by Jewell Baraka
I was trafficked in porn a few decades ago, long before anyone heard the term sex trafficking. Everyone thought that the porn life was the Playboy mansion and that the prostitution life was Pretty Woman. I had no grid for the possibility that my trafficking was not my fault even though I was 11-17, underage the whole time.
My dad trafficked me into prostitution when I was 11. He wasn’t the pimp. He was the middleman. He put me in the car every night with two men who took me to a brothel type warehouse. I lived at home and went to school, but night after night I was trafficked in prostitution at first and then porn.
Watching Pornhub’s crimes being exposed on every phone and computer screen the last few weeks has been deeply satisfying. It feels like karmic payback for all the videos of underage, trafficked, and raped women and children that are still up on their website.
More than just payback, though, this is the moment that justice begins for countless girls like me who were trafficked in porn. Finally we can say that we were trafficked in porn, finally people will understand.
Porn trafficking has existed in hiddenness for decades, but now it is exposed in the light of day for all to see. Every social issue has a moment when our culture becomes aware of it as a problem of our time. This is the moment when our culture finally sees the abuses within the porn industry as the urgent social issue it is.
Laila Mickelwait, the Director of Abolition at Exodus Cry, has taken on Pornhub, the largest porn website in the world. As she tweeted piece after piece of evidence proving Pornhub’s complicity in crimes posted on their site people saw and responded. She started a petition to “Shut Down Pornhub and Hold Its Executives Accountable” and in 2 weeks 300,000 have signed in solidarity with the cause.
Finally the porn industry and its agents, in this case porn websites, are being seen and exposed as the predators they are. And they must be held accountable, stopped from profiting off the exploitation of the vulnerable, who are often underage teens.
Minors in pornography is not an issue seperate from the adult porn industry. There have always been teen girls and boys in the adult porn industry. I was one of those. I was 14 when I was trafficked in porn.
These shoots where crimes are perpetrated against teenage girls don’t happen in the light of day on public sets. My shoots all happened at night, but it was the adult porn industry. I was surrounded by people at least twice my age, both men and women. This means that every adult on that set was complicit in the crimes perpetrated against me.
And as the case against Pornhub has brought to light, those who distributed or websites that hosted my films were also complicit in the crimes perpetrated against me.
Teen porn is one of the most searched categories on Pornhub according to Mickelwait. “The search will result in videos that are constantly being added faster than any individual could watch them. Many feature girls who look 13 years old at best.”1
And we know that where there is demand, traffickers, exploiters, and pornographers will create the supply by any means necessary. I was caught in the middle of that cold system of supply and demand as a 14-year-old girl. And the brutality of those 3 years of being trafficked in porn nearly killed me.
I was not filmed in a pedophile’s darkened apartment alone. I was filmed on a set full of cameras, crew, and “performers.” I call them performers so that you will understand who I mean, but you should know that all of it was real. The sex, the violence, the torture, and the fear and pain in my eyes and in my screams were 100% real.
The aftermath of the cruelty I survived on those porn shoots has been a fear of people that I am only now overcoming. Every crime was recorded and lived on as mastubatory fuel for men. For a long time just walking down the street was hard because I never knew who had seen them. So I never looked up. I have learned to look people in the eye again, but it took years and distance from that time.
The rise of short porn videos that can be uploaded to websites has only escalated the number of crimes being used as mastubatory fuel on sites like Pornhub.
Rose Kalemba was 14 when she was brutally raped by two men for 12 hours while a 3rd man filmed the incident. A few months later as she was scrolling online she found herself tagged in a link. When she clicked on it she was taken to Pornhub, to a video of her rape.
She contacted Pornhub for 6 months telling them that it was not consensual and that she was underage. Pornhub refused to take it down. So finally she posed as a lawyer and threatened to sue them. Only then did they take it down.2
My “no” never stopped any violation or violence from happening to me either. On the porn set, if anything, my “no” was a turn on. It was a signal to them to accelerate and escalate the violation and violence. My “no” was a challenge that always ended with me in a heap on the floor shaking violently.
Last year 22 women testified to being defrauded into producing internet pornography for the mainstream porn site, Girls Do Porn. They were assured the content would never be posted online. Fraud, one of the indicators of sex trafficking, was present in their case. And their videos were posted on several websites including Pornhub, now under fire for hosting videos of the rape of minors among other things.
Their story reveals porn trafficking which was planned and perpetrated in the mainstream porn industry. The “force, fraud, and coercion” that is at the center of both the federal and UN definition of sex trafficking3 exists throughout the porn industry. And websites like Pornhub can no longer hide behind “we didn’t know,” which is most likely a lie anyway. “We didn’t care to know because we were making money off them” would be closer to the truth.
For the sake of our children and the vulnerable that are being trafficked on their pages, sites like Pornhub must start caring. It is not optional. Sites that host user generated porn must have systems to verify identity, age, and consent of those who post and those who are in the videos. This process should happen before the videos post on their websites. And they must partner with organizations like Thorn who have developed technology to help identify sexual abuse material online.
In her Ted Talk Julie Cordua, CEO of Thorn, tells the story of Imgur, a company they partnered with where users upload millions of pieces of content every day. Within 20 minutes of going live, a piece of sexual abuse material was identified. When they looked at the user’s account they found hundreds more pieces of sexual abuse material4. So Pornhub and sites like it have no excuse for not knowing.
The cover narrative that the porn industry and its agents, websites and distributors, use is that “porn is between consenting adults”—I am not saying that it doesn’t ever happen. There may be porn scenes and even whole films done with adults who, for the most part, consent. But the issue of force, fraud, and coercion is always a reality on porn sets.
For me the porn set was not a fun orgy. The porn set was an angry mob hungry for rape and violence. This dynamic of you against the mob is what makes porn exploitation different from all other forms of sexual exploitation.
In prostitution I was repeatedly overpowered, but usually by one man. In porn I was overpowered by a whole set of men and women every night. Most nights I couldn’t even stand up by the end of the night.
My story is a story of porn trafficking. It is a story full of perpetrators, but it is also full of those complicit in the crimes perpetrated against me. The porn industry has both perpetrators and those complicit to crimes, because of their inaction, like Pornhub. Both must be addressed.
Porn trafficking is real and it has been for decades now. The crimes against us were hidden for years. They were hidden by both perpetrators and those complicit in their crimes, but now they will see the light of day.