Pornhub hosted rape, revenge porn, and child sex abuse videos, lawsuit alleges


A Pornhub logo at the company's booth during an industry conference.
Enlarge / A Pornhub logo at the company’s booth during the 2018 AVN Adult Expo on January 25, 2018, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Pornhub was sued yesterday by 34 women alleging that the site hosted videos without their consent and profited from other nonconsensual content involving rape, child sexual abuse, and human trafficking.

Of the victims involved in the lawsuit, 14 said they were victims of people charged with or convicted of sex crimes, and 14 said they were underage in the videos served on Pornhub.

“It is time for the companies and individuals who have profited off of nonconsensual and illegal content be held liable for their crime,” one of the plaintiffs said in a conference call reported by CNN. “I joined the lawsuit because I seek justice for myself and the countless victims who don’t come forward.”

Pornhub’s parent company, MindGeek, which owns or runs over 150 pornographic websites, was included in the lawsuit. Pornhub, which is among the largest pornography websites on the internet, drew scrutiny last December when New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof published a feature alleging that it “monetizes child rapes, revenge pornography, spy cam videos of women showering, racist and misogynist content, and footage of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags.”

At the time, the site reportedly received 6.8 million new videos per year, making it one of the largest video platforms on the web. In the wake of Kristof’s article, MasterCard and Visa investigated the site. The announcement sent Pornhub scrambling, and within two days, the site blocked uploads by unidentified users and removed the ability to download videos (except for “paid downloads within the verified Model Program,” the site said at the time). The changes weren’t enough, though, and MasterCard and Visa both banned it from their payment networks.

Several days later, Pornhub purged millions of user-uploaded videos, representing around two-thirds of the site’s content.

In February, Pornhub announced that it had expanded moderation by relying on both software and “an extensive team of human moderators” who review every upload. It also took a page from Facebook and let nonprofit groups do some of the lifting, giving them a “trusted flagger program” that would disable videos those groups thought contained illegal content. Lastly, they began working with a third party, Yoti, to verify the identities of its users.

Despite those measures, Pornhub does not follow other standards that are followed in the more traditional pornography industry. It does not, for example, verify the ages of everyone in videos hosted on the site, nor does it confirm that they consented to the videos being taken or uploaded.

The lawsuit was filed by Brown Rudnick LLP, and several of the alleged victims who signed on were found through a site called Traffickinghub, which seeks to shut down Pornhub. The site is run by a religious organization known as Exodus Cry, and CBS News notes the group “has been criticized for its efforts to criminalize parts the sex industry and abolish pornography altogether.”

Yet Michael Bowe, the lawyer representing the women in the lawsuit, told CBS that he was not seeking to outlaw online porn but bring it in line with traditional pornography rules and regulations. “This case is not about porn, it’s about rape. This is a legitimate industry that consenting people have every right to participate in. It just needs to be done legally and not with illegal content.” he told CBS.

Yesterday’s lawsuit wasn’t the first time Pornhub has been sued for hosting videos that allegedly featured sex trafficking. In December, shortly after MasterCard and Visa began their investigations, 40 women filed a lawsuit saying they were victims of GirlsDoPorn, a company whose producers lured victims with “fake modeling ads, false promises and deceptive front companies, ultimately devolving to threats to coerce these women into making sex videos,” Acting US Attorney Randy Grossman said after a recent sentencing hearing for one of the producers and actors who was convicted of crimes associated with his work for the site. In the February lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that “MindGeek knew GirlsDoPorn was trafficking its victims by using fraud, coercion, and intimidation as part of its customary business practices to get the women to film the videos.”

MindGeek is also under investigation by Canada’s privacy commissioner. The inquiry came about after women filed complaints stating that Pornhub dismissed their requests to take down videos uploaded without their consent.



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