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Crackdown on Pornhub; major push for Congress to launch criminal probe over persistent ‘grave crimes’

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Mary Margaret Olohan, DCNF

  • Over 700 survivors and advocates called on Congress to demand that the Department of Justice conduct a criminal investigation into Pornhub’s parent company MindGeek, warning that the pornography platform is permitting “grave crimes” to continue. 
  • “It is urgent that Congress demand that law enforcement agencies investigate MindGeek as the pace setter in what amounts to a massive criminal enterprise,” the letter said.
  • “Anything less than full legal accountability is an injustice to victims whose lives have been damaged as a result of MindGeek’s knowing and willful actions,” according to the letter. 

Over 700 survivors and advocates called on Congress Tuesday to demand that the Department of Justice and FBI conduct a criminal investigation into Pornhub’s parent company MindGeek, warning that the pornography platform is permitting “grave crimes” to continue.

“Based on the presented evidence, including testimony of victims and MindGeek executives before the Canadian Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, it is clear that MindGeek has violated federal sex trafficking and child protection laws, particularly child pornography distribution and reporting laws,” the letter said, according to a copy obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The letter is addressed to congressional leaders and signed by 132 survivors of sexual exploitation as well as individuals from 630 non-governmental organizations throughout the world, including Shared Hope International, the Salvation Army, Fight the New Drug, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), religious organizations, academic institutions, and more.

“Congress must act to bring justice for survivors whose pleas to remove their child sexual abuse, sex trafficking and non-consensually recorded and distributed material on MindGeek-owned Pornhub have been repeatedly ignored,” Dawn Hawkins, CEO of NCOSE, said in a statement. “MindGeek has profited from illegal material for far too long, and it must be held to account.”

Congressional leaders “have the power to discover why the sexual assault of women and children, child sexual abuse material (also known as child pornography), and non-consensual intimate images are being uploaded and distributed on internet platforms,” the letter said.

“This is occurring with no apparent legal consequences to individual perpetrators or the digital facilitators of monetized sexual abuse, (which constitutes human trafficking) as well as criminal sexual violence, and gross violations of privacy rights,” the letter said.

The letter referred to testimony from victims and survivors during an April congressional briefing in which “victims described their powerlessness to remove documentation of crimes committed against them.”

One of these victims, a 20-year-old survivor, reportedly begged Pornhub to delete “intimate pictures of her” made when she was 14 years old “to no avail.”

“The experience led her to drop out of school, develop drug addiction, and become homeless,” the letter said. “She continues to suffer complex trauma and rarely leaves her home.”

MindGeek executives said during the April hearing that the company reviews every video before it is publicly posted, statements which support the accusation that MindGeek “knowingly and willfully distributed child sexual abuse materials which are present on their sites,” the letter said.

“Since MindGeek monetized the child sexual abuse materials, these admissions also show that they knowingly facilitated and benefited from sex trafficking of minors,” the letter continued. “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.”

“It is urgent that Congress demand that law enforcement agencies investigate MindGeek as the pace setter in what amounts to a massive criminal enterprise,” the letter said. “Anything less than full legal accountability is an injustice to victims whose lives have been damaged as a result of MindGeek’s knowing and willful actions.”

“Moreover, in actions that may also be consumer fraud, MindGeek has admitted to enabling U.S. citizens to violate federal child pornography possession laws by encouraging the download and possession of images of child sexual abuse (i.e., child pornography),” according to the letter.

Over 700 Survivors, Advocat… by Mary Margaret Olohan

New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof sparked a massive backlash in December when he accused Pornhub of monetizing “child rapes, revenge pornography, spycam videos of women showering, racist and misogynist content and footage of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags.”

The popular pornography website has been listed as the 10th-most-visited website in the world, according to one ranking, with 3.5 billion visits a month and profits from almost three billion ad impressions every day, Kristof said.

Kristof’s story prompted multiple lawmakers to call for investigations into Pornhub, and major credit card companies also began reviewing their relationship with the pornography website. Both Visa and Mastercard told the Daily Caller News Foundation in December that they were no longer allowing their cards to be used on Pornhub, and Mastercard updated its requirements in April to state that banks must ensure that porn websites document the age, identity, and consent of all persons depicted in adult content as well as for those uploading the content. 

Following the announcements from the credit card companies in December, Pornhub began removing videos that were not uploaded by the site’s official partners or members of the site’s programs. The pornography website had about 13.5 million videos before it began purging on December 13, Vice reported, and many of these videos were from unverified accounts.

The DCNF confirmed Dec. 14 that Pornhub had removed over 78% of its videos, leaving 2,913,964 videos on the site. As of Wednesday afternoon, there were over 3.2 million videos on the pornography platform.

A Pornhub spokesman told the DCNF that the company’s current policies “far exceed those … laid out as mandatory in the announcement today.”

“As part of our policy to ban unverified uploaders, we have now also suspended all previously uploaded content that was not created by content partners or members of the Model Program,” Pornhub announced in December following the backlash. “This means every piece of Pornhub content is from verified uploaders, a requirement that platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter have yet to institute.”

Neither Pornhub nor MindGeek immediately responded to requests for comment from the DCNF.

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