As you are beginning to see, pornography extends far beyond its own borders and is a presence in many different parts of our modern world. One that I am particularly concerned about is its contribution to the sex industry and its relationship with sex slavery. To explore those links further, and plead with abolitionists to dare look into the issue of pornography, I present to you Saskia Wishart.
Saskia is the European Coordinator for the Not For Sale Campaign and lives in Amsterdam; where she is assisting in the creation of a social enterprise that provides job skill training and opportunities to survivors of sex trafficking. She has been working with individuals exploited through human trafficking since 2008 and tweets @saskiacw.
In Tel Aviv 5 years ago, my friends and I were walking along the beach in the evening, we passed an older man beside some bathrooms, with him was two young girls, maybe 14 years-old. He was photographing them in sexual poses. And we kept walking. One guy in our group of friends became angry, he wanted to go back and check on those girls, he wanted to interfere, to put a stop to something that looked very wrong. But we talked him out of it, I am ashamed to say, we walked on.
I remember when a child pornography case was busted open while I was working in Cape Town. The police told me of how the young girls exploited in this case were targeted by a business man in the community, a man who offered to assist families in financial need, a man who paid the school fees of young girls age 13 – 14 and in exchange lured them into a living hell, where he photographed and sexually exploited them. The police told me of the trauma the girls faced, girls who were so damaged from the experience, one continually tried to take her life. The 73 year-old man in this case pleaded guilty to 95 child porn charges last month, but his pleading guilty will not heal the emotional wounds that have been inflicted on his victims. The case was uncovered when neighbours began to question why this man was often being seen at the house he used as a ‘gym’ with underage girls. The choice of the neighbours to ask questions and call the police led to the arrest of this pedophile.
When I moved to Amsterdam and began working in providing nutrition to women in prostitution, I began seeing pornography weekly, it plays in the brothels and is advertised on the outside of sex shows. Last year I wrote apost exploring the angry emotions I had to face when seeing the lives of women and men destroyed by pornography. Triggered by a sign in a shop window advertising ‘rape-sex’ DVD’s, I started to research the links between pornography and human trafficking, pornography and child exploitation, as well as pornography, sexual addiction, and the abuse of women in prostitution.
As abolitionists we have a role in addressing the demand of sexual services; from protecting those who are underage to giving dignity to women who are vulnerable to exploitation.
Pornography and sexual addiction have become normalised in our culture, and many of us choose to ignore it, often by our own naivety of how serious the issue really is. Just like that day in Tel Aviv when we saw something that looked wrong, but choose to keep on walking, something is going wrong with the porn industry, and blinded by its allure and promise of satisfaction, we can choose to keep on walking, or we can stop and draw attention to some of its dangerous and exploitative aspects.
Some will say that not all pornography is linked to abuse, and this is probably true, but from where I stand the lines are too often blurred to justify what has happened around the world through the mass distribution of pornography.
One of the girls who is getting training in our project is a survivor of sex trafficking and has endured horrific abuse; one of the first things she did when she came into our building was point at the projector on the ceiling, and full of fear, she asked if the projector was a camera. For her, the reality of exploitation and slavery was intrinsically linked to being filmed while forced to perform sexual acts. Filmed for the purpose of making pornography that thousands of members of the general population consume over the internet.
Let us take a stand for freedom, even when it is uncomfortable. Let us not walk by a situation that isn’t right, but instead explore the complexities that allow the exploitation of others to go unnoticed.