Making the Connection: Media and Sex Trafficking

Making the Connection: Media and Sex Trafficking


Women are disproportionately represented in the reported instances of sex trafficking cases in the United States.[1]

And with this statistic so high, the question begs to be answered: Why?

It’s certainly not because women ask for a life of exploitation and abuse.

We need only to look to the media and see how women are objectified to surmise that there is a common, and socially acceptable perception, that women are a commodity to be bought and sold.

And we can see these correlations between the oversexualization of women and exploitation through an examination of media’s habit of objectifying and sexualizing women in film, television, advertisements, music, video games, and pornography.

In the media, women are oftentimes on stereotypical display. They denote a sexiness as they exist on the covers of magazines, movie posters, and in music videos wearing minimal clothing, or none at all, and perform in sexually-charged contexts.

2018, Kim Kardashian on Vogue India cover; photo by Greg Swales

Photos and videos of them being seductive, desirous, and promiscuous renders them immediately as something to be gazed at and lusted after and their surface quickly becomes more important than what lies beneath. The presentation of what a woman is minimizes her humanity. Women are consistently presented as sexual objects created for sexual gratification. Society normalizes the minimization of the value of women.

And though a picture or video may seem harmless, this objectification of women in the media directly links to the women’s exploitation in society, especially through sex trafficking. Attitudes easily transfer from screen to reality.

While this oversexualization unconsciously skews men’s perception of the value of women, it also distorts how young women see themselves.


2014, Victoria’s Secret fashion show in London


Young women feel expected to behave powerlessly and men are conditioned to develop a dehumanization perception about women. The objectification of women in advertisements, film, and television can quickly escalate.

Pornography creates demand for sex trafficking

One of the largest platforms that has demonstrated media’s effects on sex trafficking is that of pornography.

Numerous studies have been made about how behavior exhibited in pornography has resulted in a higher demand for sex buying. The gender differences in pornography are no secret. It is a male-centric genre that caters to men’s desires and unrealistically paints women to be submissive and conformable. And in violent pornography that displays women’s physical and verbal abuse or nonconsensual behavior, men’s perception of women becomes complicated.  Studies show how individuals’ exposure to pornography leads to lack of compassion and empathy towards women,[3] because of the normalized abusive behavior within it.

Consistent consumption of violent pornography is shown to desensitize people to sexual violence, making them not only more likely to find sexual assault acceptable or justifiable through victim blaming, but also more likely to become purchasers of sex.

When viewers see certain sexual scenarios taking place in pornography, they become more eager to perform these scenarios themselves.[4] This is where sex trafficking comes in. Women who are trafficked are easy to obtain and even easier to discard. They are there to perform whatever acts a buyer may desire with little consequence on his part, and therefore the individual with a taboo sex fantasy or fetish can get exactly what he or she wants.

Porn Actors as victims

And this last example of how pornography leads to an increase in sex trafficking is the darkest of them all.

It has been documented that about half of the sex trafficking victims that have come forth have reported that they participated in pornography during their enslavement.[5]

This means that there’s a strong likelihood that many people have unwittingly seen and participated in the success of pornography that was created with trafficked men and women. So, according to these studies, not only does pornography encourage sexualizing and exploitive behavior in reality, but it directly supports an industry that enslaves and dehumanizes women and men.

We see how certain representations of sexual behavior, such as pornography and its incredibly vast presence in the media, has such a strong and clear impact on the apparatus of sex trafficking.

There is an undeniable correlation between oversexualization and objectification of women in media and sex trafficking. It’s crucial that we ask questions – questions about the media, societal expectations, our own complicity, those who decide what we see, and those who don’t get a voice at all.














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