For decades, brothels and strip clubs have glittered the cities of the United States of America. I remember years ago driving across the barren lands of Arizona, Nevada, and Montana, only to witness brothels, strip clubs, and sex shops in the most desolate of places packed with patrons. Places like Las Vegas have made a permanent landmark for themselves by promoting and selling sex, as the visual images of the sex trade have been in full view for everyone to see. We all knew it was there - we could see it.
Globally, brothels and massage parlors lined the alleys for sex tourism, as foreigners joined the local sex buyers to exploit victims all over the world. It too has screeched to a halt... or so it seemed.
With lockdown, isolation, and social distancing from Covid-19, some expect that just because the doors to sex the industry have publicly shut - that it is closed. But instead, the opposite is happening. Just like in the days of the Prohibition, where making liquor illegal ended up skyrocketing the bootlegging operations, a similar event is taking place as the sex industry is forced underground to push forward the movement of illegal activity…
Today, the coronavirus has made all ‘non-essential’ businesses close. Boarded-up strip clubs and empty casinos stand abandoned across the nation. The Vegas strip is silent and deserted, as it seems that the world has shut down the sex industry. As is customary in the sex industry, they have already reinvented new avenues and are adapting a lot quicker than the rest of Americans. In fact, instead of the sex industry disappearing it has blossomed and headed more underground.
When the strip clubs closed down, some reorganized by offering drive-thru stripteases and online viewing of their girls. In learning this, I made some calls to investigate. I phoned a couple of Seattle strip clubs asking what was going on and how they were meeting the challenges of what we were all facing. To my surprise, I was asked if I was a dancer and he encouraged me to go online with the rest of them in hopes of finding customers and using the internet to sell myself. I was shocked to hear it said with such ease as if I wasn’t the only one that was being told. I realized that with so many jobs down and schools out even more women were at risk of being sexually exploited due to financial and familial devastation, as the sex trade seemed to be offering a free ticket to those who now are able to hide behind the online forum. Since exploitation thrives with chaos, Covid-19 has created new demands and new victims.
I learned quickly that the sex trade is not stopping, rather it is swiftly adapting to the new normal, and it isn’t just the strip clubs. Pimps are claiming that they have ‘corona-free’ girls. Traffickers are handing out hand sanitizer and face masks to undercover buyers for sex-trafficked children. (1) And let’s be honest, sex buyers who weren’t afraid to get arrested or contract STDs in the past, are also not afraid to get any flu viruses. In fact, the thrill of buying sex and trying to avoid getting the coronavirus has added another level to risky sex.
Let’s be honest. We are having a global pandemic. During a time of crisis, people are known to flee to their addictive behaviors for comfort. Sex buyers will continue to buy sex from trafficked victims. And traffickers will continue to keep the supply of victims as the demand continues to grow. (2)
If that wasn’t bad enough, the porn industry has skyrocketed. As you know, pornography is the recorded acts of prostitution. Since the demand of sex trafficking is porn, we only need to take a look at pornography to see if trafficking is on the rise. What fuels the demand for sex trafficking is more images of the sexually exploited. Therefore, the appetite for porn in the culture is the gauge of future sex trafficking and sexploitation.
Sadly, the amount of people viewing porn is rising at an alarming rate. Since many others are stuck at home dealing with the loss of community, bored at home, and unable to participate in other positive activities, online prostitution (porn) becomes the desired addiction to consume and partake in. Some porn and streaming sites claim that their viewership has risen upwards of 70-75% and their new viewership has skyrocketed as well, as OnlyFans revealed they have had 3.7 million new user sign-ups for the month of March alone. (3) Thanks to the New York City Health Department that put out a memo encouraging masturbation during this Covid-19 epidemic has also increased the acceptance of porn use and the excuse that porn is needed for the safety and security for the user during this time. (4) Bella French, CEO of ManyVids, a porn and sex camming site, stated, “Our sales are doing really, really good. I feel like it’s almost benefitting the adult industry,” French said, “I think people stay home more, so maybe they’re a little more bored than usual, so maybe they consume a little bit more than they would.” (5)
If that hasn’t discouraged you enough, Pornhub just released that it has had an increase of their porn viewership and that corona-themed porn alone had almost 7 million searches in a 30-day-period, making a brand new category of porn as they capitalize off of the coronavirus…
With an increase in porn use and many devastated with job loss, massive amounts of vulnerable women and children are being propositioned online for sexting, voice calls, face-time, online sessions with clients, webcam sex, and personal visits. Evidence of ads promoting prostitution and porn are seen publicly, targeting vulnerable populations for those who are low income and desperate. Sexually explicit live broadcasts have become a feeding frenzy that wasn’t previously tapped into as it is now. The amount of sexually exploited images from new victims that are creating content has seen an increase of 37% to upwards of 69%. (3) This means that sexual exploitation sites have had a swarming increase of new ‘models’ selling themselves and posting new material. No age verification is needed, and some victims are confessing that they are working up to 16 hours a day on webcams to make quotas - terms we often hear from trafficked survivors indicating force, fraud, and coercion.
But it isn’t just the adults that are rising the numbers of porn… Google analytic tracks an increase of 4700% of porn use when students are out of school. (6) With kids glued to computers for online school work, we have no idea of the new number of children being sexually exposed during this time. Pornhub gifs and filters flood social media challenging school-aged kids to post images of themselves sporting the Pornhub logo, meanwhile, Teen Vogue is teaching girls on Snapchat how to sext and post their own porn online while under coronavirus lockdown. (7)
Even though teens sexting is child porn, but with so many kids online, how is one to slow the tidal wave? With kids out of school, we have no idea the ages or amount of children that are being lured into the sex industry as predators are encouraging minors to self-produce underage pornography. These children are getting a virtual start to prostitution that only leads to a destination of being targeted, bullied, and blackmailed by pimps, predators, and pedophiles.
Since pimps and traffickers also know that the police are delaying arrests on prostitution charges, they now have added protection during this time as they recruit and sell trafficked victims. (8) For those of us fighting sex trafficking, all of these aspects ring loudly, as the increase of sex trafficking has escalated. Catastrophes and chaos always leave a wake of destruction targeting vulnerable individuals, as sexual exploitation preys on those who are defenseless. Pandemics never free slaves, it only creates more victims to consume. Although it appears that the sex industry has closed, they have really switched their agenda to maximize their exploitation to a greater audience than they had previously dared.
The advantages we had in the States and around the World were just lost. The ability to see the sex trade and those who were trapped was to our benefit. But sadly, the coronavirus is just what the traffickers and porn industry needed to push sex trafficking underground, and that is exactly what is happening before our very eyes.
O.U.R. report for April 10, 2020 - “Just last week in Southeast Asia, operators went undercover to a brothel suspected of selling children for sex. Their suspicions were verified when the house madam was eager to provide small children to our operators. The madam, believing our operators to be paying customers, provided them with face masks and hand sanitizer before giving them access to the unprotected children. Our Operators along with law enforcement were able to successfully free the children and they are now receiving proper care. Human trafficking has not stopped during this time.”
Bella French - https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/otilliasteadman/coronavirus-sex-workers