PODCAST: BYU-Idaho professor discusses addiction, the path of trafficking

IDAHO FALLS — When it comes to human sex trafficking, people often struggle to understand what could possibly motivate someone to purchase another individual for such an abusive and violating purpose.

They’ll go to a hotel sex with the girl,they don’t matter what age it is,” Dr. Jim Hopla, a Brigham Young University – Idaho professor in the health services department, told KID Newsradio. “These can be teenagers all the way down to a, 10, 11, 12-year-old and then they’ll pop on that plane go somewhere else.”

While Hopla agrees there is absolutely no excuse for the behavior of traffickers and buyers alike, he also believes there is some insight into what drives someone to participate in the human sex trafficking industry and the path isn’t all unfamiliar to the path someone takes to drug addiction or pornography addiction.

“A way I get students to to be able to relate in the people that I talked to is that when you talk about dopamine mean when you have a pleasure experience, let’s a say a cheeseburger” Hopla said.  “Whatever that food is you’re only in about fifty percent of dopamine levels. So, what that does is that releases those neurotransmitters into the synapse between two new neurons and and you feel that and that re-uptake , it goes back to a normal event…you don’t have these pleasure sense all the time. So, this happens in ebbs and flows throughout the day.”

Using that same example, Hopla said a similar process, albeit at higher levels, occurs when people use drugs or view pornography or engage in sexual intercourse.

“You cap out at one hundred of your body’s capacity to release and then the re-uptake of your dopamine levels within sex, just normal sexual experience,” Hopla said. “Then you start introducing drugs…Cocaine releases about 350 percent of your dopamine levels.”

Consistently releasing that caliber of dopamine, Hopla said, motivates someone to chase that “high,” a feeling that can no longer be met by something in the normal range of dopamine release like a favorite food or even sexual intercourse. Translate that same process to someone who is chasing a high dopamine dump through something like pornography and the path to something as horrific as sex trafficking or sex tourism becomes a little clearer.

“People start to disconnect from what reality really is,” Hopla said. “You start looking at women or you start looking at people as objects and so, you have this disconnect. There’s something within that moral code within the brain that just slowly starts to not connect anymore. Kind of like people, individuals that, you know, we’re kinda born with this, this inhibition, so to speak and our brain where we don’t do certain things. We don’t just describe and kill people or you just don’t for you going to go out and and hurt people, in that sense and over time, there are drugs, there are actions within pornography and then also within drugs cause that to go down over time.”

Hopla emphasized the explanation of how someone becomes desensitized enough to engage in human sex trafficking or purchasing is absolutely not an excuse, but can provide some insight as parents and even individuals work to prevent someone from going down a similar path and starts with helping teenagers understand, they can do great things.

“If you can build that up with teenagers, slowly they’ll start to say, I’m not going to do these things I am going to do these things” Hopla said. “If we can build them up, avoid that pornography or fight that pornography portion to it, these are small gateways to staying away from it.”

Hopla will be serving on KID Newsradio’s Conversation Series panel on March 14 at 7:00 PM at the event, Emancipation: Disrupting the Modern Slave Trade. You can hear the rest of his interview and other interviews about human sex trafficking in east Idaho on Apple Podcasts (formerly iTunes), Google Play, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.