Topic will be addressed during Freedom Weekend in Dakota County
Editor’s note: This story is the third installment in a Sun Thisweek series on human trafficking that began in the Jan. 25 edition. All the stories are at www.SunThisweek.com.
It lures with lust and lies, connives and shames, cheapens and steals lives, wrecks marriages, demeans sex and the victims it entices.
Some Dakota County men lured through pornography’s broad paper-and-video entryway found themselves trapped, humiliated, shamed and cut off from those most important in their lives.
Most of the local men interviewed for this story suffered mental, physical and/or sexual abuse as children, a common experience for sex and pornography addicts, according to nationally known sexual addiction expert Dr. Mark Laaser, owner of Faithful and True, a recovery center in Eden Prairie.
He offers workshops for men and women struggling with sexual behaviors including fantasy, masturbation, fetishes and pornography use.
The men who shared their stories in this newspaper said they hope they serve as a warning for others to stop, seek help and claim freedom.
Ryan Hanson of Eagan was raised by an inattentive, promiscuous single mother who left him in situations where he was alone, molested and victimized.
She eventually married an abusive alcoholic who was also a church deacon.
To escape, Hanson’s mother soon took a job that brought her out of town five days a week, leaving Hanson behind.
“He basically terrorized me,” Hanson said.
As Hanson grew, he became independent of his family “because of the terrible things going on.”
He wound up watching hours of pornography during sleep-overs at a friend’s home with an unlocked satellite dish.
His interest in pornography grew, a secret he kept hidden from everyone, eventually including his wife.
He neglected his family as pornography led him into “deviant things,” including extramarital affairs.
Hanson’s marriage did not survive the eventual revelation of his sexual addiction, but he sought treatment and continues with an accountability group; he has been free of pornography since Nov. 15, 2007.
He said pornography is part of the “huge infrastructure” of human trafficking, built through “an economy of pain.” Breaking Free, a St. Paul anti-trafficking ministry, reported that about one-third of the prostitution victims it helps have also been used in pornography.
Since seeking help, Hanson has remarried and has four children.
“When people don’t confront this problem, it can really take control of their life,” Hanson said. “It can take them down a path they never sought originally.”
For “Robert,” 51, of Eagan who asked that his last name not be used, that path led to a felony conviction.
“In my case online porn led to voyeurism,” he said.
Robert began secretly viewing online pornography on his phone, sometimes for hours.
“You just lose track of time,” he said. “You look once, and then the sites are meant to constantly bombard you with new material.”
Mark Bellows, former Lakeville mayor and a marriage and family therapist, said pornography is one of most common issues that arises in marriage counseling, and it can trap men or women.
“It’s affordable, accessible and anonymous,” Bellows said, referring to the abundance of free Internet porn. “It’s a huge problem in the country and in churches.”
He said watching sexual acts stimulates brain chemistry, and as with any kind of addict, over time it takes new and more extreme material to stimulate that same “high.”
For Robert, the new material he found online were sites featuring hidden Web cameras.
“It’s shots of people who have hidden Web cams on girlfriends,” he said.
After viewing that, Robert hid a camera in a bathroom a teenage relative used, but it was discovered.
Police issued an immediate no-contact court order. A devastated Robert, who had a spotless record was jailed, charged and pleaded guilty; sentencing is this spring.
He is in counseling and working to re-establish family relationships.
Dakota County resident James, 44, who asked that his last name be withheld, suffered multiple homosexual rapes during his childhood, became addicted to crystal meth and was a high school dropout.
“I got exposed to some really — twisted is the only word for it — porn early on,” he said.
Abandoned by his father as an infant, others took advantage of that void.
“I was abused, groomed by someone who got me involved in this gay thing,” he said. “But I’m not gay.”
An alcoholic and sex addict, James is plagued with extreme shame, guilt and depression, battles against heterosexual pornography and struggles in relationships.
“It emotionally disconnects you,” James said. “You are relying on porn rather than other people. It’s a mechanism that separates you from people.”
He said it is not unusual for a sex addict to spend 60 hours per week viewing Internet porn while working full time.
“It definitely makes you objectify women,” he said. “I think men do in general, but if you’re in the midst of sex addiction, especially porn, it’s all you can do.”
James said he has paid for prostitutes and described the fear of getting caught as an adrenaline-builder that adds to the “excitement level” while anticipating the meet.
“You’re completely high the whole time,” he said, describing the encounters as “never satisfying” and “always a terrible experience” that left him enveloped in guilt.
“This is the most shame-based addiction there is,” James said.
Linked to trafficking
Many sex addicts turn to prostitutes and human trafficking victims who are usually forced and/or brainwashed into “the life.”
Heather Weyker, a St. Paul police officer who works undercover sex trafficking sting operations around the Twin Cities, said the johns she busts have included powerful attorneys, businessmen, legislators and drug addicts.
“You never know what you’re going to get when he walks through the door,” Weyker said. “Some men stink, they’re grossly overweight and they have awful hygiene.”
Many of the men leave their wedding ring in the car and tell her a fake name.
“Some don’t tell me a name at all,” she said.
The “johns,” or “hobbyists,” as they like to call themselves, find her online.
Calls seeking sex come immediately after she has posted an ad.
“If it’s longer than five minutes, something’s wrong,” Weyker said.
Sometimes, the callers are pimps trying to “recruit” her.
“They ask if I want to make more money with them,” Weyker said.
The offer is a lie; girls almost never keep what they are paid, and many are left at truck stops or motels until they meet financial quotas.
Weyker said she has had repeat busts of the same john, including a man she had arrested about two months prior, although neither recognized the other until the man started recounting the time he was busted.
As soon as she gave the signal, he realized who she was and barricaded the door with his body.
She said she used “defensive tactics” to allow for the arrest.
One of the hardest parts of the job are the children, many runaways, she frequently sees being trafficked.
“They live in survival mode 24/7,” she said. “It’s awful for them. They live in fear.”
She also encounters the traffickers, many of whom are gang members.
“They are exploitative,” she said. “They manipulate and control. They are violent and cruel. They’re awful people looking at making a quick dollar.”
Abuse is also rampant in pornography, and former performers have said they were tricked or forced into it.
Donny Pauling is a pastor’s son who spent nine years producing pornography and now works to expose its abuse and connection to human trafficking.
He said he witnessed changes in the new “models” pornographers would regularly recruit.
“They’d usually be college students or something, but over the course of time, you could just see them change,” he said. “You could see the life kinda get sucked out of their eyes.”
Robert said he never really thought about the women in the videos he would watch, but would sometimes notice something was not right.
“Occasionally, you could see in some of those videos on the women’s faces something indicated they didn’t want to be there,” he said. “You could see when someone was afraid.”
When Jim Carlson, 26, of Eagan learned about the evils of human trafficking and realized his years of viewing pornography contributed to the problem, he was moved to change.
His first pornographic exposure was a “Jerry Springer Uncensored” video at 12, and by college he was addicted to online pornography.
The more he watched, the more he wanted something more shocking.
“It was like a drug addict,” Carlson said. “I needed more to get the same high.”
Carlson said he has learned porn creates addictive patterns that causes the brain to continually seek novelty, a progression that spurs the cycle of shame and isolation that cuts away relationships, as he experienced with his mother, sisters and girlfriend.
Seeking freedom from his addiction, he opened up to his girlfriend; shocked and hurt, she broke up with him.
His desire to be free, increased awareness of the evils of human trafficking and growing faith in Jesus Christ last year gave him the strength to tell his then-fiancee Adri about his struggles. She responded with understanding and compassion.
“We were sitting there looking at each other for about a half-hour,” Adri recalled. “He just started crying really, really hard, and I knew this is a big deal and it’s heavy on his heart. He said, ‘I have a problem with porn.’ ”
She said she looked at him with grace and could see his raw pain.
“I thought he is a man that needs freedom, and I want to support that,” she said.
Adri is one of the organizers for Freedom Weekend, which starts this Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at Hosanna! Church, 9600 163rd St. W., Lakeville. It continues Sunday from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at International Outreach Church, located inside Destiny Christian Church at 12119 16th Ave. S., Burnsville, and from 6 to 9 p.m. at Community of Hope Church, 14401 Biscayne Ave., Rosemount.
The event will include presentations and information about trafficking and also provide resources, prayer and help for anyone who struggles with pornography and sexual addiction.
“So much of the porn out there today — it’s not just naked women anymore — it’s very, very violent,” Carlson said. “It’s demeaning and repulsive what happens to these women.”
For more information, go to www.freedomeweekendmn.com.
Editor’s note: See related stories, Human trafficking: ‘The crisis of our generation’