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Columnist Megan Ziemann explains the prevalence of sex trafficking within the porn industry and urges readers to get informed.

TRIGGER WARNING: this column discusses sensitive topics like sexual abuse and human trafficking. If you or someone you know is experiencing trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

Editor's Note: Sensitive content may follow relating to sexual assault and sexual violence may follow.

I’ve wanted to write this piece since I learned I’ve been lied to about porn. Yes, I know most of the reactions aren’t real. I know sex in porn is not what sex in real life is like.

The lie is worse than that.

The porn industry is a hotbed for abuse.

I had the opportunity to take Dr. Alissa Stoehr’s class on human trafficking in the spring 2020 semester. We read about the business, discussed cases and heard from survivors of abuse. We took a week and talked about porn and the sex work industry and it changed my outlook on a lot of things. 

With respect to my class lectures, sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring and transporting of a person through force, fraud or coercion for commercial sex. There are three parties involved: the trafficker who recruits and controls the victims, the buyer who benefits from the commercial sex and the victims themselves. 

It’s important to know sex trafficking isn’t about sex. It’s about exploiting vulnerabilities in victims. That means anyone with a vulnerability can be a victim. And everyone has a vulnerability. 

Sex trafficking often starts with grooming, where someone befriends the victim and wins their trust over a period of about three to six months. The recruiter could pretend to love the victim and date them, or they could just be a shoulder to cry on with a listening ear. Not every recruiter is some creepy old man, either, 50 percent of traffickers are female, and some may have been victims themselves. 

Once victims are recruited into sex trafficking, their rights are stripped away and they have to do whatever the trafficker says. Some traffickers use debt to control their victims by lending them money and demanding they do sex work to “pay them back.” Others keep victims in isolation, often in dismal conditions to break victims’ spirits. 

Victims can find it extremely difficult to escape or find help because traffickers keep close tabs on them. Often, a victim’s phone (if they have one in the first place) is closely monitored. Some victims don’t want to leave. They love their recruiter and leaving would end that relationship.

One of the most common places for sex trafficking is the porn industry. If you stream porn for free, chances are some of the people you’re watching are victims of sex trafficking.

Porn studios have blood on their hands.

Porn is just like any other industry — it’s driven by money. Websites like PornHub must host videos from a variety of studios and run ads all over the website to generate revenue. New videos must appear quickly, so the vetting process is pushed aside in favor of profit.

Amateur porn isn’t the answer, either. A lot of sex trafficking takes place here, where users upload their own content onto the site. These smaller studios are even less regulated than the larger ones. This leads to another problem: revenge porn

Giving PornHub users the ability to upload their own content is not empowering. It’s dangerous.

The best way to consume porn ethically is to support independent and empowered creators. These people are doing sex work because they want to, not because they’re forced to do it or must do it in order to pay off a debt. Money is going directly into their hands with no middle man. 

These creators are their own boss, and they control what content they share. And that means we have to be paying them.

The porn industry has been hiding a lot of things from us. I’ve been learning day by day by watching documentaries, reading survivors’ stories and reviewing what I learned with Dr. Stoehr. 

It’ll only stop when we do something about it.

If you’re interested in learning more about the abuse within the porn industry, here are two documentaries I watched that helped me realize the problem:

"Hot Girls Wanted" on Netflix

"Over 18: The Question is Not Enough" on Kanopy

Megan Ziemann profile pic

Megan Ziemann is a senior in marketing. 

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