The Relationship Between Pornography, Trafficking, and the Sexual Abuse of Children

Categories: Misc

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As part of our Two Minutes for Prevention series, Stewards of Children® author Paula Sellars provides additional insights and experience about the topic covered in the video below.

I’ve been working in the field of child sexual abuse recovery and prevention for about 28 years. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, the subject of child pornography and commercial sexual exploitation of children grinds my gears like no other dimension of the work. So it is particularly challenging for me to write this post. It challenges my decorum, my professional etiquette. Mostly, I just want to punch something.

So let me get it out of my system this way.

How does a person, usually a man, arrive at a place where he is willing to buy sex from a child he has never met before and who he knows full well would rather be almost anywhere else in the world, and who probably ended up there through sexual abuse, poverty, a complete absence of family and social supports, and a heavy dose of desperation? How does he get to the point where he will buy sex for his own gratification from a child in that situation?

One of the biggest factors? Pornography.

Pornography is the industrialization of sex. Adult pornography is a legal industry. In the U.S. pornography is a $13 billion dollar industry. Worldwide is about a $97 billion dollar industry.

Pornography is marketing for sex trafficking of women and children. Pimps use pornography, especially online, to sell trafficking victims to Johns.

Let me pause here to say that “trafficking” is dare-I-say ‘sexy’ shorthand for commercial sexual exploitation. As the full phrase spells out, commercial sexual exploitation means that someone is being forced, coerced or manipulated (exploited) to give sex for money, or something else of value. In the case of a child victim the proper term is ‘commercial sexual exploitation of children’, or CSEC.  So when you hear “child sex trafficking” think of it as a child having to perform sexually for someone who is able to pay for it. And know that the child is not receiving that money either. But that’s for another day.

Moving on… Like any commercial enterprise, commercial sexual exploitation is a matter of supply, distribution and demand. The supply is the victim. The distribution is the trafficker or the online material. The demand is the “John”, the purchaser of the sex act.

Pornography plays at least two important roles in this industry.  First, it’s marketing as we’ve already established. But second, it is a commodity unto itself. The recorded sex act can be sold over and over again.

The two biggest trends on the demand side in the pornography industry today are for younger victims and more violent sexual behavior. Put this together with pornography being addictive and progressive in nature and what you have is an increasing demand for child victims.

Child pornography in particular is documented child sexual abuse.  If you’re new to the subject, you have to slow down a moment and think that through. If a child is present in pornographic material (whether a photo, video, sound recording etc.) that child was being sexually abused in order to make that material. That’s why in some professional circles child pornography is more correctly called “child sexual abuse images.” The pornographic material is documented images of child sexual abuse. For this reason child pornography is illegal.

[And forgive me – here comes the loss of decorum that I was talking about earlier.  How lucrative that you can coerce or force a child to have sex, record it, and then sell it over and over again to people who will then also potentially abuse that child for money! Isn’t that just fabulous?  But I digress…]

The most common forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) are sex trafficking, child sex tourism and child pornography. (Women’s Support Project, 2014).

One count estimates 200,000 children are victims of sex trafficking annually in the U.S. On average, children first fall victim to commercial sexual exploitation between the ages of 12 and 14. That in itself is shocking. Twelve years old. Seventy-five percent of child pornography victims are living at home when they are photographed or videotaped. Parents are often responsible. And here’s a really big one. 70-90% of children who fall victim to CSEC were first sexually abused in non-commercial situations. Meaning, child sexual abuse predisposes children to being victims of CSEC.

Understanding that child sexual abuse predisposes a child to being trafficked in not a huge leap when you think about it. One professional who works with children who have been rescued from sex trafficking put it this way:

“The connection between child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation is really profound. Almost all of our girls have had a history of sexual abuse in the past. And it’s because of the boundaries being blurred. Learning that you can’t trust anybody. That you have to hold secrets. … That your body is a sexual object, something that is commod-ified. Through the grooming process (for sexual abuse), the child faces escalating abuse, escalating violence, and it’s being alternated with rewards. So, you’re uncle comes over, he asks you to sit on his lap, you sit on his lap and he gives you love and that feels really good; and the next day he comes over and you sit on his lap and he gives you love and that feels really good, but then he puts his hand on your leg and then you go out for ice cream.  The next day he comes over, you sit on his lap, he puts his hand a little bit further up your leg, and you go out for ice cream after. So when it actually crosses the line and becomes very traumatic, the child is going to disassociate from that experience and just look forward to the rewards. And I see that pattern of abuse followed by rewards repeating with traffickers and children later.”

Another professional put it this way:

“This (child sexual abuse) is something that normally happens at a very young age, so children start linking the concept of abuse with love, with sex.  They’re being taught at a very young age to be sexualized and they start viewing themselves as sex objects. Their psychological and physical boundaries are being violated and they start seeing the world as an unsafe place, where it’s difficult to trust others, where they feel they have no control over their bodies. ‘That maybe others have control over their bodies.  So it really puts at high risk later on in their lives to be sexually exploited because they’re already being taught to be this person, to be sexualized, to act in a sexual manner when they are being sexually abused.”  

In 2015 the United States government made grants for $22.7 million for 16 task forces to interdict in CSEC (catch the perpetrators, especially in online environments) and $58.1 million for victim services after they had already been traffickedBut no funds were available for the prevention of CSEC.

At Darkness to Light, we believe if you want to prevent commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) you must prevent all forms of child sexual abuse.

First, don’t consume child pornography. It’s illegal. But don’t even consume the legal images that are facsimiles of children in sexual contexts. Don’t be the demand, because demand drives supply.

Pull your support from companies that profit from sexually objectifying children. Don’t buy their wares. Don’t be part of a culture that normalizes the sexualizing of children and commod-ifies them.

If you are in a hotel, at bus stop, in the airport, at a rest stop or the like and you see a young person who looks frightened, disheveled, out of context, or with someone older who appears not to be a parent, make a phone call to the police. He or she may be being commercially sexually exploited.  If you see something, say something.

And most importantly perhaps, practice the 5 Steps to Protecting Our Children.  Get them here. Get them NOW.

Child pornography, commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), and child sexual abuse.  They’re intertwined. Protect their only childhood.

 

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Paula Sellars is Executive Vice President of Phoenix Possibilities Inc., a company that fosters social change and leadership through the skills of personal risk. Formerly a family therapist and cranio-sacral therapist, Paula specialized in family systems, adolescence, and trauma recovery. She designed and executed program content for an adolescent day treatment center, worked in supervisory capacities inpatient and outpatient psychiatric settings, and has worked extensively with families with sexual abuse dynamics. Paula is the author of Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children®, a child sexual abuse prevention Docutraining® that uses consciousness training to effect behavior change. As a consciousness trainer with Phoenix Possibilities, Paula teaches the Cliff Jumping® Program and other leadership development programs for individuals, couples, and organizational groups. As a social change agent, she weaves her knowledge of the Enneagram, Spiral Dynamics and the Cliff Jumping Program to move communities to action. She is also a Oneness Blessing Giver through Oneness University in Chennai, India. Paula inspires vitality, spiritual connection, integrity and personal fulfillment.

 

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One response to “The Relationship Between Pornography, Trafficking, and the Sexual Abuse of Children

  1. In Sweden there are few who get caught. Those that do still make it , after advice from the European police authorities must intervene. Women selling their babies, children who grow up in the faith that it is normal , continue into adolescence because it feels safe, but gets a maniacal behavior, does not hear or see all the new victims , the child’s anxiety at the abuse.

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