She only wanted to pursue her dream to be a model and actress, but that dream turned into a nightmare.

An individual representing herself as a talent agent from “Royal Loyalty Management” came across her name on the internet and reached out to her. This “talent agent” started to build a sense of trust and a false relationship with the woman I’ll call Jane, offering her seemingly lucrative acting and modeling opportunities. She even set up several faux modeling photo sessions to deepen the deception.

But once Jane was hooked with promises of fame and fortune, things took a darker and far more disturbing turn. Jane started to receive nothing but scorn and disrespect from her “talent agent,” who told her the only way she would ever be successful was to appear in pornographic films. When Jane resisted, her “talent agent” increased the pressure, using psychological manipulation, direct coercion and threats of violence against Jane and her loved ones.

Eventually, Jane engaged in commercial sex acts with men at various hotels in several states, with her “talent agent” pocketing the money Jane “made.” Jane was then trafficked to multiple “professional” pornography companies in California and Nevada. 

These companies paid her “talent agent” for Jane’s participation in their videos, even though it was clear she was being sex trafficked. Her videos were distributed to multiple pornography websites, which monetized the videos with advertisements, profiting from Jane’s trafficking.

With the help of a friend, Jane was finally able to escape and start a new life. Unfortunately, her old life is still depicted on the Internet, available for millions to see, and these abuse videos continue to generate profits for the companies that refuse to take the content down, despite her pleas to do so.

Stories like this led me and the leadership of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation to launch our Law Center in 2019 — to seek justice and file lawsuits on behalf of women like Jane. Our goal is to dismantle the infrastructure supporting the internet pornography industry so traffickers and websites like Pornhub can no longer profit from sexual abuse or exploitation of young women.

The internet pornography industry has been operating with impunity for decades. But now there are a dozen lawsuits moving forward against traffickers and tech companies that profit from sexual exploitation. We won’t stop until there are hundreds of lawsuits.

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In addition to the lawsuits, our advocacy, together with thousands of outraged citizens, has targeted mainstream companies that have partnered with Big Porn as payment processors, advertisers, distribution partners and more. 

This grassroots advocacy recently resulted in Mastercard and VISA opening investigations into the rampant child sexual abuse material and filmed sex trafficking material on Pornhub. All of the big credit card companies stopped partnering with Pornhub following groundbreaking articles in the BBC and The New York Times that exposed these practices. 

These efforts, and the testimony of survivors, have caused corporate advertisers, such as Kraft-Heinz and Wish, to stop running ads on offending websites. This is critical, as these companies claim to make 50% of their revenue from advertisements. We also convinced Pornhub distribution partners Roku and Comcast to remove Pornhub channels from their services.

Currently, online pornography websites do not have to verify the age of performers or establish that meaningful consent was given by every individual depicted in the content —this must change.

Our fight against Big Porn is far from over. 

But we are fighting not just for those who have been tragically trafficked and had their abuse and exploitation depicted for millions to see. Our fight is also for those young people who are exposed to pornography at an ever-earlier age, having their sexual scripts warped by what they see. 

Because pornography can be accessed so easily via the internet, pornography is no longer just the realm of adults. It has become an epidemic with children and teenagers as well. 

Pornography exposure is rarely just a one-time occurrence. Instead, it can grab hold of a young person’s heart and mind and place them in a relentless grip that is never satisfied — leading impressionable minds further down a treacherous road to more and more dangerous forms of obscenity.

A 2021 study on cognitive processes related to pornography use found that excessive time and effort is spent watching and searching for pornography, resulting in impaired self-control over pornography use, failure to fulfill family, social and work responsibilities, and persistence in these sexual behaviors regardless of personal consequences.

One of the most tragic consequences of pornography use is how it can injure the marital relationship. Because pornography involves the selfish use and debasement of others for personal pleasure, its damage does not just stop with intimate relationships; it also takes a wrecking ball to other familial relationships, particularly children.

It has been said that values are “caught” by children. When parents engage in pornography use and children become aware of it, they come to think that if it is OK for mom or dad to view pornography, it is OK for them to do so as well. Many children of pornography users —particularly young women — often feel confused about their own worth and struggle to learn about and observe healthy intimate relationships on which they can build their own future relationships.

But children are not only being exposed to pornography at home. Children are also exposed to hardcore pornography via their smartphones, via school computers and at friends’ homes. Pornography and hypersexualized content are rampant on the social media platforms where our children are increasingly spending their time. The reality is that our kids are being exposed to sexually explicit material at younger ages more than ever before in history. 

Adolescents are more susceptible than adults to addiction and to developmental effects on the brain. There are many potential negative consequences related to children viewing pornography, such as contributing to poor academic achievement, mental and social disorders, the normalization of sharing self-produced nude images (sexting) and greater susceptibility to sexual violence.

For example, longitudinal research shows that childhood exposure to violent pornography predicts a nearly six-fold increase in self-reported sexually aggressive behavior later in life. A meta-analysis of 37 studies found that exposure to violent pornography increased a child’s odds of experiencing sexual exploitation by nearly three times.

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This is why our fight to dismantle the infrastructure supporting the pornography industry goes beyond just taking on Big Porn. We must take concrete steps, such as the bill, authored by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, and signed into law last year by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, requiring manufacturers of smartphone and tablets to automatically activate filters that block sexually explicit material for users under the age of 18.

Instagram suspended Pornhub’s account last week. It’s time for other social media sites to follow.

The battle against Big Porn is just one front in an ongoing effort to make pornography intolerable in society. More must be done if we are to truly have a world where all can live and love without sexual abuse and exploitation. That is the commitment I have made, not only for survivors like Jane, but also for all those who have been ensnarled in pornography’s tangled web of deceit. This fight has just begun.

Dawn Hawkins is the CEO of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, @NCOSE on Twitter, a national organization that works to expose the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health harms of pornography.

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