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Violence Against Women on the Internet

Campus Sexual Assault Policies
(opens: 4.16.02)
(opens: 4.23.02)
Sex Trafficking
(opens: 4.30.02)
The Internet as a Site of Resistance
(opens: 5.7.02)
(opens: 5.14.02)
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The Internet and the Sex Industry

B. The Growth of the Internet

At the same time, the online sex industry has supported and fueled the astounding growth of the Internet. A 1997 PC Computing article advised computer industry advisors, "If you haven't visited a pornography Web shop in a while, you should. It will show you the future of online commerce…Web pornographers are the most innovative entrepreneurs on the Internet." The sex industry is currently the largest source of e-commerce on the Web. It has pioneered fast, highly secure means of conducting business online, such as credit card transaction technology, and is leading the way in database management. In addition, as one of the most profitable online industries, its advertising money provides crucial financial support to all of the largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and search engines.

In The Internet and Sex Industries: Partners in Global Sexual Exploitation, Donna Hughes notes:

Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Online Services do not like to admit to the extent of the sex industry's importance in Internet commerce, but the large ISPs profit from the sex industry by carrying their sites and online services. Search engines and directories also take in considerable amounts of money from the sex industry as advertising revenue.

Search engines are the indexing system for the World Wide Web. Search engines, such as WebCrawler, HotBot, Excite, InfoSeek, Lycos, search hundreds of thousands of Web sites per day, picking up keywords placed in the content of pages. Web users depend on the comprehensiveness and accuracy of search engines, which vary widely, to find material anywhere on the Web by entering keywords. Analyses of the searches on Web search engines show what subjects are being sought on the Web. In 1995, a study of the searches on one Web search engine found that 47 percent of the 11,000 most-repeated searches were for pornography.

Soon after the sex industry began to go online, its leaders recognized the promotional value of search engines. On December 19, 1994, The Shrimp Club, an organization of men who live or travel in Southeast Asia, set up a Web site to give men information on events, parties, and products that featured Asian women. As part of their promotional strategy they ensured that their Web site was listed in web search engines. This aggressive marketing garnered them 15 000 accesses to their Web site in the first week. This priming of search engines was a strategy that all sex industry businesses on the Internet would adopt. As sex industry businesses increasingly moved to the Web, they placed paid advertisements for their sites with search engines and online services. Eventually, the success of a search engine depended on accepting advertising from the sex industry, as the case of Snap Online demonstrates.

In December, 1997, partially in response to public complaints of the pervasiveness of the sex industry on the Internet and parents concerns about children viewing sex industry sites or their advertising, CNET announced Snap Online, a Web directory safe for children. The Snap search engine was advertised as having no pornographic Web sites in its directory. In the press release, CNET said, "Snap Online does not accept any pornographic advertising, nor does it contain pornographic listings in its directory of more than 100 000 hand-selected Web sites." Nine months later, in August 1998, CNET announced that Snap would be including pornographic Web sites in its directory, and admitted that pornographic sites could be found through Snap for some time. Anyone searching for pornography on Snap would automatically be rolled over to the search engines Infoseek and Inktomi, which index pornography.

Snap's executive producer, Katharine English, defended the decision by saying, "Our statistics show that 40 percent of our users are looking for this kind of material. This is a user-driven decision." The decision was rationalized by pointing out that everyone else is doing it, so they had to also. Katharine English said, "If you search for bestiality, you'll find it there. It's not like we're standing out." The lack of profitability was due to loss of advertising revenue from the sex industry. Pornographic advertising banners on search engines are the "cash cow," or certain moneymakers, for the Web search engines and indexes. The owner of a Web site, search engine, or Web directory, is paid each time a viewer clicks on an advertisement on that page. Advertisers pay in the range of 12 cents to US$1 per click. The Snap Online example demonstrates the reliance of Internet search engines on the sex industry. Without the sex industry many services on the Web would close.[17]

[17] The Internet and Sex Industries: Partners in Global Sexual Exploitation, Technology and Society Magazine, (Spring 2000). The full text is available online at

Go on to Part C - Case Study: "Welcome to the Rape Camp"

Return to VAW Module III



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