistics, and painting the entire industry with one wide brush stroke. (Weitzer, 2011)   Even if those speaking out don’t view pornography themselves they claim that there is a big difference between the exploitation that can occur within the industry and sex trafficking. They argue that slavery came before pornography. Therefore, trafficking is not the effect of pornography. Their end argument asserts that the reason for trafficking is because where there is strong demand for the product, an eager entrepreneur will be there to provide a supply. (Weitzer, 2011)

Pornography Leads To Prostitution and Victims

            Activists seeking to end slavery are not hard to find and those who spend their lives researching and helping victims believe they know what needs to change. Their studies and interviews have found that pornography not only leads viewers to purchase sex but also desensitizes them to the exploitation of men, women, and children. Men in particular express desires to act out the scenes they have repeatedly viewed on screen. (MacKinnon, 2005) They assert that pornography is a form of prostitution that encourages and eventually leads to the individual’s desire to purchase prostitution for themselves. (Farley, 2015) Pornography is garnering millions of views each day keeping demand for commercial sex steady. Like those who insist on greed playing a factor, anti-traffickers agree that there are ambitious traffickers ready to cash in on what they view as a pornography fueled sex slave trade.


Activists and Advocates alike have spent years studying the adult entertainment industry and its effects on society. Those who stand firm on the side of legal adult entertainment insist that greed is the culprit of sex trafficking while anti-trafficking activists draw lines that connect pornography and sex trafficking. For those who want to put an end to modern day sex slavery the message that pornography fuels the demand for real life prostitution experiences and in turn an opportunity for sex traffickers to cash in by supplying victims cannot be ignored.

Pornography fuels the demand for real life prostitution experiences. When a viewer repeatedly views pornography, they become desensitized to the material they view. Men no longer see women as human beings but as objects that exist for their pleasure. (Farley, 2007)  Men, women, and children are no less human because they are featured as pixels on a screen or ink on a page, but they are dehumanized by the normalcy of the pornography industry in our society. When most people think of pornography, they think of freely consuming it for their pleasure, but it is also a tool used to train/groom prostitutes and trafficked victims. Some buyers of sex also make pornography so they can relive the experience long after it is over. Pornography plays a much bigger role in the sex trade than its sellers would like the public to believe.

Studies show that pornography use lights up the reward systems in the brain releasing dopamine. The more often pornography is viewed, the more intense the pornography experience needs to be to generate a dopamine release comparable to the original experience. (Love, Laier, Brand, Hatch, & Hajela, 2015 ) The desire to experience the same reward release leads to more extreme and hardcore pornography and eventually real life prostitution experiences. Unfortunately, the need/desire to experience this porn fueled pleasure via real life prostitution experiences, in turn, drives the demand that built the sex industry into the billion dollar industry it is today, and it is only going to get worse. With the advancement of technology comes the world of virtual reality and porn producers are excited about this new revenue stream. Men who may have been too afraid to purchase sex will now be one step closer to experiencing it via virtual reality.

The sex industry (both legal and illegal) is full of men, women, and children who are victims of sex trafficking. Legal avenues of the sex market like strip clubs often promote illegal prostitution. Many sex industry consumers believe that sex workers choose and even enjoy their life as sex workers, but the truth is that most come from vulnerable circumstances and are manipulated by pimps, strip club owners, and pornography producers. Women who work in the pornography industry are raped and forced into sex acts that they begged the producers to stop filming. (MacKinnon, 2005) Most past and current prostitutes interviewed have symptoms associated with PTSD. It is important to remember that anyone under the age of 18 is a victim of trafficking regardless of how they got into the industry. Victims are often befriended by “boyfriends or loverboys” whose sole purpose is to get girls and women to trust them and then turn them into prostitutes. (Shared Hope, 2013) They keep all of the money earned and the women must continually work to pay off the debts of housing, clothes, and food. These women believe there is no way out and as long as there are men who are willing to purchase their bodies, there will be victims. These victims will never be free until the demand for their bodies is punishable under law. It is time to eradicate sex trafficking by addressing the supply and demand aspect of the sex market.

Some would argue that as long as people are greedy sex trafficking will exist but that is simply not the case. If a store owner’s only goal is to make money, he will always get rid of the products that aren’t selling and offer products that will earn him a profit. The same applies to sex trafficking. If a pimp’s goal is to make money, he will soon turn his attention to a different industry if people stop buying sex. There are others who argue that the US needs to legalize prostitution because in doing so we would be able to place working regulations on women and keep them safe but there is no proof that this is the case and it does not make rational sense. How does a woman who works in the sex industry claim sexual harassment? What side does the law protect the buyer or the seller? When the goods traded are human how is it possible to determine who is right and who is wrong? Women who do not want to be prostitutes will continue to be sold, and porn stars will continue to be exploited because depravity does not end where legality begins. It is time to put a serious force behind laws and education starting with pornography. It is time lawmakers stop pretending that porn stars are getting paid to “act” and admit that pornography is payment for sex. Viewers are not watching porn because the industry has the best actors, they are watching to fulfill their sexual desires. Once again big business has paid to confuse common sense. The law needs to be redefined to include exploitation along with force, fraud, and coercion. When a woman willingly moves to another country because she is promised a better life if that life includes prostitution or pornography she has been exploited. If an actress in a porno is forced to do something in a movie that she is uncomfortable with that actress has been exploited. Exploitation is a form of sex trafficking and needs to be recognized as such. The buyers of real life sex need strict prosecution enforced, as well as education on the harm of pornography and the purchase of a person’s body in any way whether in real life or through books, movies, or online. To cut off the demand would completely eradicate the entire industry. When the “John’s” disappear the pimps move on to more lucrative opportunities.

It is time to take a good long look at the sex industry as a whole if the goal is to free victims of sex trafficking. In the simplest terms if prostitution is illegal, photographed or videotaped prostitution (pornography) needs to be illegal as well. All available research leads to the conclusion that the viewing of pornography leads to real life prostitution which leads to a demand for trafficked sex workers of all ages, sexes, races, and body types. It is time for the American government to stand outraged that its citizens are now a commodity. It is time the citizens of this country fight for reform and new laws. Pornography must be done away with. Lives are at stake. Those who argue that numbers are not accurate or available answer need to answer this question: “Does the number matter if one American child is being sold into slavery or thousands?” Victims of sex trafficking and prostitution are beaten, stabbed, shot, burned, raped, and murdered. They are afraid of the police and believe that no one cares what happens to them. It is time to prove them wrong. It is not enough to push for reform and laws there has to be action that starts today. Awareness has to be raised, and the victims need to be seen and reported. Spotting a victim starts by paying more attention to your surroundings. Trafficked victims do not have access to their passports, ID’s, or driver’s license. They are not free to come and go as they please. They may be afraid, depressed, anxious, or on drugs. They avoid eye contact and are unlikely to contact the police. They are abused emotionally and physically and may have bruises, burns, or broken bones. If you see someone who may be a victim of trafficking contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1(888)373-7888 or text “BeFree” to 233733. Whatever predisposition you may have about prostitutes it is important to remember that no little boy or girl ever dreamed of becoming a prostitute and it is possible to bring them freedom and justice by focusing efforts on the system that demands their bodies and souls as payment for someone else’s pleasure. The fight for freedom starts by outlawing pornography and cracking down on John’s.




Shively, M., Hunt, D., Kliorys, K., & Wheeler, K. (2012). A National Overview of Prostitution      and Sex Trafficking Demand Reduction Efforts. National Criminal Justice Reference          Service. Retrieved 25 April 2017, from

Weitzer, R. (2011). Sex Trafficking and the Sex Industry: The Need for Evidence-Based Theory      and Legislation. Journal Of Criminal Law And Criminology101(4). Retrieved from             ; t=jclc

Rose, D. (2013). The Ethics and Politics of Pornography (1st ed., p. 15). Basingstoke: Palgrave       Macmillan.

Vance, L. (2013). Pornography and the First Amendment – The Future of Freedom Foundation. The Future of Freedom Foundation. Retrieved 25 April 2017, from

What Is Human Trafficking? | Homeland Security. Retrieved 26 April 2017, from   

Human Trafficking 101. (2016). Polaris Project. Retrieved 26 April 2017, from              

MacKinnon, C. (2005). Pornography as Trafficking, Michigan Journal Of International Law, 26(4). Retrieved from

Farley, M. (2007). Renting an Organ for Ten Minutes:’ What Tricks Tell us about Prostitution, Pornography, and Trafficking. Prostitution Research and Education. Retrieved 11 April 2017, from

Farley, M. (2015). Pornography, Prostitution, & Trafficking: Making the Connections. Prostitution Research. Retrieved 25 April 2017, from ; content/uploads/2015/07/Pornography-prostitution-trafficking.pdf

Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of Internet      Pornography Addiction: A Review and Update. Behavioral Sciences, 5(3), 388–433.

Shared Hope (2013, July 19).DEMAND Documentary Retrieved from 




Sharing is caring!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.