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External Articles | Posted: April 29, 2011

The world's oldest oppression

By Martha Groppo
The Kentucky Kernel, April 26, 2011

After working on the score for a documentary on sex trafficking, one college student wanted to do something about the dehumanization he saw in his client's video. Tony Anderson decided he was tired of hearing about injustice. He said he wanted to know why there was so much discussion and so little real change.

So Anderson did something a little unusual to answer his questions. To investigate the issue, Anderson and his friend, Derek Hammeke, decided to take a camera into the most notorious areas for sex trafficking they could find.
"We got a ton of crazy undercover stuff on camera," Anderson said.

Posing as western sex clients, they went undercover, investigating one of the world's most lucrative criminal industries. With the footage they collected, they created Unearthed, an organization based in Lexington that describes itself as "a nonprofit that produces media that prompts people to act against injustice."

Anderson remembers one night during their months of filming when he saw a group of women gathered around an underage prostitution hotspot with a western man in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

"He was groping this girl -- maybe 7 years old -- almost like you'd see somebody feeling produce at the grocery store to ensure its quality before buying it," Anderson said. "She was being sold for sex."

The little girl in Cambodia was just one of thousands the Unearthed team saw while collecting footage.

"We talked to the locals, and they would say where not to go, and we would go there," Anderson said. "We would basically say, 'Hey, we want to buy young girls for sex,' so obviously you find yourself saying things that are really weird and uncomfortable."

He practiced responses and escape plans to use on brothel owners who wondered why he never actually used the services they were selling. The Unearthed team traveled to Thailand, South Africa, Cambodia and many other locations in Southeast Asia and the United States in 2009 and 2010. Wherever they went, they found eager sellers.
"These girls are like goods," Anderson said. "A human being is reduced to a commodity."

After pretending to purchase a sex worker for the night, Anderson and his team would take her to a restaurant and talk to her about her life. They heard stories of horrific abuse, brutal violence and revolting neglect.

They collected information about the age, location and number of people who had been trafficked at each location. Sometimes they would also get information that they could report to local authorities and were able to spearhead many raids of illegal sex businesses and free the workers. Unearthed then produced media to educate Americans about what Anderson said they found to be a global pandemic of injustice. Unearthed serves as a "conduit of resources" that collects donations and funnels them to existing safe houses and human justice organizations.

"You need rescue, healing and human justification," Anderson said. He explained that the trafficked women need to be removed from abusive situations and provided safe places to go, but the men and women who traffic them must also be prosecuted.

Though the sex trafficking industry is often discussed as a foreign problem, Anderson said many American college students don't realize "the ties between their private sexual practices and a global sexual pandemic."
He said most of the demand funding the illegal sex trade comes from sexually addicted clients whose problems began with a porn addiction.

Anderson, a former porn user himself, met with several neurosurgeons to discuss pornography's effects, and learned that pornographic images must become more and more shocking to satisfy, so users typically progress to more violent or child porn -- and most of this pornography is produced with unwilling victims.

"College guys say to me all the time, 'I'll help sex trafficking, but I'm not giving up porn,'" Anderson said. "In that moment for them, it isn't hurting anyone."

One UK student who learned about the ties between college campuses and sex trafficking through Unearthed was Brent White, a master's of business administration student who decided to volunteer with Unearthed after watching one of its videos. The injustice he saw on the Unearthed videos inspired him to become involved.

"Working with Unearthed has really opened my eyes," White said.  "I used to think that my personal decisions and weaknesses didn't affect others, but they do. When I look at porn, I hurt my future relationships, and I assist in driving the global sex trade. I was a huge hypocrite; there were behaviors and attitudes in my life that I had to man up and take responsibility for if I really was going to stand up for women and become a true gentleman."
White said pornography addiction is one behavior many college students don't take responsibility for.

"The biggest lie that I hear from my fellow students is that there's nothing wrong with porn," White said. "'I'm not hurting anyone,' 'Those women want to do this stuff,' 'See? They're smiling in all of the videos I watch,' 'They get paid really well.'

"The popular understanding of porn around UK's campus is that porn is 'my own business,' and that 'all the girls working are there on their own will.' The reality is that most of the women in the porn industry were victims of sexual abuse at some point in their lifetimes. Many have been trafficked, or they're women in desperate need of money to feed an addiction or provide for children. Drug addictions and STDs are typically the aftermath of a career in the porn industry -- not a happy family with tons of cash. If the people using porn knew the back stories about the girls they masturbate to, they'd probably put their pants back on after vomiting."

Anderson said casual porn users who start in college can become hooked on endorphins and seek to counteract the increased dissatisfaction with pornography by visiting strip clubs or massage parlors, and may eventually become a "sex tourist" like the western man he saw in Cambodia.

"Men in the west think (sex workers) want to be doing it," Anderson said. "I've seen this happen. They are told, 'You need to smile or I'll beat you.'"

The Unearthed team found that sex trafficking industry usually follows a pattern. Poor or vulnerable girls are offered employment in the city, sometimes knowing what their line of work will be, but often not.

They are then "broken in,"  a process Anderson described as "brutally graphic" which usually involves being tied up, raped repeatedly, deprived of food and water, and being administered narcotic drugs to numb the pain.
Anderson said the average age of the sex workers he met was 13, but he saw girls as young as 5 being sold for sex.
"From a business end, what they (traffickers) are doing is brilliant," Anderson said, pointing out that while other illegal goods like weapons and drugs can only be sold once, people can be sold multiple times, and the average sex worker will produce $250,000 for her pimp in her lifetime. According to the United Nations, illicit human trafficking is estimated to represent a total market value of $32 billion.

"One hundred percent of the women we've talked to do not want to be in this," Anderson said. "What woman grows up thinking, 'I want to sell my body to random men'? No girl I've ever talked to came out and said, 'I'm really glad I did that.' You have to talk to these women. You can't just read books. We have to flip it and say you can't believe these stupid societal assumptions that women want this. This isn't the world's oldest profession; it's the world's oldest oppression."

He said men might be major contributors to the sex trade, but he also sees them as a large part of the solution.
"That's what being a man is to me," Anderson said. "You take responsibility for women and children and the things you haven't caused. Even if it's not our fault, it's our responsibility."

"If men want to do their part to prevent sex trafficking, they won't look at porn or otherwise support the sex industry," White said.  "Women shouldn't put up with men who watch porn or intentionally inebriate women for the purpose of satisfying their own desires. The sad part is that women are beginning to settle for boys that can shave instead of men with ambition, direction and self control."

"We're all willing to throw a little money at a cause," Anderson said. "We've got to get thinking differently about how we treat women and children."

For more information about Unearthed, visit