The “Web of Exploitation” Changed How I Understood Sexual Abuse

Before being a part of the NCOSE team, I was aware of a multitude of sexual abuse and exploitation issues. I knew that sex buying was a problem. I knew that sexual violence was a problem. I knew that sex trafficking was a problem. However, I did not fully comprehend the gravity of the interconnection that there is between these problems. 

The biggest realization that I encountered during my time interning at NCOSE was how pornography is interconnected with other forms of sexual abuse and exploitation. The pornography industry thrives off of sex trafficking. Young women, and in some cases even girls, are brought in and used for the sake of making a profit at the expense of their humanity. These women are defrauded and coerced into making content for pornography websites, and forced to continue even when deeply concerned and uncomfortable. The pornography industry seeks out vulnerable women who need proper support and care, and then further exploits them by feeding the women into an endless cycle of abuse and exploitation that is filmed for someone else’s profit.  

Not only is pornography industry connected to sex trafficking on the production side, but it’s products also play a role in generating demand/sex buying. The demand of sex buyers was another significant revelation for me. To put it simply, there would be no sex trafficking without the demand of sex buyers. When people begin to view sex as something they think they are entitled to, they begin to lose sight of the humanity of the persons who are being exploited. The “supply” refers to those who are bought and sold for in-person sex or whose sexually explicit materials are treated as products to be sold, bought, and traded. The humanity of people who are supplied is reduced to nothing as they are objectified and degraded as a mere sexual commodity that can be “supply” to meet the “demand” of sex buyers. 

Sexual violence is also profited on by the pornography industry as it is a component of both the production and content of a significant portion of the material it generates. What people sometimes forget to remember is that the women in these videos are real people. They are being hurt and taken advantage of even if it is not portrayed that way. When people justify abuse in pornography as being condoned, they are failing to see that people are having to live this out. Not only is it creating an environment for women to be harmed, but it also causing a chain reaction that is hurting women “downstream” of the production itself. 

Violent pornography has a desensitizing effect on consumers, and it rewires users to be more likely to see violence as an acceptable way to treat women or even as a “normal” way to interact with them sexually based off the false fantasy of how the women appear to react to violence in pornographic material. These violent sexual scripts become engrained in viewers’ minds and play a role in shaping the way they view people.  

There are so many ways that different forms of sexual abuse and exploitation are intertwined. It may seem overwhelming to take on so many different challenges but, in what was probably the most important lesson I learned during my time at NCOSE, we are able to make a difference when we speak out for truth and justice and defend one another’s human dignity. 

Abigail Thorpe is a 2022 college graduate and interned at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation during the Spring 2022 semester.

The Numbers

300+

NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.

100+

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.

93

NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.

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