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Judge says Visa helped monetize child porn on Pornhub, allows victims' lawsuit to proceed

Pornhub
A Pornhub logo is displayed at the company's booth at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on January 24, 2018, in Las Vegas, Nevada. |

A federal judge ruled Friday that Visa likely knew it was monetizing child pornography hosted on Pornhub and other sites owned by its parent company, MindGeek, which has faced increased scrutiny amid allegations its sites host videos and photos depicting sexual abuse.

The lawsuit, Fleites v. MindGeek, was filed last Monday in the U.S. District Court Central District of California. The plaintiff, Serene Fleites, alleges that in 2014, when she was 13, Pornhub hosted a sexually explicit video of her titled "13-Year Old Brunette Shows Off For the Camera." 

Visa was listed as a defendant in the lawsuit and filed a motion to be dismissed from the litigation. However, that request was denied by U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney.

Fleites claims that her boyfriend at the time pressured her into making the video before posting it online without her consent. MindGeek posted the video on its other pornography websites, and it garnered over 400,000 views before Fleites discovered it. Pornhub's parent company also profited from revenue earned from advertisements that appeared with the video, the complaint alleges. 

"While MindGeek profited from the child porn featuring Plaintiff, Plaintiff was intermittently homeless or living in her car, addicted to heroin, depressed and suicidal, and without the support of her family," the lawsuit reads. 

The plaintiff argues in her lawsuit that Visa, one of the world's largest credit card companies, knew that MindGeek's websites contained child pornography and that the company had failed to purge such content. 

Despite this knowledge, the lawsuit states that "Visa and its agent banks explicitly agreed with MindGeek to continue to process transactions without restrictions on all MindGeek sites provided MindGeek maintained pretextual window dressing claims that it had technology, processes, and policies in place to prevent such content."

Judge Carney wrote that Visa knew MindGeek's websites monetized child pornography. 

"When MindGeek decides to monetize child porn, and Visa decides to continue to allow its payment network to be used for that goal despite knowledge of MindGeek's monetization of child porn, it is entirely foreseeable that victims of child porn like plaintiff will suffer the harms that plaintiff alleges," he wrote. 

Visa believes that it should be dismissed from the lawsuit because the case hinges on the actions of MindGeek and the plaintiff's boyfriend at the time. However, Carney ruled that the "emotional trauma that Plaintiff suffered flows directly from MindGeek's monetization of
her videos."

"That is where Visa enters the picture in full view, unobscured by the third parties that it attempts to place between itself and Plaintiff," Carney wrote in the ruling. 

"The steps that MindGeek took to maximize that monetization. If not for its drive to maximize profit, why would MindGeek allow Plaintiff's first video to be posted despite its title clearly indicating Plaintiff was well below 18 years old?"

Visa and MindGeek did not immediately respond to The Christian Post's request for comment. 

In a statement published Sunday by Variety, a Visa spokesperson said that the company "condemns sex trafficking, sexual exploitation, and child sexual abuse materials as repugnant to our values and purpose as a company." 

The spokesperson also claimed that the ruling misrepresented the company's policies and practices. 

"Visa will not tolerate the use of our network for illegal activity," the spokesperson said. "We continue to believe that Visa is an improper defendant in this case." 

In addition, MindGeek issued a statement expressing confidence that the plaintiff's claims would be dismissed due to lack of merit once the court considers the facts. 

"MindGeek has zero tolerance for the posting of illegal content on its platforms, and has instituted the most comprehensive safeguards in user-generated platform history," Pornhub's parent company said in a statement to Variety. 

A December 2020 New York Times exposé drew attention to potential criminality and exploitation on Pornhub, detailing how the website profits from abusive material such as "child rapes" and other horrific "racist and misogynist content."

Following the allegations, Visa and Mastercard announced in December 2020 that they temporarily prevented their cards from being used on Pornhub.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation reports that Visa has since re-established its relationship with MindGeek and other porn sites and "failed to follow the example of Mastercard in requiring that sites hosting sexually explicit material implement common-sense measures to prevent and remove illegal content." 

In an April 2021 blog post, Mastercard announced new rules for banks that process payments for pornography websites. The company required banks to ensure pornography websites verify the age and identity of individuals depicted in videos or images. In addition, banks need to verify the content was posted with the consent of the individual depicted. 

In a statement, NCOSE called the judge's refusal of Visa's dismissal request a "landmark ruling." The advocacy group claims it first brought evidence of child sexual abuse material and sex trafficking on Pornhub to Visa's attention in early 2020.

"Visa continued to process payments for Pornhub and other MindGeek-owned websites, even after it was aware of the widespread abuses occurring on Pornhub," NCOSE CEO Dawn Hawkins said in a statement. "It is right that Visa should be held responsible for its role in child sex trafficking on Pornhub."

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