Petition launched to shut down PornHub after reported abuse cases | News | DW | 11.03.2020
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Petition launched to shut down PornHub after reported abuse cases

The world's largest porn site is accused of distributing and profiting from sexual abuse porn videos. As a result, over 420,000 people have signed a petition to close the website and hold its executives accountable.

The petition "Traffickinghub" was launched on February 10 by Laila Mickelwait from Exodus Cry, a US-based Christian anti-trafficking group, after several cases of sexual abuse were revealed on Pornhub, one of the world's largest online pornography providers.

The campaign seeks to hold the executives behind the site accountable. It claims that Pornhub does not control the content uploaded to its website sufficiently, allowing the distribution of sexual abuse videos as well as aiding human trafficking.

Mickelwait, the director of Abolition for Exodus Cry, argues that failure to verify age and consent of those depicted in the pornographic content is facilitating the abuse of women and minors.

The petition is targeting not only Pornhub but also its parent company MindGeek (formerly known as Manwin). In 2019 alone, Pornhub had over 42 billion visits, which equates to 115 million visits per day. It generates millions in advertising and membership revenue, with over 6 million videos being uploaded last year.

PornHub has so far not commented on why it maintains such practices of not verifying age or consent.

Read more: Germany: 1 woman per hour is victim of domestic violence

Cases of child abuse and rape 

The Internet Watch Foundation, a UK-based organization dedicated to the elimination of child sexual abuse imagery online, found 118 cases of child sexual abuse footage on Pornhub over the last three years.

Because this footage comes from and is viewed around the world, Mickelwait stresses that the petition is aimed at a global audience. She told DW that "Pornhub is a global company and they need to be held accountable on a global scale." 

In South Florida in the United States, the police was able to track down a 15-year-old girl in October 2019 because she had been spotted in a video uploaded to Pornhub, among other websites. She had gone missing one year prior. Luckily, someone tipped off her mother, who was then able to notify the authorities.

Mickelwait highlighted the lax control measures by Pornhub in this case.

According to her, cases like these illustrate how sex traffickers and abusers are not held accountable and can continue their business unscathed owing to a lack of content management by PornHub.  

Read more: Half the world on mute: the fight against online harassment

'Amateur' videos highly popular

Other cases of abuse include the distribution of revenge porn, which is officially defined as "the sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, or another person without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment" (gov.co.uk).

Hand with #metoo written on it

The #metoo movement has been increasingly drawing attention to women's experiences of sexual abuse

Recently, the UK broadcaster BBC reported about a case of a woman in the UK who found videos of herself on Pornhub. She had made several videos with her ex-partner but had never agreed to any publication of the material. She was shocked to discover that one of the videos was displayed on Pornhub's main page and had acquired more than 600,000 views. Only after the victim had become aware of the videos and consequently notified Pornhub were the videos taken down.

However, "Amateur" videos like these are increasingly popular, which is reflected in the fact that "amateur" was one of the top search words on Pornhub in 2019.

Exodus Cry has also identified "teen" as one of the most searched for terms for six consecutive years. It says many of the videos "feature girls who look 13 years old at best — with braces, pigtails, flat chests …."  The group argues that "Pornhub has no reliable system in place to verify that those in the videos it hosts are not trafficked children being raped in order to line the pockets of its executives."

Non-consensual porn continues to resurface  

"Traffickinghub" is being supported by 75 other child-protecting, anti-trafficking organizations around the world. Among them is the UK-based "#NotYourPorn," which was launched after a woman found out her iCloud-Account had been hacked and sensitive material featuring her and an ex-partner uploaded onto Pornhub. It was weeks before Pornhub took the material down. However, identical videos with her full name continued to resurface on the page and the cycle of reporting went on. She ended up on Pornhub's top five trending videos in the UK.

Similarly, when the amateur porn specialist "GirlsDoPorn" was taken to court for coercing women, it took Pornhub months to take down the videos which were uploaded to its site.

Read more: How deepfake porn is killing our trust in tech

Setting a precedent

Mickelwait is aware that by shutting down one site, another could easily appear in its stead.

Women in Berlin protesting against human trafficking

Activists like these in Berlin in 2018 have protested against human trafficking

However, she remains confident that the campaign will have positive results.

"What I hope is that this campaign, aimed at the largest website, will set a precedent and inspire important regulations to be enforced by all websites that upload and profit of hardcore pornographic material to require the verification of the age and the consent of every person that is featured in the videos."

However, even if Pornhub were to implement changes immediately, Mickelwait says it is "too little, too late because this has been going on for years and it's only now that it's coming to the public spotlight (…). Pornhub as a company needs to be held accountable because they've already profited and already enabled the exploitation of and the rape and trafficking of dozens of women we have knowledge of and hundreds of children. There needs to be accountability here".  

Allegations denied

MindGeek has responded to the allegations against its subsidiary, saying, "We find it is irresponsible to spread false information that contains factually inaccurate statements, and we are disappointed that lies are being portrayed as fact, grossly misrepresenting MindGeek and its brands."

Pornhub itself also commented on the allegations, stressing its "steadfast commitment to eradicating and fighting any and all illegal content on the internet, including non-consensual content and underage material. Any suggestion otherwise is categorically and factually inaccurate."

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The influence of the internet on sexuality

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