January 28, 2004
Does Your Porn Come From Sex Slaves?
Peter Landesman/NYTimes in The Girls Next Door has a very scary story about the sex trade industry, which most of us probably think of as something people who trick do by choice. Not the reality according to this article, which gave me the willies reading, and then listening to Landesman interviewed on NPR.
But the part I care about in the context of this post is the part where women who are kidnapped and raped into submission, are then put into porn, and sold across space and time, to porn consumers, via digital media online. It's horrifying.
Andrea told me that she and the other children she was held with were frequently beaten to keep them off-balance and obedient. Sometimes they were videotaped while being forced to have sex with adults or one another. Often, she said, she was asked to play roles: the therapist's patient or the obedient daughter.
Cybernetworks like KaZaA and Morpheus / through which you can download and trade images and videos -- have become the Mexican border of virtual sexual exploitation. I had heard of one Web site that supposedly offered sex slaves for purchase to individuals.
I have no problem with consuming porn, adult porn, if that's what you like. But when you do get it, please ask yourself if what you are watching comes from sex slaves, men or women, cause frankly, that's not very sexy. And then demand that those who blog about or sell porn certify that it is made by consenting adults. Fleshbot should be on the front lines, demanding some kind of certification, some proof, something to reduce the market for sex slave porn, cause I'll bet you some of their images are of these slaves. It's hard to know for sure, but it's time to start asking.
Posted by Mary Hodder at January 28, 2004 12:18 PM
Isn't voluntariness generally questionable when it comes to porn/sex trade? Have you ever met someone in this industry who really is level-headed, who went into it fully understanding the risks, and not under the compulsion of needing money? I think it's the exception, not the rule. that people are coerced (perhaps not by violence, but by economic need or emotional deficit) into this industry.
Have you seen the articles over at Slate that are discussing/challenging the credibility of the piece?
Note that I'm not saying sex slaves aren't real; but there are some discussions online about the size of the problem.
See http://slate.msn.com/id/2094580/ for the discussion cycle.
Just read the piece you point to and it does question some important parts of the Times story. I missed part of the NPR/Fresh Air piece, and so missed some of what they dispute. What I heard was the writer repeating exactly the assertions in the written piece. I can't say what is true of the piece and what is not, as I have no way of verifying his story, but there have been other pieces about women in eastern Europe similarly forced into being sex slaves at brothels. So that part of it seems credible.
The point here is, why don't we have some standard for online porn, to assert that the people involved did so willingly? It may be that it's not very willing, as Chris suggests; that people engaging in this are drug addicted or desparate for money, or otherwise unfairly coerced.
But the idea of sex slaves is absolutely revolting and it seems that if this is true, there should be an attempt to make sure that online porn does not originate with sex slaves. It's somewhat like what Nike and other clothing manufacutures are supposed to do in representing that their clothes were not made by 5 year olds. Though I'm really not sure how effective this is. But why not have the discussion out front instead of sweeping it under the rug? The only way to figure this out is to ask people to ask the sellers of the stuff. Vote with your dollars. Or whatever it takes. I don't buy porn, so I'm not familiar with the economic and market relationships, but at least when people do this, they could ask.
I'm guessing that the reason that we don't have standards of really any sort in porn is that there isn't a bit of political hay to be made from certifying it. Aside from laws around child porn and certain indecency statutes, the industry seems to operate invisibly when it comes to regulation.
The sex slaves article raises terribly important questions in this regard, but not in any way that has any political utility. What politician can claim the position that sex slave porn/child porn is bad, but porn otherwise is OK? Talk a bout a "third rail."
I don't really recall the political climate surrounding the child porn legislation, but recall the nonsense that's been brought up around "virtual" child porn -- porn that's, to all intent and purposes, faked. That legislation got a lot of attention, even though only pixels are directly involved.
Moreover, I am almost certain that there is a subculture of porn customers who *want* to believe that the actions depicted are forced.
Our culture has a long way to go before a realistic discussion of thie topic can take place.
Frank: I agree with what you say, but it's interesting about porn and the brown paper bag factor: people who are older were socialized to not parttake unless it was more secretive (red light district, "dirty mags in brown paper", it's all located in a bad neighborhood, etc that give queues that this should be kept secretive and upstanding people don't consume it), where as because of the internet, more people who are younger engage with it either on the internet or in other places and there's little or no stigma. It's casually discussed and not something to hide. So with more prevalence, and a different social attitute, why not see about having people ask the providers where the stuff comes from and make it a market issue, instead of a governence issue? Like dolphin safe on the side of a can of tuna.
I realize our culture has a long way to go on issues like this, but making something explicit, discussing it, usually goes a long way toward making people more comfortable with discussing things like this. People will not stop consuming it, so instead they could be more informed consumers.
People should ask their providers questions, get them to be accountable, make it clear that the customers want some standards. Why not? It's worth asking.
I heard snippets of Landesman on Fresh Air, and my first reaction was that he was spinning stories and anecdotes because he had no real numbers. He just came off as a liar. If you're one who does believe, it's worth reading Jack Shafer's questions and more questions, and if you're still not convinced, do a little poking about on your own. Remember that to have customers these folks have to advertise...
(Not to say I'm totally dismissing his charges, my notes on this as it developed)
Chris, I know several people who work in the sex trade with various levels of legality, all of whom do so either because they enjoy the work or because the money is good, and all of whom are more level headed and rational than many of the local computer professional organizations I've been to.
And in general, pornographers live and die by U.S. Code Title 18 Section 2257. Given that lots of folks are searched and tested for compliance with this every year, and most of them are in compliance, and this should allow tracking down every one of their models and actors, it'd be hard for anyone with any sort of exposure to be using slave labor.
Chris: We are all coerced into working in whatever capacity we find ourselves capable due to the deadly specter of needing to earn a living.
I have met whores and others who are in the business because they enjoy what they do. Hard as that might be to believe, there are happy hookers out there for your enjoyment.
Ultimately it should not surprise us that the market for sex is not unlike other industries. Its nature much resembles the market for almost any normal good (like palm-pilot computers and automobiles). It involves both buyers and sellers, and when demand is stimulated among a population through advertising and other such means, producing firms attempt to maximize profits by increasing the supply. In reality, this means that sex firms need new "employees" in order to produce normally. But since there are very few women who are willing to serve as prostitutes or porn stars to satisfy this increased demand, firms essentially enslave women, purchasing them from South East Asian or Eastern European nations. Is this at all ironic? In fact, it is porn users who are stimulating this demand (whether they mean to or not, and whether they actually purchase media made by sexual slaves or not), and thereby causing firms to search out additional employees. Of course, many of the workers enter the industry voluntarily, but the amount of voluntary workers will never meet the required demand, and as a result, there will always be a need for unvoluntary sex works. To stop this sexual slavery, it is not enough to boycott sites that display slaves, but rather to boycott the industry altogether, since anything short of this will cause the industry to grow even greater, drawing thereby on unvoluntary sex workers as "employees." Another option is to convince women that they should indeed work in the industry, and that working as a porn star is socially exceptable and not something to be ashamed of. There are many other options, too: we could create sex-worker labor unions worldwide, in every country in which this is a problem. But this is not at all possible, since there would always be countries interested in increasing national revenues by not prosecuting illegal sex workers, therefore relocating the industry. Essentially, the fact that the majority of societies worldwide (not all, however, but merely the majority) shun sex work as an occupation does little to meet aid in increasing the number of voluntary sexual laborers. If you truly are against sexual slavery, you must (uncompromisingly) work against the sex industry altogether, until a day comes when law enforcement and unions can protect the interests of sexual workers in each and every country in the world. But sadly enough, this will never happen.
Whenever anyone speaks of prostitution - only those people are mentioned who have been forced into this profession.
Everyone conveniently forgets how institutionalised this profession is, it is known as the oldest profession in the world. The entire system of brothels, pimps and madams exist.
The value system of these people are very different from people for whom even mentioning sex is taboo. Highly professional prostitutes are groomed from childhood, they know the value of sex, that sex is always offered in exchange for money.
These people consider marriage a waste of money, because the idea of a woman serving only one man is a useless, because she should be earning something every time she has sex.
Children of prostitutes grow up to be the same. Attempts to eradicate prostitution has failed time and again. Cleanse society of something termed as sinful and evil.
The porn industry is simply additional income for those in the Sex Industry. Prostitutes are dancers ,singers and models things which respectable woman would not consider as a profession.
At every age a prostitute in order to keep herself in demand will be ready to do a great deal more to cater to every single need of the clients.
If pornography was exclusively the result of kidnapping and enslavement then it would be a matter of great concern. But there is an already established thriving Sex Industry which does not require outside help.