It’s January, and most people who are socially and politically engaged see this month as the “life” issues month, or the time to celebrate Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But January is also Human Trafficking Awareness Month. It’s a time to bring more awareness to the issue of human trafficking because so little is still known about it in the general public. Most people are unaware that it could very well be happening in their own neighborhoods, malls, and on their social media feeds.

Human trafficking is a criminal enterprise that is raking in billions of dollars and victimizing an estimated 40.3 million people on a daily basis—75 percent of which are women and girls. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that it is second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable form of transnational crime. Human trafficking can take two primary forms: labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Sex trafficking happens in a multitude of contexts, from “brothels, escort services, fake massage businesses, strip clubs, and street prostitution” to online commercial sex ads, chat rooms, suspicious romantic relationships, and even in the production of pornography.

In 2017, an estimated 1 out of 7 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex trafficking victims.

As we reported in our Women & Pornography publication, “Over 25 percent of child traffickers in Lederer’s study took pictures of the children they were exploiting. Across all ages and in nine different countries, 49 percent of rescued sex trafficking victims report they were forced to participate in the production of pornographic material. Over half of U.S. women used in commercial sexual exploitation were either in pornographic material or threatened with the possibility.”

Each click on pornography helps drives the demand for sex trafficking. In an excellent article by Fight the New Drug, they explain how by law even “porn stars” are at risk for trafficking:

By one definition, sex trafficking is a “modern-day form of slavery in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act is under the age of 18 years.”

This means that sex trafficking not only includes sex trafficking rings but any instance in which an individual is forced, tricked or pressured into performing a commercial sex act or any scenario in which the individual involved is below legal age.

By this definition, sex trafficking victims can include “consenting” individuals in porn.

Sex trafficking does not just occur through the kidnapping of young girls and women, traffickers also prey upon victims who have emotional, physical, or economical needs and then falsely promise to meet those needs.

As Melissa Farley, a clinical psychologist and Executive Director of Prostitution Research & Education explains: “‘[F]orced’ doesn’t just mean at gunpoint or that you have shackles on your ankles—people can be forced into sex trafficking simply by a need to pay rent … Porn performers can be trafficked into the industry, and even consenting performers are at risk of becoming trafficking victims by being forced, lied to, or pressured into doing more than they’re comfortable with on camera.”

For more, take a look at this article by Fight the New Drug about what put’s someone at risk for sex trafficking, how to identify a trafficking victim and the trafficker, and the role that pornography plays in the demand for sex trafficking.