Fighting Porn: The Newest Battlefront on the Oldest Profession

Stan Guthrie | Author, All That Jesus Asks | Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Fighting Porn: The Newest Battlefront on the Oldest Profession


June 1, 2010

Prostitution has been called the world's oldest profession. That can't be right. Before those who today are sometimes euphemistically called "sex workers" come all the pimps and traffickers who exploit them.

Despite the occasional glittering portrayals of "high-class" call girls turning tricks for fun and profit, the life of boys, girls, and women trapped in the sex trade is often nasty, brutish, and short. As always, most are not there by choice but have been lured into an especially dehumanizing form of slavery by false promises of a good job and a better life.

Ugly stories of sex trafficking originating in eastern Europe and Asia abound in our media. Safely in this country, we shudder and quickly turn the page or click on the next link, thankful at least that this expression of human sin is not an American problem. But in this we are wrong.

The federal government spends millions every year combating sex trafficking inside the United States. The problem is immense and growing. "Researchers estimate that between 100,000 and 300,000 American children are trafficked within the U.S. each year," Christianity Today reports. "There is credible evidence, based on arrest statistics and field research, that sex trafficking is getting worse and that U.S. children under age 18 compose the largest segment of trafficking victims in the U.S."

Where are these girls (and, in some cases, boys) coming from? "Women and girls, largely from East Asia, Eastern Europe, Mexico and Central America are trafficked to the United States into prostitution," the State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report says. "Some men and women, responding to fraudulent offers of employment in the United States, migrate willingly—legally and illegally—but are subsequently subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude at work sites or in the commercial sex trade."

Even more disturbing is the fact that this is not just a problem for hapless foreign-born migrants and illegal aliens. Our own sons and daughters are at risk. According to Mei-Mei Ellerman of the Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center, "There are 200,000 to 300,000 U.S.-born American [minors] who are in high risk of ending up in forced prostitution every year."

We know that the immense profits to be gained drive the seemingly endless supply of boys and girls into the sex trade. But what is driving demand? 

According to a growing body of evidence, a leading cause is our nation's addiction to pornography. Unfortunately, authorities take smut far less seriously than they do trafficking.

"What the agents and prosecutors fail to see, or refuse to acknowledge," says Robert Peters of Morality in Media, "is that by ignoring the explosion of 'adult' obscenity, which helps drive the demand for adult and child prostitutes, they are undermining their efforts to curb sexual trafficking." 

And it's not just Peters who thinks so. Mary Eberstadt, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, says that "trafficking, as the Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have both noted, is often associated with pornography—for example, via cameras and film equipment found when trafficking circles are broken up."

Then there is the stain that porn leaves on our souls. Mary Anne Layden, director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the University of Pennsylvania, states, "The large body of research on pornography reveals that it functions as a teacher of, a permission-giver for, and a trigger of many negative behaviors and attitudes that can severely damage not only the users but many others, including strangers."

Such private warping inevitably manifests itself in the larger society. Layden further states: "Those reporting higher exposure to violent pornography are six times more likely to report having raped than those reporting low exposure." She was part of a recent gathering of social scientists, psychiatrists, neuroscientists, philosophers, and legal scholars at the invitation of the Witherspoon Institute. They have just produced an eye-opening new book, The Social Costs of Pornography. This volume clearly demonstrates "the hidden but real social toll of the current consumption of pornography—especially internet pornography—on an unprecedented scale."

In response to the growing epidemic of trafficking, Christians are beginning to offer a range of ministries. "In recent years, a handful of Christian activists, mostly volunteers, have moved beyond advocacy and legislation, fighting for better enforcement of existing anti-trafficking laws," Elyssa Cooper writes for CT. "They play an active role in helping victims leave the commercial sex industry. Long-term treatment for trafficking survivors—which for some victims takes many years—is where many Christians are also focusing their energy." 

It's a promising start for the church, but so far only that. As a nation we have declared war on smoking, obesity, and other personal choices that carry harmful social costs. Can we do any less when it comes to an even more pernicious enemy of the public good? It is time to declare war on pornography, which has an undeniable link to the horror of sex trafficking. And given our apathy and lusts, the first battle may well have to begin in our own hearts.


Stan Guthrie is an editor at large for Christianity Today and author of the forthcoming All That Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us (Baker Books, November). Stan blogs at http://stanguthrie.com.

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