Connecting the dots between sex trafficking and pornography

by Angela Lu Fulton
Posted 6/10/13, 10:52 am

Sex trafficking is the issue de jour on college campus. Students attend documentaries, hold charity walks, and put on bake sales to raise money for safe houses and victim restoration. Special speakers spread awareness about girls trapped in the sex industry against their will. 

While most anti-trafficking work focuses on helping victims, few students talk about what propels women into the trade: The continued demand by men to buy women and the role internet pornography plays in that demand. 

Lisa Thompson, the Salvation Army’s liaison for the abolition of sexual trafficking, notes the glamour attached to “saying you’re doing anti-trafficking work,” adding, “It would be nice to see people take on small and unheralded and humble bits of work with the prevention side of trafficking.”

Effectively dealing with demand means taking on internet pornography. Mary Layden, co-director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that porn’s accessibility sets up entitlement: “I hear men say sex is a need, I have a right to it.” And as the sense of entitlement increases, men see no qualms with paying women for sex in order to fulfill their “need.” She found that men who went to prostitutes were twice as likely to watch porn than other men. 

Taking on porn means challenging the culture’s libertarian attitude about sex, which basically says anything goes between consenting adults, and those who don’t like porn can change the channel. Those attitudes are prevalent on college campuses, where 87 percent of males and 31 percent of females admit to watching porn, according to a 2008 Brigham Young University study. 

At Weber University in Utah, one small college group is trying to educate other students about the harms of pornography. Junior Chandler Copenhaver, president of Fight the New Drug, engages students as they walk by the organization’s booth, explaining how pornography can be as addictive and dangerous to the brain as hard drugs: “We’re trying to change the understanding and conversation of pornography.” Copenhaver, stresses that Fight the New Drug is non-political and non-religious: “This is a health issue, a social issue, and it negatively affects society.”

Copenhaver’s organization is a chapter of the national Fight the New Drug organization, which aims to educate middle school, high school, and college students about porn.  Through assemblies and flashy video productions, members teach how watching porn over-exposes the brain to pleasure chemicals. Users build up a tolerance and dependency to those chemicals, making them want even more. “It’s naturally an awkward topic, kind of a taboo issue that’s emotionally charged,” said Cam Lee, who co-founded the group in 2007. “We try to stay away from morals and values, instead focus on the science and facts.”

Copenhaver says students at Weber University may not like his group’s message, but they often respect what he has to say “because of our stance on free speech. We support the First Amendment, we are not there for censorship, just trying to educate.”

Oklahoma State University professor John Foubert says college students are much more likely to fight sex trafficking than porn because many students don’t see the connection between the two. It’s easier to attack trafficking, he says: “With porn because so many students are using it, they have to confront the issue that being an activist, they may be hypocritical.”

Read more about sex trafficking in the latest edition of WORLD.

Angela Lu Fulton

Angela is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine and a part-time editor for WORLD Digital. She is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Angela resides in Taipei, Taiwan. Follow her on Twitter @angela818.

Read more from this writer