It was a small solemn room in which many were seated with serious expressions. Around me sat clergy of many faiths, from Nuns to Coptics to Evangelicals. All gathered to hear a panel at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference in DC centered around on a little recognized epidemic.
The daunting discussion was on the Human Sex Trafficking of young women, girls and boys across the United States and the world, paramount to a new sexual slave trade ensnaring millions. The stories shared brought shock or sadness to some and seething anger to others. A Coptic Orthodox Priest with a long white beard named Father Mena, whom I later befriended, shook his head emotionally at the thought of this shadow society lurking doing evil in the underbelly of our own civil society.
At the closing of the panel, I shook hands and spoke with some of the speakers such as Pat Trueman, the president of The National Center on Sexual Exploitation and David Labahn, CEO of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. I promised them that I would cover a few of these calloused cases, these stories of suffering and woe. Hopefully, this will shine a light on the gravity of the situation and the need to advocate for greater action against human trafficking and the powerful fuel that is pornography.
A Lifetime of Slavery
It was May 5th, 2011, the case was called United States v Bagley et al, the victim was a young woman with mental deficiencies called “FV” for the sake of her anonymity. She came from a troubled childhood and at 16 ran away from her foster home. Then a married couple, the primary defendants in the case, took FV into their home and the nightmare began.
First, she was gradually introduced to pornography and drugs such as marijuana and ecstasy. They then began to sexually and physically harm FV in unspeakable ways as the situation escalated. Until the victim was forced to act as their property: “Edward bagley allegedly beat, whipped, flogged, suffocated, choked, electrocuted, caned, skewered, drowned, mutilated, hung and caged FV to coerce her to become a sex slave.” The defendants forced FV to sign a slave contract at 18 that she believed bound her to act as their sex slave. A short time later, they had her tattooed with a barcode on her neck, a tribal tattoo on her back with the letter S for slave, and the Chinese character for “Slave” on her ankle.
Many men routinely communicated with Bagley and took part in his videos and pornographic photo shoots for profit and pleasure. At one point FV “appeared on the cover of the July 2007 issue of Taboo, a publication owned by Larry Flynt’s Hustler Magazine Group, and was the subject of a story and multipage photo spread inside.” Thus showing the industry’s complete compliance, disregard or at least callused complacency for what was occurring. One of Taboos Photographers who took part and interviewed them, was later interviewed by the FBI himself. He lamented the following on the brutal case:
“They actually seemed to be quite a lovely couple … if anything he was going out of his way to make sure she was as happy as possible. I was very shocked to see the government had any issue with them at all,”
Federal investigators only became aware of the situation after Bagley: “suffocated and electrocuted FV during a torture session to a state of cardiac arrest… FV, was 23 years old at that time, received emergency medical treatment and was hospitalized.” The full extent of the depravity of the case will not be mentioned here. In the end, the result was only a 20-year sentence through a binding plea agreement that Bagley and Federal prosecutors agreed to.
What Causes Trafficking? – “Profit And Pleasure”
Now these widespread trends of trafficking do not happen by accident nor are they isolated. It requires an egregious environment in which individuals are vulnerable to exploitation. In other cases there can even be systematic suppression of justice by states across the world who are unwilling to truly address this insidious issue. Those who lack power and protection under any system are at the highest risk of being preyed upon and lured into that corrupt cynical cycle. Whether they be migrants, the poor or transgenders, at the end of the day anyone can be targeted by traffickers.
“Their brutality knows no bounds: sexual exploitation, forced labour, the removal of bodily organs and slavery are the tools of their trade,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres
Although, it eventually comes down to the dark demand being pursued by any means for profit or pleasure. This is then facilitated both at hidden physical locations and through digital hubs such as the dreaded Dark Net. Which is not commonly used or accessible to the general public but is used mainly by the nefarious in nature.
On January 4th, 2017, the famous Norwegian Computer Expert from the Newspaper Verdens Gang named Einar Otto Stangvik, exposed that the World’s Largest child abuse site on the Darknet was being run by the Australian Police with nearly a million registered users. Operation Artemis will be covered in more detail later in this article. Now in an interview in November of 2017 with Motherboard, he gave the following statement about how commonplace even the worst forms of content have become on the internet.
“Child abuse material isn’t a problem specific to the dark net. Even on the normal internet there are huge offerings for this kind of content—and often only a Google search away.” – Einar Otto Stangvik
Most importantly, there has in recent years been a serious lack of enforcement of laws pertaining to these matters like an international modern Salutary neglect. So much so that in the 90 page UN “Global Report On Trafficking In Persons” it stated the following about the current underwhelming legal response:
“It is equally clear that without robust criminal justice responses, human trafficking will remain a low-risk, high-profit activity for criminals.”
The Prevalence of Pornography
In recent decades, it has become undeniable that vulgar and obscene content has become more common and more accessible than ever. As supply has increased to meet demand, the erotic extremes of popular television have been pushed by pornographic propaganda with revenues easily amounting up to 100 billion dollars. This increasing bombardment has now caused the average age of a person to first experience pornography to be about eleven. If not younger, thus dragging them into a dark world that perverts their perceptions through seductive sexual stimuli. The word pornography itself is simply the definition of filmed prostitution. Which is a gruesome reality for the half of prostitutes that are forced into filming pornography at the threat of injury or death with 88% wanting to leave it.
“You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture,” Playboy Enterprises CEO Scott Flanders
The pornographers companies promote their obscenities under the guise of movie art or even more unfounded as “Free Speech”. However, the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that certain forms of obscenities are indeed not protected speech as established by the Miller Test. While some recent cases have caused there to be a push for looser definitions and raised further questions in regard to the legal protections granted by the 1st amendment. Apart from the legal struggle and complications, enforcement of such laws has proven difficult as the internet crosses all traditional boundaries and jurisdictions.
Additionally, a morally hollow Hollywood has masqueraded ever more unnecessary sex scenes and movies borderlining pornography with praise. Though there has recently been a pushback from some famous actors such as Russell Brand and musicians like Mattie Montgomery from For Today, against the insidious influence creeping into the industry. From Netflix going as far as glamorizing teenage prostitution, to Facebook being sued in an upcoming case for revenge porn, there has been an apathetic response to it by media moguls. The British comedian and actor Russell Brand came out strongly against pornography in a series of videos. In which Brand openly criticized pornography as “icebergs of filth are floating through every house on Wi-Fi,” that negatively influence society. In a viral video he stated:
“Our attitudes toward sex have become warped and perverted and have deviated from its true function as an expression of love and a means for procreating, I think porn hurts everyone involved, the people that are doing it, the people that are watching it…”
While in the past certain taboos were previously pushed past by society with good reason, now any and all standards are questioned on the basis of a sexually saturated shame society. Sadly, more often than not, those with any shred of standards are shamed. Such as the recent case where a porn star named August Ames was harassed, pressured, and bullied into committing suicide at the age of 23 because she expressed that she did not wish to shoot a certain sex scene for health and safety reasons.
Is Pornography an Addiction?
There has been an ever growing amount of evidence that those who use pornography exhibit a pattern of behaviors akin to one with an addiction. The chemical in the brain known as Dopamine causes individuals to seek it out stimulants until found and this then causes a release of pleasurable endorphins in the brain. Kevin Majeres, a Harvard Psychiatrist who specializes in cognitive-behavioral therapy explains:
“This is why pornography causes a vicious circle. When someone views pornography, he gets overstimulated by dopamine; so his brain destroys some dopamine receptors. This makes him feel depleted, so he goes back to pornography, but, having fewer dopamine receptors, this time it requires more to get the same dopamine thrill; but this causes his brain to destroy more receptors; so he feels an even greater need for pornography to stimulate him.
So as guys keep gaming the dopamine system, they start to find that they have to use pornography for longer and longer periods to have the same effect, and they have to visit more and more sites.
But even more porn sites eventually don’t cut it. What then?
You have to stimulate another emotion: fear or disgust or shock or surprise. For porn use, you need to start moving to kinkier things, things that make you afraid or make you feel a bit sick; and so you start experimenting with various perversions.”
Those who still believe that addiction is only limited to substances would do well to read the following statement from the American Society of Addiction Medicine on the matter.
“As a result of the growing neuroscientific evidence, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) formally expanded their definition of addiction in 2011 to include both behaviors and substances: Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.”
The addicted brain can sometimes have issues discerning virtual experiences from reality and naturally seeks ever more extreme forms of the stimulant. Overall, desensitizing or numbing its users and blurring the lines of subconsciously acceptable behavior. In one of his final interviews before his execution, the infamous serial killer and rapist Ted Bundy spoke sincerely about pornography’s personal effect on him from a young age.
“Pornography can reach out and snatch a kid out of any house today. It snatched me out of my home twenty, thirty years ago and as diligent as my parents were and they were diligent in protecting their children. And as good a christian home and we had a wonderful christian home. There is no protection against the kind of influences that are loose in a society that tolerates [it]…”
The brain slowly comes to crave ever stronger, more potent material that gives a greater sense of excitement. This trains the thoughts to race down a dangerous pathway toward an ambition to act upon and emulate aggressive content seen. An individual’s acumen is fooled, twisted and even perverted by artificial means. Harvard psychiatrist Kevin Majeres commented further about the power of porn on the brain:
“Pornography’s power comes from the way it tricks the man’s lower brain; one of the drawbacks of this region is that it can’t tell the difference between an image and reality. Pornography offers a man an unlimited number of seemingly willing females; every time he sees the new partner, with each click, it gears up his sex drive again.”
A Public Health Crisis
On April 19th, 2016, Utah was the first state to declare pornography a Public Health Crisis in a new wave of public awareness. Governor Gary Herbert gave the following straightforward statement on the matter:
“We want our young people to know that there’s a particularly psychological and physiological detriment that comes from addiction to pornography. The intent here is to raise awareness and understanding about the addictive nature of pornography and the harmful effects it has on individuals and society generally.”
Two years later, on February 21st 2018, Florida’s House of Representatives also declared pornography a “Health Risk”. Time.com reported the following:
“The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Ross Spano, said that research has “found a correlation between pornography use and mental and physical illnesses, difficulty forming and maintaining intimate relationships, unhealthy brain development and cognitive function, and deviant, problematic or dangerous sexual behavior,” at a hearing last month before the House’s Health & Human Services Committee.”
Outside of politics within the circles of Academia, a newly famous scholar has spoken out strongly on the matter. Dr. Jordan Peterson, the renowned clinical psychologist from the University of Toronto denounced its use as detrimental to men and women in various lectures related to the matter found on YouTube.
“Now pornography, well, I don’t know if there’s anything good that can be said about pornography. I think that it’s pretty much an untrammeled social evil. In terms of psychological development, it’s not to be recommended. It’s a stimulus that has been detached from its purpose.” – Dr. Jordan B Peterson
Some common critics would cite its high use particularly among younger age groups as a defense of it being a “harmless” thing to use. However, this defense is as urological as cigarette use being defended due to its past high use when the negative effects were yet unknown.
What begins as a curiosity of children usually around the age of 12, often becomes an addiction by adulthood. Some early warning signs in the research so far done are many the links arising showing a strong correlation between porn use, various sexual dysfunctions and lower arousal. A few other proven examples being lower relationship and sexual satisfaction. This correlation and even causation is shown here, in 79 intensive scientific studies conducted on the matter. In light of the recent research, the overwhelming science cannot simply be shoved to the side.
Pornography, most of all its more extreme forms, affects young brains and behaviors negatively in their future relationships until they spiral out of control, affecting future families relations. Individuals can’t have imaginary sex with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of virtual women doing all kinds of debaucherous acts not natural to normal sexual intimacy without it having a profound impact. Lastly, many have recognized its harmful effects even within the porn industry with several major former stars speaking out harshly against its use.
Government Responses to Trafficking
In October 2016, Operation Artemis began, spearheaded by the Australian Taskforce Argos. It started after they tracked down and apprehended the two pedophilic men in charge of the DarkNet’s largest child pornography site known as Child’s Play. Benjamin Faulkner and Patrick Falte were later sentenced to life in prison for their hand in running the site and personally raping a four year old girl on film.
After apprehending them they quickly gave up their passwords and information to authorities, allowing the police to take over their site. They then began to impersonate them for eleven months, running their site until shutting it down on September 13th, 2017. This finding was uncovered by Norway’s second largest paper called Verdens Gang or VG for short, as was mentioned earlier in this article.
The shocking revelation that the most massive hubs for broadcasted abuse were being run by governments raised major ethical concerns and questions by legal professionals and parents of victims. Additionally, in their time in charge they more than tripled the size of the site through continued distribution of child pornography. Eventually swelling its registered users to over one million before shutting it down.
Governments can deal with trafficking in many manners. Through direct intervention or subtle subversion as was done in this case. As is commonly done in large scale government operations, the total number of predators identified was not given to the public. Therefore, it’s unknown how many total arrests came out of the operation worldwide. The exception being Canada, where the Canadian government has revealed that they have identified and saved about a dozen children and referred up to approximately 100 cases to other countries to handle. So therefore it appears that some hundreds of targets were identified. Below is quote from the VG interview on the operation:
“The media tends to use such figures as “weapons” against us and our colleagues around the world, and we don’t want that.” – Task Force Argos Investigator Paul Griffiths
Either way, this does help to showcase the sheer scope of the level of organization that cruel criminals will go to try to get away with the worst atrocities.
The United States
Now in recent US based operations where numbers have been released, there has been at times hundreds arrested in anti trafficking stings. In Chicago alone tens of thousands are being pushed into prostitution, about 40% of which are under the age of 18. In February 2017, 108 people from Chicago were arrested for being directly involved in trafficking along with 752 others across the United States.
“Every year, 15,000 to 24,000 people in Chicagoland become victims of human trafficking,” said Wolski. “Of these, 35-40 percent are under age 18. Most are trafficked for sex or pornography. The average age of entry into this form of slavery is 12-14.”
It appears that even with the information on hand many governments seem timid to arrest the sheer number of those involved in trafficking and illegal forms of pornography in particular. Instead, mainly going after those higher ranked who will be simply replaced by another similarly minded individual soon after. Rather than striking back hard against all those who endanger the most innocent of our society. In rare cases, they are even defending predators and punishing the victims. Some of whom may fear coming forward due to their legal status.
However, hope is on the horizon n light of a recent executive action. President Donald Trump issued an Executive order on February 9th, 2017 labeled, “Presidential Executive Order on Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking”. In the Executive order, its purpose is described best in the following line.
“A comprehensive and decisive approach is required to dismantle these organized crime syndicates and restore safety for the American people.”
A common misconception among the general populace could be that those who take part in trafficking are only those on the fringes of society or gang culture. While in reality, even the trusted and respected were found to be heavily involved in a series of 277 arrests in Florida. Doctors and even police officers on their own force were arrested in connection to trafficking in Operation No Tricks, No Treats. Nor is it unheard of for politicians to be arrested after being caught red handed taking part in it.
Also what must be addressed is that the coercive conditions that some in society are subjected is what makes victims vulnerable to begin with. In order to solve a problem, you must go to its source rather than temporally staving off the symptoms. From a failed foster system to an at times lacking criminal justice system, these only make things more difficult.
The first key for governments to truly take on trafficking lies both in making tougher laws against human trafficking and greater oversight of the pornography produced in connection with it. In particular, the recent rise of Pseudo Child Pornography(PCP) should be again banned or at least regulated closely. Then secondly, the current and future laws must be enforced adequately by appropriate authorities.
Private Sector Response – The New Underground Railroad
Overall, governments across the world have given mixed efforts in the fight against human trafficking and in rare cases against extreme forms of pornography. Now supporting and sometimes even leading anti trafficking and pornography efforts is the private sector that’s stepped in to fulfill a increasing demand for justice. Uber has made a major attempt to assist by enlisting hundreds of thousands of its drivers to help spot trafficking.
“We have a lot of eyes and ears on the road, and if we can help just one child, it’s worth it.” -Uber
Well traveled groups such as Operation Underground Railroad directly combat human sex trafficking both in and outside of the United States. To date rescuing over 900 victims and arrested 433 traffickers across the world in their endless efforts. The face of the organization is former special agent Tim Ballard. His jump Team consists of former Navy SEALs and Special Ops operatives . On their site is the following message to traffickers:
“And to those captors and perpetrators, even you monsters who dare offend God’s precious children, we declare to you: Be afraid. We are coming for you.”
Tim Ballard was a special Agent for the Department of Homeland Security for over ten years before he left the public sector to form Operation Underground Railroad, or O.U.R in 2013. Its mission was to directly combat human trafficking wherever they find it, in particular child sex trafficking. Previously he expressed regret that his main objective was to save mainly Americans while ignoring victims of many other nationalities in his work for the US Government. Though he did not hold the US government directly at fault for it saying:
“There are limited resources, I don’t fault the government—it’s just the way it is.”
Then over the years, over the course of many cases it began to wear on him until he felt compelled to go beyond his original prerogative.
“I’ve had cases where I knew where the kids were, but I couldn’t get them out because there was no US connection,” he remarked. “I couldn’t take it anymore.”
That passion for the cause and personal spiritual experiences lead him to found the organization O.U.R. Which grew rapidly in both size and popularity as they successfully apprehended traffickers and saved countless defenseless victims. He’s personally lead a renewed effort to end what he views as the continuation of slavery from the halls of Congress, to continuous conferences and passionate speeches.
Beyond his physical operations, Ballard has worked hard to develop software to track and combat the pornography commonly produced and distributed of the abhorrent abuse taking place. Which he views as driving the demand similar to a behavior altering drug.
“The problem of child sex slavery is 100 percent the societal consequence of our pornographic world. Pornography is a drug, Adult pornography is marijuana, and child pornography is the cocaine. When people move on to child pornography, eventually they want the real thing. This software will change everything.”
Only as governments and societies take greater steps to combat these issues will there be any hope of ever fully ending human exploitation of the worst kind. This means devoting enough resources and manpower to enforce the law and to pass reasonable regulations to counteract this epidemic. An anonymous member of the O.U.R Jump team best summed up his commitment to the cause in the following quote:
“The only thing that stands between evil taking over this world is good people who face their fears and take action,” “People who do nothing allow evil to flourish. I can’t sit back and allow atrocities to happen. I’m not going to allow my fear to stop me from doing what is right.”