Brave women take on online porn giant

Brave women take on online porn giant

A group of 34 brave women from several countries around the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Thailand, have filed a lawsuit against Montreal-based company MindGeek, the adult entertainment empire that runs Pornhub. The women claim that the company has knowingly profited from material that depicts rape, sexual exploitation, including of minors, and trafficking and other non-consensual sexual content.

In this current lawsuit, the women claim that Pornhub has “created a teeming marketplace for child pornography and ‘every other form’ of non-consensual sexual content’. 

They accuse the company of being a “classic criminal enterprise” with a business model based on exploiting non-consensual sexual content. The lawsuit claims that:

“From inception, MindGeek embraced under-age, non-consensual, and pirated content in its business; solicited, patronized, paid for, and placed such illegal content on its internet pornography platform; and aggressively lied about and concealed these facts.”

The statement of claim alleges numerous instances of the women being blackmailed or tricked into providing explicit videos and images of themselves, of being lied to about videos being deleted, being filmed as they were raped whilst unconscious or secretly filmed whilst engaging in sex. All of the women later discovered these explicit videos had been uploaded onto Pornhub without their knowledge or consent, and each had taken steps to try and get the videos taken down or deleted. In each instance, Pornhub either delayed or obstructed the timely removal of the videos.

The women’s stories, as told in the lawsuit, are heartbreaking. So many were underage (14 of the women claim they were minors when the footage was made), and so many had the videos distributed to their classmates and experienced the shame and a feeling of being completely violated. Many have ongoing mental health problems and a number have attempted suicide. Their lives have been ruined as a result.

This is not the first lawsuit brought against MindGeek. In fact, this lawsuit represents the seventh class-action lawsuit against the company in the past few months, bringing to a total almost 100 survivors who have taken legal action against the porn giant.

The stakes are high for these women as they publicly accuse MindGeek of criminal behaviour, with all but one of the women choosing to remain anonymous. The lawsuit accuses the company of engaging in criminal behaviour towards women who have previously indicated a willingness to speak out against the company:

“Exploitation victims who dared to speak out or even demand relief from MindGeek were … targeted. After one victim retained counsel, she began receiving threatening messages, received intimidating visits at home and work, and had her tires slashed. She said she feared for her life. She then disappeared. After weeks of unsuccessful attempts to reach her, a mysterious text was received by her lawyer from an unidentified person who claimed to be her roommate and reported she had been in a car accident and was in a coma. Although this person promised to provide further information, no further contact was received. No such incident could be confirmed. The victim’s whereabouts and condition are still unknown.”

MindGeek has responded to the lawsuit, saying that assertions that they are running a “criminal enterprise” are “utterly absurd, completely reckless and categorically false.”

Until relatively recently, Pornhub’s business model received relatively little attention apart from stories of its online dominance. This all changed however following the publication of an expose in the New York Times by journalist Nicholas Kristof in December 2020.  Kristof detailed numerous instances of the site hosting illicit material, including child sexual abuse material, and told the harrowing stories of women whose lives were ruined by the company.

Following the publication of Kristof’s story, Visa and Mastercard announced they would be “suspending their payment processing services with Pornhub.” The impact for the company from such a potential loss of revenue led to Pornhub almost immediately removing 10 million videos from its site that had been uploaded from unverified users. They had previously removed only 118 such videos in the past three years.

Since then, momentum has been building against the porn giant, with the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in Canada (where MindGeek is based) setting up an inquiry to look into the business operations of Pornhub and MindGeek, resulting in a report which recommends greater government regulation of sites such as Pornhub to curb child exploitation and non-consensual material online, as well as greater transparency and reporting from the companies themselves.

Fight the New Drug reports that should this lawsuit be successful, the women involved will be entitled to receive restitution from MindGeek for its reported profiting of child sexual abuse material, and that importantly, a precedent would be set for other women to come forward and also receive restitution.

This latest lawsuit is a hopeful sign that more and more women will become empowered to stand up and take on the industry that profits from their exploitation. Starting with an attack on what is illegal in Pornhub’s actions is a positive first step; the hope is that this will eventually lead to a collapse of the entire porn industry, as the full extent of its harms to human beings becomes more apparent.

Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.

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