Over 700 sexual exploitation survivors urge Congress to investigate 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 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. | Getty Images/Ethan Miller

A group of over 700 survivors of various forms of sexual exploitation and victims' advocates is calling on Congress to launch a criminal investigation into Pornhub and its parent company MindGeek. 

The joint letter submitted this week highlights how the porn industry has allowed and enabled sex crimes and abuse, including the facilitation of human trafficking, child sexual abuse and the violation of privacy rights. This has been allowed to go on with no legal repercussions, the group says, and the exploitation is ongoing as the websites continue to allow images of non-consensual sexual acts to be uploaded and remain online. Because the websites have monetized the content, it constitutes human trafficking and criminal sexual violence, the letter states. 

"MindGeek, which owns Pornhub and at least 160 other hardcore pornography websites, serves as a case study of corporate indifference regarding harm caused to women and children on its platform. It has received widespread international condemnation for facilitating and profiting from criminal acts including sex trafficking, filmed sexual abuse of children, and nonconsensually recorded and distributed pornography," the letter reads. 

"Additionally, because MindGeek intentionally placed a download button on every video
distributed on Pornhub until December 2020, after being exposed by The New York Times, the company has violated federal age verification and record-keeping laws under 18 USC Section 2257 for over a decade. This is because the download button caused the direct transfer of pornography from MindGeek servers to individuals’ devices around the globe."

In a statement sent to The Christian Post, Dawn Hawkins, CEO of the Washington-based National Center on Sexual Exploitation, said it's time for congressional action, given how Pornhub and MindGeek have repeatedly ignored the pleas of survivors to remove the content that's furthering their exploitation.

“MindGeek has profited from illegal material for far too long, and it must be held to account. Even now, Canada has opened an investigation into MindGeek for violations of federal privacy laws. U.S. authorities must take action as well," Hawkins said. 

“MindGeek cannot continue to operate with impunity. Congress must step up to bring justice for survivors, and to put an end to the pornography industry’s penchant for preying on vulnerable people,” she added.

The letter comes on the heels of a virtual congressional briefing last month in which survivors detailed the harms they endured at the hands of the porn industry. Last year, a petition calling for Pornhub to be shut down in light of documented instances of facilitating sex trafficking was launched and garnered over 2.2 million supportive signatures. 

Several civil lawsuits have been filed against MindGeek, including two class-action lawsuits in the U.S. on behalf of minors, one of which NCOSE jointly filed with other law firms on behalf of two survivors of childhood sex trafficking.

Demands for U.S. government action also comes after the Canadian government scrutinized the porn companies headquartered there.

In February, the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, heard the testimony of Serena Fleites, a survivor of image-based child sexual abuse distributed through Pornhub, and Michael Bowe, an American lawyer who had been investigating MindGeek sites for a year. 

Bowe informed the committee that his investigation found hundreds of cases of rape, abuse and trafficking hosted by MindGeek sites, including one where a 15-year-old girl was raped while being filmed. That video was uploaded, published on Pornhub, and distributed throughout her community.

Pornhub refused to remove the footage for three weeks and subsequently claimed the video had been removed, but it remained on the website for an additional two months. 

Fleites told the panel that her boyfriend had pressured her to make a sex video of herself and send it to him. Despite being uncomfortable doing so, her boyfriend threatened to leave her if she did not. When she made the video he requested and sent it to him, she said that her boyfriend sent the video to his friends, who later sent the video to other friends. The video wound up on Pornhub and the site under the title "13-year-old brunette shows off for the camera.”

Fleites, whose plight was detailed in a New York Times exposé last year, recounted that it took weeks for Pornhub to remove the video despite her pleas. 

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