April 30, 2020

Commercial Sex Industry Takes Advantage of Unemployment Levels During Times of Crisis

During times of crisis when unemployment levels are subject to increase, sexually exploitative entities that are already well versed in coercion apply increased pressure on vulnerable women (and men) to use commercial sex as a way to make “ends meet.”

The coronavirus pandemic is no different.

As the U.S. and global economy have been rocked, leaving furloughed workers, parents, and young adults to wonder how their bills and daily living expenses will be paid, these exploiters are working overtime to target and entrap the vulnerable. 

According to an article published by the New York Times on April 9th, an additional 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment in the past week, increasing the total unemployment rate to more than 16 million in the past three weeks alone. Although stimulus package discussions have taken place in the House and Senate and the Federal Reserve has added an additional $2.3 trillion to stabilize financial markets, it is still unknown when the U.S. economy will be restored. As millions of Americans are living with great uncertainty of when and where paychecks will come from, pimps/traffickers are already offering to provide “employment” “opportunities.” 

The technologically advanced society in which we live has paved the way for brilliant innovations in communication and entertainment. However, there is a dark side to these advancements.

Producers in the commercial sex industry are capitalizing on such technology during this time of quarantine as more of us are relying on the Internet for entertainment and connection with one another. Commercial sex producers are ramping up the online sex industry by advertising and promoting free content to millions of online users around the globe, all while advertising “opportunities” to furloughed populations who are the most vulnerable during times of crisis. 

Sex camming has increased significantly as states have implemented stay-at-home orders. Both independent “cam-models” and pimps/traffickers have turned towards producing sexually explicit live streaming content on webcam sites. One of the top sex camming service sites reported a 69% increase in new sign-ups. One content producer commented that “there is a large amount of people that are looking to jump into this industry for the first time, which saturates the market a bit.” Another producer stated, “if you’re trying to sell porn, having the entire country cooped up at home with nothing to do is kind of a dream scenario.” One of the dangerous aspects of this phenomenon is the advertising methods exploitative websites are using which attempt to normalize sex camming by highlighting the capability for people to “work” from home, “be your own boss,” and receive multiple monthly payments. 

The rapid increase in consumption of pornography that some websites are reporting will also help to keep street prostitution alive even throughout the pandemic. Sexually exploitative content fuels demand for other sexually exploitative actions such as commercial sex buying. Mimi Nikkel, the founder of Love’s Arm, a nonprofit dedicated to helping sex trafficking survivors, stated “those with sexual addictions who have been confined to isolation are more likely to engage in sexually illicit behavior,” even if that means increasing their risk of contracting COVID-19. With pimps/traffickers trying to profit from the high demand for commercial sex, those enslaved to sexual exploitation are experiencing physical and verbal abuse to ensure they don’t abandon their “job.” 

This scenario was all too familiar for a woman in Jacksonville, Florida. During a recent interview with Jacksonville’s Channel 4 News, she stated that she felt she had no other viable option to put food on the table and a roof over her head. She was afraid she might encounter a serial rapist or killer, but the physical backlash she would endure if she were to stop during the pandemic also terrified her. This woman and countless other sexually exploited individuals like her feel a heightened sense of entrapment during COVID-19 resulting from the efforts of exploiters to engage a pandemic-stricken audience. 

What happens once we find a way to treat COVID-19 but the financial crisis is still ongoing?

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation stands behind the fact that pornography has ongoing public health harms that must be addressed. The high levels of pornographic consumption and high levels of commercial sexual exploitation during COVID-19 will lead to an increase in sex trafficking and child sexual abuse. The sexually exploitative entities taking advantage of the pandemic and wrongfully advertising “employment” “opportunities” to furloughed populations are furthering another sort of pandemic that must be stopped and eradicated before its damage to our communities becomes irreversible. 

Ways to help prevent sexual exploitation during times of crisis:

  1. Advertise legitimate employment opportunities and provide job training in marginalized communities. 
  2. Offer preventative information and education to communities where the risk for sexual exploitation is greater.  
  3. Form task forces made up of members of the community who have been educated about sexual exploitation and are equipped to mitigate the crisis. 
  4. Build well-equipped healthcare clinics in marginalized communities.
  5. Create and enforce rent and payment laws that take pressure off of those struggling to pay when crises occur.

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Madison Van Oss

Madison Van Oss

Legal Assistant

Madison is the Legal Assistant for the Law Center at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Madison supports the Law Center and its quest to bring justice to survivors of the sex trade industry through civil and criminal litigation. Madison brings with her a master’s degree in Homeland Security, several years of professional experience in the corporate world, as well as strong desire to protect and defend individuals against sexual abuse and exploitation.

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