Another nail in the coffin for Mindgeek this week, as news broke of a $600 million lawsuit being filed against them by a Canadian woman who alleges that MindGeek hosted a video depicting her sexual abuse at age 12 on Pornhub. This follows a separate $80 million lawsuit filed by forty women in December 2020, who allege that Mindgeek knew of the criminal activity of production company GirlsDoPorn when they partnered with them and took a profit from hosting their criminal activity.

As The Globe and Mail reports: “She filled out a form on the site requesting the video be removed. Court documents say she received an automated response a few days later, and heard nothing from the company after that. She does not know if the video was removed, according to Louis Sokolov at Sotos LLP in Toronto, co-counsel in the matter.”

This is just another despairing example of Mindgeek’s disregard for the illegal, abusive, and exploitative content that has appeared on their subsidiary site Pornhub in recent years. In early 2020Rose Kalemba’s BBC story went viral arguably drawing worldwide attention to the criminality of the company.

What might happen in terms of the criminal and civil sanctions against Mindgeek remains to be seen, but it is absolutely vital that steps are now taken to ensure a regulatory framework is put in place to begin to turn the tide against an industry that has, so far, allowed this type of activity to flourish unchecked.

The UK Government’s recent Full response to its Online Harms White Paper outlined a tiered system that it intends to put in place to combat harmful online, ranging from content that may be harmful but is considered legal, to outright illegal material. Category One websites are those described as:

A small group of high-risk, high-reach services will be designated as ‘Category 1 services’, and only providers of these services will additionally be required to take action in respect of content or activity on their services which is legal but harmful to adults.

Of course, this does not include the reams of material proliferated on Pornhub and other sites that is both harmful to users and illegal, but as it stands Category One is the most forceful regulatory option available. It is critical that the Government recognises the culpability that these companies have in relation to the criminal activity that occurs on their sites, but also the harm to users and performers alike that so far seems to have gone unnoticed.

Porn use has long been linked to the normalisation of sexual violence, as well as instilling attitudes of sexual entitlement in viewers. The effective monopoly Mindgeek has over the online porn industry has also resulted in a market crush where performers are forced to engage in increasingly degrading acts to maintain a steady level of income.

This extends beyond the typical ‘tube sites’ (sites to which anyone can upload videos) such as Pornhub to other social media platforms; as a recent New York Times article revealed, people who set up accounts on the “empowering” OnlyFans subscription site are left barely better off than before they started, with the average income for performers totalling a meagre $180 per month. Again, performers end up being coerced into explicit acts they didn’t intend or want to do, in order to receive any income at all.

The porn industry has changed immeasurably since the so-called “Golden Age” between 1970-90, and has continued to do so even over recent years, with the increasing availability of Virtual Reality and Deepfake porn. It is vital that the Government get to grips with the reality of the industry as it now is, and not how they think it functions based on an inaccurate and outdated perception.

CEASE UK urges the Government to recognise the harms caused by the porn industry, both to users, performers, and victims of sexual exploitation. Anything other than imposing the strictest regulations on this unchecked industry will result in further exploitation and abuse. There is an opportunity to turn the tide; it must be grabbed with both hands.