‘‘Shut Down Pornhub and Hold Its Executives Accountable for Aiding Trafficking”

In 2009, 14-year-old Rose Kalemba was kidnapped at knife point, driven to a house on the other side of town and brutally raped by 2 men. She was badly beaten and so traumatised that she attempted suicide. 

A few months later, Rose was tagged into a link that took her to Pornhub and videos of her attack. One had been viewed 400,000 times. 

So how have we reached a place where the violent rape of a child is consumed as popular entertainment? 

The answer to this has first to do with the very nature of pornography. Using people as sexual commodities opens the door to their dehumanising treatment. 

But secondly, it has to do with technology. The internet has been like a steroid to porn, enabling the industry to grow massively without much control or regulation.

Rose’s story is far from unique. In recent months, the media has brought to light numerous shocking instances of illegal footage being hosted on Pornhub; everything from ‘professional’ pornography involving trafficking to user uploads of so-called ‘revenge porn’, secret cam, recorded rape and the sexual abuse of minors. Such material is absorbed into Pornhub’s ocean of content, camouflaged by its indistinguishably from the millions of other videos. It often attracts hundreds of thousands of views and remains on the site for months or even years at a time. It’s impossible to know how much of this stuff Pornhub hosts, but it’s likely that those we hear about are only the tip of the iceberg. 

At the start of the year, Laila Mickelthaite, Director of Abolition at Exodus Cry started a petition to shut down pornhub and hold its executives to account for aiding trafficking. This has received over a million signatures and turned into a global campaign dubbed #traffickinghub involving hundreds of charities and organisations.

In response to the petition,  Pornhub refers to its “steadfast commitment to eradicating and fighting any and all illegal content on the internet, including non-consensual content and under-age material.” It claims: “Any suggestion otherwise is categorically and factually inaccurate” and outlined some of the technological solutions it’s putting in place.

Which is all very well: but while no one supposes that Pornhub is deliberately criminal, the fact remains that it directly facilitates and profits off illegal and harmful content. Here are 3 reasons why Pornhub’s so-called “commitment” feels like nothing more than empty tokenism to avoid reputation damage:

  1. PORNHUB’S SAFEGUARDING MEASURES ARE FLIMSY, REACTIVE AND NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE 

The UK Government’s Online Harms bill seeks to ensure that websites are ‘safe by design’ with safeguarding intrinsic to the structure and culture of online organisations. The opposite is true of Pornhub, which evolved through aggressive market expansion and bolted on safeguarding measures as an afterthought.

The website is set up in such a way that makes it ultimately easy for anyone to upload virtually any content with ‘zero friction’. All you need to do to upload content is to send over a username and selfie. As of June 28th 2020 (presumably in response to media pressure), Pornhub has added a flimsy tick-box disclaimer.

Pornhub has the technological capacity to be more proactive in stopping the spread of illegal videos but instead, it places the onus of finding, flagging and fingerprinting abusive content falls on victims, which can be traumatising for them- especially since many report that Pornhub is unresponsive to their requests to remove content. 

For example, when Rose Kalemba became aware of the videos of her rape she repeatedly begged Pornhub to take them down over a period of 6 months, but they ignored her and took no action- until she posed as a lawyer and threatened to sue them.

When the law firm representing 22 of the women trafficked in the Girls Do Porn case reached out to Pornhub’s parent company Mindgeek, they failed to get any response:

 “We had reached out to Mindgeek many times over the years and it wasn’t until the start of trial and obtaining numerous favorable rulings demonstrating the undeniable strength of our case that Mindgeek finally decided to start taking action. It’s not really ‘believing victims’ when it takes a team of lawyers and years of litigation before you lift a finger. It’s not really ‘doing the right thing’ when you only act when it is in your self-interest.” Lawyer, Cara Van Dorn

Pornhub finally removed the official Girls Do Porn channel in October 2019 (after the company owners were arrested for sex trafficking), hundreds of the videos remained on Pornhub, were viewed by thousands of people and continued to generate income for the site. A motherboard investigation by Vice magazine found that the fingerprinting technology that supposedly identifies and removes material from the site is easy to circumvent with minor editing.

  1. PORNHUB HAS BULLDOZED CHILD PROTECTION LAWS  

Pornhub has the capacity to tag every image of video with data on the performance but due to the complex distribution networks and the huge quantity of third-party uploaded content, this would be complex and expensive. It therefore prefers to shape regulation to support its evolving business model. Pornhub’s lobbying arm, the Free Speech Coalition has put millions of dollars into fighting to protect its interests, at the cost of vulnerable women and children.

Firstly, it fought to overturn the Child Pornography Prevention Act in 1996, which prevented the representation of any image that “is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.” In 2002, it succeeded in securing a Supreme Court decision that overturned the restriction and permitted the representation of young-looking girls in pornography as long as the performers were actually over 18.

Almost overnight, this released an avalanche of pseudo-child pornography featuring young-looking girls with flat chests, no makeup and pigtails being seduced and aggressively penetrated by older men. This so-called ‘teen’ porn is one of the most searched categories on PornHub.

Whilst we are experience a global pandemic of child sexual abuse, and whilst the backlog of suspected CSAM images and videos continues to grow at a staggering rate, Pornhub is making many millions of pounds from the fetishisation of sex with underage girls.

As a result, it was more important than ever for the industry to ensure that porn performers were over 18. However, in 2018 the Free Speech Coalition put a million dollars into fighting against Section 2257 of the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act, which required the industry to keep strict and transparent records of performers’ ages and to allow federal agents to inspect them at any time. It claimed that the regulations “placed an undue burden on pornographers’ free speech and violated Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless search and seizure”. 

The case turned on whether the public interest (protecting children from exploitation) justified the regulatory burden infringing on another group’s right (keeping records).The judgement went in the industry’s favour, prioritising the porn’s right to be safe from legal and financial liability over children’s right to be safe from exploitation.

This case highlights how porn has become big business, flexing its political muscles to fight regulation it sees as costly with wanton disregard for the consequences.” Gail Dines and David Levy

3. PORNHUB ENDORSES SIMULATED RAPE, VIOLENCE AND ABUSE 

Pornhub has extensive and comprehensive Terms of Service which (among other things) prohibit anyone to: 

  •  post any Content that depicts any person under 18 years of age (or older in any other location in which 18 is not the minimum age of majority) whether real or simulated;
  • post any Content depicting underage sexual activity, non-consensual sexual activity, revenge porn, blackmail, intimidation, snuff, torture, death, violence, incest, racial slurs, or hate speech, (either orally or via the written word).

But a cursory glance on Pornhub shows that there are literally tens of millions of videos that contravene these, representing the abuse of women, children and minorities and even being given Search Tags of their own (see below):

Pornhub prohibits the representation of underage sexual activity

  • It prohibits search terms including ‘young girl’ ‘paedophile’ and ‘underage’
  • But it has created search tags such as: ‘tiny girl’ ‘very small boy’ ‘baby-faced teen’ ‘young babysitter’ ‘barely legal’ ‘exploited teen’
  • And allows videos such as: Three pervert teachers enjoy young body of high school girl; Teenage Slut Step Daughter Blindfolded & Gangbanged by Dad’s Older Friends; Teen Student F***ed By Teacher For A Better Grade; Spycam Schoolgirl misused by Doctor 1; Monster stud destroying his tiny little girl 

Pornhub prohibits the representation of non-consensual activity

  • It prohibits search terms including ‘rape’, ‘sexual assault’, ‘kidnap’ and ‘abuse’
  • But it has created search tags such as: ‘violation’ ‘used like meat’ ‘coerced into sex’ ‘stop hurts’ & ‘crying’
  • And allows videos such as: Teen girl kidnaped and captured pervert man use her young body to destroy; Older Man In Elevator Harasses 10 Japanese Schoolgirls; Struggling Slut Fights Rough Anal Abuse – Fails Miserably; EXPLOITED BY HER GYNECOLOGIST 01; Camera in woman’s shower

Pornhub prohibits the representation of revenge porn

  • It prohibits the search term ‘revenge porn’
  • But it has created search tags such as: Leaked sex tapes’ ‘hidden camera sex’ ‘blackmail’ ‘ex-girlfriend’
  • And allows videos such as: Deshi Couple Sex Video Leaked By His Brother; Czech Brunette Teen Spied With Security Cam; Angel Of Daddy Part 3- Blackmailed

Pornhub prohibits the representation of violence

  • It prohibits the search term ‘violence’
  • But it has created search tags such as: ‘violent abuse’‘sexually broken’ ‘suffocating’‘choking and gagging’‘chocking and slapping’ ‘extremely painful’‘torture’
  • And allows videos such as: Kidnapped Degraded And Abused; Heavy Water Torture For Tied Slave; F**meat used, degraded, humiliated and broken; Slave Tied Up in Filthy Mattress; Daddy please don’t kill me

Pornhub prohibits the representation of incest

  • It prohibits the search term ‘incest’
  • But it has created search tags such as: ‘family’, ‘niece and uncle’ ‘daddy’ ‘grandpa and granddaughter
  • And allows videos such as: Uncle sneaks to niece’s room and abuse her; Daddy f***s innocent school girl in the ass; DADDY FORCE DAUGHTER; Innocent stepdaughter gets hard fucked by her perverted stepdad.

PornHub’s defense in the Rose Kalemba case (applicable here) is that they “allow all forms of sexual expression that follow our Terms of Use” and even if “some people find these fantasies inappropriate”, such material is permitted on the basis that it “appeals to many people around the world.’

Aside from the fact Rose’s case- like all of this simulated violence and abuse- doesn’t follow Pornhub’s Terms of Use, we can’t make this just about ‘taste’; this is about far more: the promotion and glorification of rape, abuse, and exploitation of minors. In any other industry, it would simply not be tolerated.

Here are 3 good reasons why:

a. It allows real abuse videos to camouflage and go undetected. In many cases, it’s almost impossible to distinguish between real abuse and fantasy role play.

b. It desensitises users. Watching porn is an escalating habit and heavy users require increasingly novel and extreme content in order to maintain arousal over time. Pornhub’s algorithms keep users engaged by introducing them to new and more extreme categories that include the depiction of unethical or illegal scenarios. Promoting “most viewed” videos and including other users’ comments all works to rationalise their interest in such material. 

This is how Pornhub makes money; it’s also how heavy porn users often find themselves watching material that they previously considered to be inappropriate or unethical. Police investigators are noting the increasing trend for men who have no prior sexual interest in children ‘crossing the line’ from adult to children pornography as a result of heavy porn use, often via the bridge of ‘teen porn. 

c.

 

  • It influences user behaviour.

There’s a vast body of evidence that watching porn influences users’ real world attitudes and behaviours. It increases people’s likelihood of believing rape myths, holding less sympathy for victims of sexual violence and being coercive and aggressive during sex. It also drives popular trends such as heterosexual anal sex, strangulation and other kinds of ‘rough sex’ which are high risk for women and girls.

At a time when society is more determined than ever to fight sexual violence, it seems incredible that no one is questioning the fact that millions of men are getting off to pornography choc full of abuse.

Like other major industries that generate harmful social impacts, the porn industry wages legal and lobbying strategies against existing and proposed regulations while simultaneously creating a discourse that links its industry to wider social ambitions like sexual emancipation and free speech.Heather Bruskell Evans