For decades, pornography has been praised as the epitome of freedom of expression by men and at times women alike. However, as time goes on, social conservatives and feminists alike -- as well as various media outlets and academic organizations -- are coming to agree that not only does pornography harm individuals and families, but it is also a major factor in the underground sex slave industry.
Earlier this week, the House passed 12 bills to combat sex trafficking. Several of the bills aim to strengthen the State Department's weapons against traffickers, while others fill gaps in current law. Two bills that would fill gaps are H.R. 159 and H.R. 285, both of which passed the House on Tuesday.
According to a House Judiciary Committee aide, H.R. 159, would use Department of Justice grants to incentivize states to match federal law, which considers "any child who is under 18 and subject to commercial sex trafficking [as] a victim."
Likewise, the aide said, H.R. 285 "is intended to clarify that the existing federal sex trafficking statute...extends to those who advertise children and other victims for sale for sex."
These and other measures are critical to helping the nearly two million mostly women and girls who are sex slaves at any one time. And they will hopefully join several laws signed by President Obama last year.
As great as these bills are, however, they fail to properly address the most important part of sex trafficking: reducing demand before men use, abuse, and torture women, girls and boys for sadistic personal pleasure. And according to one of the nation's leading academics studying the effect of pornography -- a self-described "radical feminist" -- pornography is a key ingredient in that demand.
Dr. Gail Dines, a professor of sociology and women's studies at Wheelock College who also chairs its American Studies department, said in comment for this piece that "we know that trafficking is increasing -- which means demand is increasing. This means that men are increasingly willing to have sex with women who are being controlled and abused by pimps and traffickers."
"There are only two conclusions here: That men are naturally willing to do this to women -- biology -- or that they are being socialized by the culture to lose all empathy for women," Dines said. "I refuse to accept that men are born rapists, porn users, or johns."
"As an academic, a sociologist, and mother, I believe it is the way men are shaped by society," said Dines. "The biggest sex educator of young men today is pornography, which is increasingly violent and dehumanizing, and it changes the way men view women."
Dines is not alone in her view. According to the non-profit Fight The New Drug (FTND), which relies on dozens of studies for its pornography data, "men who go to prostitutes are twice as likely to have watched a porn film in the last year compared to the general population."
FTND's research also found that "when these customers show up, many come ready with porn images in hand to show the women they're exploiting--many of which are human trafficking victims controlled by pimps--what they'll be forced to do." The organization cites a 2007 study of 854 women in nine countries that found 49% of women "said that porn had been made of them while they were in prostitution, and 47% said they had been harmed by men who had either forced or tried to force their victims to do things the men had seen in porn."
In other words, when Americans watch porn, they're fooled into thinking they are always watching free men and women engaging in consensual sexual intercourse. Contrary to the popular image of the porn industry, many women are being forced to have intercourse, be groped, kicked, beaten, etc.
According to FTND CEO Clay Olsen, "porn fuels the demand for the sex trade" in a way often not seen by those who view porn. "Traffickers have learned to package their product in a way that disguises the fact that the 'performers' are forced to participate," said Olsen.
While data on the number of women girls and boys forced into porn is relatively scant, due to its secretive and illegal nature, Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director of National Center on Sexual Exploitation, told me that "the 20+ performers I have talked to (some still involved in porn) have all shared stories with me that they were forced and coerced many times over."
"Drugs, alcohol, physical abuse, blackmail, threats, fake legal documents, deceitful enticing, promises of fame and money and so much more are used to get the girls to perform what and how the producers desire," she added.
Pornography doesn't just cause harm to those held in slavery -- it has been linked to premature ejaculation and a loss of sexual control among men, and relationships and families are also devastated by porn. The highly-acclaimed movie "Don Jon," for example, highlighted what is a reality for many couples and families: that addiction to porn tears men away from their girlfriends, spouses, and children. As such, it is often a major factor in divorce.
Again, the Senate and President Obama should take the House's lead in protecting victims of sex trafficking. However, like any industry, demand is what creates supply. As long as America's men are being trained to think that violent, disturbing pornography is sexually acceptable, an enormous clientele for sex traffickers is being created every day in homes, college dorms, and apartments across the nation.