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January 30, 2006

The Pornography /Trafficking Connection

By Daniel Weiss
Guest commentary
Colorado Springs
Article Last Updated: 1/27/2006 01:02 AM

Last week, President Bush signed the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005, mandating the U.S. government and military expend greater efforts to combat the illegal practice of buying and selling human beings.

As the president said at the bill-signing ceremony, "Human trafficking is an offense against human dignity, a crime in which human beings, many of them teenagers and young children, are bought and sold and often sexually abused by violent criminals. Our nation is determined to fight and end this modern form of slavery."

The extent of the trade in human flesh is staggering. The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates that as many as 4 million people across the globe are bought and sold each year. Just within the United States, as many as 50,000 people are trapped in sexual slavery at any given time. This grim reality was again brought to light in a recent Toledo Blade series documenting how that city is a national trafficking hub for underage prostitution.

This global tragedy hinges on the notion that human beings are commodities to be bought, sold, used and discarded. If the president is truly serious about ending the global sex trade, he would do well to start at home by cleaning up one of its primary drivers: the explosive growth of illegal hardcore pornography.

Hardcore pornography, or material depicting actual sex acts, promotes the idea that human beings can be sexually used and abused without consequences. If we tolerate pornographic material that encourages people to indulge their darkest sexual fantasies, we cannot act surprised when millions do so in real life as well.

In this regard, the United States is the world's worst violator. Software company N2H2 tracked the explosion of online pornography, which grew from 14 million Web pages in 1998 to 260 million in 2003. Adult Video News claims that 11,000 new pornographic films are released annually in the United States. Research by the Florida Family Association found that as much as 70 percent of the world's free online pornography is distributed by as few as 20 U.S. based companies.

Although the Supreme Court has determined that hardcore pornography, or obscenity, has no First Amendment protection, Justice Department enforcement efforts over the past five years total only 40 obscenity prosecutions of persons or entities, most of whom worked alone and ran their businesses out of garages.

In the absence of meaningful enforcement, thousands of large-scale porn purveyors continue to churn out "entertainment" products featuring depictions of rape, bondage, group sex and pseudo-child pornography.

Vivid Entertainment, one of America's largest porn-producers, produces about 80 porn films per year with revenues around $150 million annually. Its main competitor, VCA Pictures, operates a 40,000-square-foot facility that produces 400,000 X-rated videos per month.

Companies like LodgeNet and On Command pump these movies to millions of hotel rooms, generating hundreds of millions of dollars annually. The strangest (and perhaps leading) contributors to the global sex industry are hotel chains such as Hilton, Marriott, Holiday Inn and others that offer hardcore pay-per-view pornography in hotel rooms in direct violation of U.S. law.

The first step toward reducing demand for sex slaves is to prosecute those distributing material that violates obscenity laws and serves as a veritable training manual for abuse.

While the new anti-trafficking law has some excellent provisions, President Bush also needs to take a hard look at his own Justice Department, which is serving him so poorly in this area. The lives of millions literally depend on it.

Daniel Weiss serves as Focus on the Family's senior analyst for media and sexuality.
[HT], [SS]

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