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Connecting Pornography and Prostitution

Meghan Donevan is the Research Director at Talita, an NGO based in Sweden that provides holistic support and an exit program for women who have been sexually exploited in prostitution, pornography, and human trafficking.

In her recent presentation at Culture Reframed’s virtual event, “Pornography and Prostitution: Connecting the Dots,” Donevan shared insights from a study of women involved in pornography production in Sweden to understand the ties between pornography and prostitution.

Donevan highlighted the significant changes in the pornography industry over the years and noted that social media is “where much of today’s online sexual exploitation occurs.” Pointing out that our culture is dominated by selfies and the number of “likes” on a social post, Donevan said that young people are most affected: “their boundaries end up being pushed further and further.”

In her research, the women she interviewed shared that “porn pimps” actively recruit young women and girls on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat and often use ploys such as model recruiting to grab their attention. Donevan noted that young people are particularly vulnerable to this because they are “growing up in a culture where they’re bombarded by the message that their worth is defined by whether or not they are seen online.”

Donevan emphasized that “anyone … can be caught in the snares of these predators,” particularly young women and girls who are struggling financially, suffering from poor mental health, or who have been subjected to earlier sexual violence and abuse. These vulnerability factors are also prevalent in prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation.

Donevan argues that the ties between pornography, prostitution, and human trafficking for sexual exploitation have become more apparent since the allegations made against Pornhub and their parent company, MindGeek, which she refers to as “the largest pornography  ‘company’ — or global pimp — in the world.”

Donevan believes that combating sexual exploitation requires three pillars: legislation, holistic support, and education. “We need legislation that targets the demand for sexual exploitation,” she said. She also stresses that legislation needs to apply to all forms of sexual exploitation, both online and offline. “We need to make sure that our laws and policies are updated and all-encompassing … and we need to understand pornography for what it is: filmed prostitution.”

Additionally, survivors need holistic, long-term support that includes vocational training and education, as well as psychological and social support. Last, she said parents and schools have a responsibility to educate children and keep them safe from sexual exploitation by educating them about what pornography is and warning them of its negative, widespread impact it has.

Watch Donevan’s full presentation below.

Where are your kids getting their sex education? Their smartphones? In this digital age, it’s critical for young people to have trusted adults to help them build resilience and resistance to hypersexualized media and porn. Check out Culture Reframed’s free online Programs for Parents of Tweens and Program for Parents of Teens.