In a new blog series, End Slavery Tennessee explores the demand that fuels human trafficking in Tennessee and beyond.
You’ve heard it a million times in advertising strategies. Businesses decided a long time ago that sexualizing an advertisement, even if it is for buying a cheeseburger, would return a significant increase in sales. “Follow the money” is also a popular phrase and businesses do just that. We, as consumers, have wittingly or unwittingly participated with our dollars in encouraging and increasing the “sex sells” concept in our society. Now, some might say, “Well, I don’t like/care about the ads. I just like the product.” This reminds me of restaurant chains who require wait staff to wear revealing clothing, drawing customers to highly praised, mediocre food. Are they really drawn to the food or the wait staff?
In my research, I was surprised to find a study done in 2015 by the American Psychological Association that found over-sexualized advertisements don’t actually sell more product.* They claim that violent and sexual content distracted from the actual product for sale. Businesses selling a product rely on the law of supply and demand. They drive up the demand for a product by increasing the number of times you see it and hear about it. And when the demand increases so does the supply. If what our minds are taking away from these advertisements are the violent and sexual content rather than the non-sex-related product, what demand are they actually driving?
It may seem a stretch to relate this concept to human sex trafficking, but not if you acknowledge that sex trafficking IS a business… a lucrative business of selling sex. It must be said that far more than selling sex, this business is selling the sexual control of another human being. The supply, also known as the product in sales, is sexual access to a human, and the demand is from men who seek to buy that access. Though the study mentioned above refutes the claim that sexualized advertisements sell more product, sexualizing content continues to be a popular marketing tool. So if these ads are failing to sell the products advertised, their only actual success is in dehumanizing women and girls and giving men permission to view them as products themselves. Instead of “selling” a product, she becomes the product for sale. This thinking absolutely fuels demand and the exploitation of women.