Post by: Jessica Sherwood
Hello! My name is Jessica Sherwood and I am a rising 3L at Regent University. I am grateful to be interning with The National Center on Sexual Exploitation this summer (NCOSE). My experience the last several weeks has been incredibly eye-opening and life changing. NCOSE is the leading national organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking, sexual violence, and the public health harms of pornography.
I would like to believe that most people would say they are adamantly against human trafficking. But what about prostitution? What about sites such as Pornhub? What about subtle forms of objection of women?
Although many people believe Pornhub should be allowed to operate under First Amendment freedom of speech, a closer look reveals how Pornhub is liable for profiting from the exploitation of women and children. PornHub boasts race and gender equality, independent actors filmed by choice, and a wide array of free pornographic content easily accessible to all.
And yet, the self-proclaimed ethical website has been under fire for featuring videos of sex-trafficking victims – including a 15-year-old victim from Florida, 118 confirmed cases of child abuse, as well as 22 women allegedly coerced by the owner of GirlsDoPorn, into performing sex acts on film that were later added on a Pornhub partner channel for profit.
In an interview with the BBC, Rose Kalemba described how at 14 she was raped by strangers who forced her into a car at knifepoint. Months later, classmates teased her upon seeing the video on Pornhub. “The titles of the videos were ‘teen crying and getting slapped around,’ ‘teen getting destroyed,’, ‘passed out teen,’” Kalemba told BBC. “One had over 400,000 views. The worst videos were the ones where I was passed out.”
Laila Mickelwait, director of Exodus Cry, started a petition to shut down Pornhub that has now received more than 1 million signers. Mickelwait targeted Pornhub because of its established ties with trafficking. She recently stated in Verily, “The reality is people like Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein, when they’re trafficking and raping women and children—we put them in prison and shut them down. Anything less than that is a complete injustice to victims. If Pornhub is not shut down, it’s saying to victims that the most traumatic moments of their life being exploited for profit and pleasure doesn’t matter that much.”
In the same way many pro-Pornhub activists believe the site boasts personal autonomy, many “sex work” advocates speak out against law enforcement and legal involvement leaving the ultimate decision to every individual to continue to pursue a life of prostitution or to leave the industry.
What they may fail to see is that oftentimes young women in the sex trade are under the coercion and control of pimps. A study in the British Medical Journal stated that half of the women interviewed had experienced being slapped, punched, beaten, robbed, threatened with a weapon, held against their will, strangled, kidnapped, and/or raped.
Due to years of abuse, blackmail, and objectification, they may no longer have the power of choice to walk away on their own. In order to actively protect women, it is necessary for law enforcement and the justice system to actively participate in the prosecution of both the prostitute and the pimp or john. Although the process can take years and potentially multiple arrests, many service providers say they have seen the criminal justice system guide women out of a life of a prostitution. Adriana, a victim of sex trafficking for six years, said, “It was really scary, but I’m grateful for it. If I wasn’t arrested, I’m not sure I would have made it out of the life.” Without the initial arrest, Adriana would have likely continued her work on the streets as a prostitute, with a life expectancy of 34 years old.
NCOSE has taught me the significance of recognizing the profound connections between pornography, prostitution, and human trafficking. By choosing to expose the exploitative situations women face both on the streets or online, we can help spread awareness on the more covert methods that often lead to conditions ripe for human trafficking.
This post was written by a Center for Global Justice Intern. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.