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These Exploitation Survivors Boldly Testified Against Pornhub to Canada’s Parliament

MindGeek, Pornhub’s parent company, not only reportedly ignored these four women’s pleas to have videos removed of their abuse and exploitation, but the massive porn company also allegedly profited from them.

By March 3, 2021March 4th, 2021No Comments
Hearing screenshots retrieved from Canada’s Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics virtual meetings on February 1st and 19th.

If we could look into the future, we might pinpoint these last couple of months as the possible beginning of the end for the biggest company in the pornography industry.

However, stuck as we are in the present day with no magical foresight, it’s too early to tell what will happen with MindGeek, the owner of Pornhub and 47 other pornographic subsidiaries. Will they be held accountable for reportedly profiting from sexual exploitation and images of child abuse? Or will the tech company that garners billions of visits annually to their sites be acquitted for reportedly allowing so much nonconsensual content, including child sexual abuse material, onto their sites?

If you’ve never heard of MindGeek, you’re not alone. Chances are, you have heard of their subsidiaries including Pornhub, YouPorn, RedTube, among many others. They’ve been able to control a large part of the adult industry for years with relative anonymity, but that’s no longer. Now, the spotlight is on them and the pressure is on to see some meaningful action from them.

Related: MindGeek, Pornhub’s Parent Company, Sued For Reportedly Hosting Videos Of Child Sex Trafficking

To catch you up, here’s what’s been going on the last few months. After an article called “The Children of Pornhub” by award-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof was published in The New York Times in December 2020, Pornhub and MindGeek have faced intense media and public scrutiny. This long-overdue reckoning follows years of allegations that the company profits from child sexual abuse material (CSAM)—also known as “child porn”—and image-based sexual abuse (IBSA) or nonconsensual content. Payment services including Visa, Discover, and Mastercard investigated the allegations made against MindGeek, confirmed the existence of illegal content on Pornhub, and severed ties with the adult company.

In response, in December, MindGeek announced dramatic changes to their sites, including suspending content uploads from unverified users and prohibiting video and image downloads from Pornhub. These are steps in the right direction, but these policies will not solve the problem of nonconsensual content on porn sites around the world.

The company has been criticized for making these changes out of concern for their bottom line instead of the wellbeing of victims of sexual abuse, seeing as countless victims of nonconsensual abuse have reportedly begged for years for these site changes, but they were only made after payment processing companies ended their services.

While MindGeek is legally headquartered in Luxembourg, its main office is in Montreal. The scrutiny of MindGeek made its way to the Canadian government at the start of February when the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics (ETHI) began their investigation.

MindGeek Canada’s CEO Feras Antoon and COO David Tassillo testified to the committee at the beginning of the month, making statements peppered with reported lies about how effective the company is at removing nonconsensual content and reporting CSAM.

The reports from the last few months by entities like the NYT, as well as more committee hearings, have exposed the fact that time and time again, MindGeek and Pornhub apparently missed opportunities to prevent sexual exploitation and instead, reportedly profited from illegal content. This is a very, very big deal. In fact, MindGeek is being sued by child trafficking survivors and 40 exploited women because they reportedly profited from abusive content instead of removing it immediately or preventing its upload in the first place.

Related: 13 Times MindGeek Executives Reportedly Didn’t Tell The Full Truth To Canadian Lawmakers

To better understand the effects of abusive content being available for consumption on one of the world’s biggest porn sites, four survivors provided witness statements to the Canadian committee over the course of a couple of meetings.

Serena Fleites first shared her story in Kristof’s article and then again during the committee’s first hearing in early February 2021. Another three survivors, two of whom chose to remain anonymous, shared their statements in the third meeting.

Each of their stories include devastating experiences of sexual abuse, the discovery of their images on Pornhub, harassment by peers and strangers, negative effects to their mental and physical health, and the anger of dealing with a company that so badly let them down. Their experiences speak to the gravity of MindGeek’s alleged crimes in refusing to immediately take down reported content, and the deep impact image-based abuse has on survivors.

These are their stories. To watch the survivors tell their own stories, click here to access past ETHI meetings. Remember that what these women experienced is only a tiny representation of what violations countless others have endured because of the porn industry’s exploitation of their abuse.

Related: What’s Going On With Pornhub? A Simplified Timeline Of Events

Listening to survivors, in their own words
Serena Fleites 

When she was barely a teenager, Serena’s first boyfriend in middle school regularly asked for videos of herself.

At first, Serena did not understand what he meant, so her boyfriend sent a link to a video on Pornhub of a female undressing in front of the camera and assured her that lots of people swap these kinds of videos. He said if she truly loved him, she would send him a video. He said he would delete it after.

Serena refused until he threatened to break up with her, and then she made a video that was only about a minute long. After a few days, her boyfriend’s friends started making comments about her body, calling her a freak, but also saying they wished their girlfriends would do what she did. It was clear her boyfriend—soon to be ex-boyfriend—sent her video to his friends, who sent it to their friends, who forwarded it again.

Soon, she was sent a link to her video on Pornhub which had reportedly been captioned “13-year-old brunette shows off for the camera.”

“After that, I started ditching school a lot,” Serena told the committee. “I started getting really depressed. I started getting into drug use.” Serena eventually dropped out of school, became homeless, and detached from her family. She attempted suicide more than once and was admitted to the hospital for mental episodes. Even now, she says she still has anxiety being around other people.

“I thought that once I stopped being in the public so much, once I stopped going to school, people would stop re-uploading it,” Serena said. “But that didn’t happen, because it had already been basically downloaded by people all across the world. It would always be uploaded, over and over and over again. No matter how many times I got it taken down, it would be right back up again.”

Related: The New York Times Exposé That Helped Spark The Possible Beginning Of The End Of Pornhub

After discovering her video online, Serena pretended to be her mother in a message to Pornhub requesting the video be removed. According to Serena, Pornhub did respond and agreed to remove the video but reportedly waited two weeks to do so. She made several more requests as copies of her video were continuously re-uploaded with varying degrees of success. In one instance, the video allegedly had over 2.7 million views on Pornhub and was not removed even after commenters said it was “child pornography.”

In other requests to remove the video, Serena says Pornhub requested proof of her identity. She reportedly sent an image of her face with a form of identification to confirm it was her in the video and that she was underage. To Serena, it should not have mattered to Pornhub whether or not it was actually her in the video because it clearly featured an underage girl and should not have been on their site at all.

In Serena’s opinion, Pornhub dragged their feet when dealing with take down requests and did not prioritize requests from victims. To her, MindGeek’s suspension of millions of videos from their content library was proof of this. That move last December was almost immediate, whereas they took reportedly weeks or sometimes months to remove a single copy of her video.

BHW - General

Victoria Daly

In 2018, Victoria Daly found approximately 30 videos on Pornhub of herself and her ex-partner. She did not know these videos had been created.

These videos were made by her ex during a trip they took together, but Victoria is still unsure about the events on that trip, believing she was drugged. The videos show Victoria’s ex sexually assaulting her while intoxicated or allegedly while she was drugged and sleeping. On Pornhub, some of those videos were labeled “teen” and reportedly showed Victoria’s physical state and inability to consent to the acts. Victoria did not consent to the videos being posted on Pornhub, either, making it image-based abuse on top of sexual assault.

When Victoria first found the videos, she flagged them on Pornhub. She said nothing happened and so she created a Pornhub account in order to report the videos as nonconsensual. She allegedly reported the few dozen videos she found, but only three were removed at that time.

“As a result of this initial trauma and finding of these videos,” Victoria told the committee, “I suffered great emotional distress resulting in what my doctor has defined as a dissociative condition wherein I basically remove the memory of these videos and events from my present recollection as it was too painful for me to process. It’s called dissociative amnesia.”

Related: 40 “GirlsDoPorn” Sex Trafficking Survivors Sue Pornhub’s Parent Company For Profiting From Their Exploitation

In addition to this memory block, Victoria described losing her sense of self-worth, experiencing severe anxiety, weight loss, suicidal thoughts, and she engaged in risky behaviors that were different from her typical self prior to 2018. Despite her efforts to build a spotless career as a paralegal for 16 years, she took a leave of absence because she was unable to function.

During the summer of 2020, Victoria began having flashbacks and recalled the videos online.  She returned to Pornhub to find that, because of re-uploads, there were now double the number of videos. Oddly, her videos were reportedly claimed by a verified adult performing couple in Finland, which made it even more difficult to have videos of her abuse removed. Victoria sent a Powerpoint presentation to Pornhub, including images of her birthmark and other body parts as proof that she is the one featured in the videos and pointed out that her voice can be heard saying her ex-partner’s name. Pornhub reportedly refused to remove Victoria’s videos.

According to Victoria, it wasn’t until December 2020 that Pornhub removed her videos with the huge site purge. It is only a small consolation as she knows they are on other pornsites scattered across the internet.

“I will never be able to remove these videos,” Victoria said. “Had they done this back in 2018 when I first contacted them, my life would look much different now… To think the amount of money that Pornhub has made off of my trauma, date rape, and sexual exploitation makes me sick to my stomach.”

Store - Trafficking

“Jane Doe” 1 

When she was 24-years-old, “Jane Doe” 1 met her soon-to-be husband. She thought he was a nice guy, but says that soon changed.

During their relationship, she let him take explicit photos of her even though she was uncomfortable with the idea and never had taken photos of that nature before. She trusted her husband at the time and “wanted to keep him happy.”

In August 2020, about four months after moving away from her husband for her safety, Jane Doe 1 discovered those private images had been reportedly uploaded to porn sites including Pornhub. She then discovered a video she previously did not know existed, and watched the footage of herself being assaulted for the first time on Pornhub. The title indicated she was “sleeping” and it was tagged “sleeping pills.”

“Whether I was asleep or drugged, is impossible to know after the fact,” she said to the committee. “But what is clear in the video is that I am not conscious and there is nothing to suggest consent… This is the content that Pornhub moderators supposedly viewed and decided to allow on their porn site.”

The video of Jane Doe 1’s assault was originally uploaded in August 2017, so by the time she found it, the video had been reportedly active online for three years.

Related: Are Porn Sites Protecting Victims Of Nonconsensual Content? We Investigated, Here’s What We Found

“In all that time, the video did not get flagged or removed,” Jane Doe 1 said. “The viewers, rather than being turned away by sexual assault videos, were actively searching out that content. The tags made this possible and they knew what they were watching before they clicked. It is a profound betrayal to know that thousands of men saw your assault and not only did nothing to flag it but actively sought it out and enjoyed it.”

Jane Doe 1 said she did not try to remove the video immediately and instead went to the police. Somehow in the middle of August 2020, her video was no longer playable on Pornhub and she noticed the tags that indicated a lack of consent were disappearing. In September, she said searching “sleeping pills” would not return results, which was reportedly not the case in August.

“This video is not a one-off that slipped through a filter,” Jane Doe 1 said. “Sexual assault is not an anomaly on the porn sites, it is a genre. This leaves little motivation for these sites to moderate such content.”

Even after her video’s removal during the purge of unverified content on Pornhub, the adult site still has data associated with the original video including a thumbnail image. Jane Doe 1 has tried without success to convince Pornhub and other sites under the MindGeek umbrella to remove this identifying information.

“Nothing will ever be able to undo what has been done, but at this point I just want to be off the internet,” Jane Doe 1 said. “Thanks to Pornhub, today is day 1,292 that I have been naked on these porn sites.”

Store - General

“Jane Doe” 2

Jane Doe” 2 was reportedly extorted by a man online at age 15.

He told her to send videos and instructed her what acts to perform, how long for, and in which position. She described the acts as “disturbing.” Soon they became so extreme, that she risked the threats he made against her and cut off contact.

Later she found out that she was not the only victim. Hundreds of other girls were allegedly extorted into sending sexual footage of themselves which was then advertised on a Tumblr account that sold Dropbox files of the girls’ content.

A peer, who Jane Doe 2 thought was a friend, found and started circulating her images, which resulted in harassment from people close to her. Then, Jane Doe 2 found one of her videos posted on Snapchat that was screen recorded from Pornhub. It was the first time she discovered her content had been posted to the porn site, and soon after she began receiving about 50 messages a day, often from strangers sending links to videos of herself on Pornhub. She explained to some messengers were “respectable” and reported the content when she told them she was only 15 at the time, but most she said, “enjoyed it even more.”

“A lot of the time, men felt entitled to me once they’d seen me on Pornhub,” Jane Doe 2 told the committee. “When I didn’t want to speak to them, they would try and blackmail and threaten me even more. Even still now, I have some of the same people from 2018 still trying to contact me.”

Related: How The Porn Industry Quietly Fought To Stop Keeping Official Records Of Performers’ Ages—And Won

Jane Doe 2 said she reported her videos to Pornhub and they did remove them, but she believes they only did so because she provided a police reference code and mentioned that she was suicidal. Even still, every time they removed some images, they reportedly allowed copies to be re-uploaded. Some of those re-uploads reportedly garnered hundreds of thousands of views and were often published with Jane Doe 2’s personal information including her home address and her family’s social media information.

“The videos of me being on Pornhub has affected my life to the point where I don’t leave my house anymore,” Jane Doe 2 said. “I stopped being able to work just because I was too scared to be out in public around other people. And I feel like everyone who looks at me has looked at those videos.”

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What comes next

These are just four real stories from survivors of image-based abuse. Consider how many more there may be by those who do not have the public platform to share.

Across the world, the Canadian ETHI committee has been praised for their efforts to scrutinize MindGeek and Pornhub as well as invite survivor participation in a safe space.

We cannot stress enough the devastation these survivors endure, and the hearings have been respectful and understanding of their pain. Each expressed how disempowering it has been to see their videos and images spread across the internet and know it is nearly impossible to reverse. Each has had their life deeply impacted by being violated, over and over, in this way.

A coalition of anti-exploitation and anti-trafficking advocates from 525 organizations and 104 survivors all from 65 countries recently signed a letter praising the ETHI committee’s actions thus far and calling on the Canadian government to encourage law enforcement to launch a criminal investigation into MindGeek. Based on the testimonies from Feras Antoon and David Tassillo, the porn company appears to have violated Canada’s child protection laws requiring reporting CSAM to the police. Since the MindGeek executives testified that their human moderators view every piece of content uploaded to their site, the letter concludes that MindGeek knowingly distributed CSAM and nonconsensual content. Because of their alleged failures to prevent the spread of illegal content, the letter states that MindGeek “cannot be trusted to self-regulate.”

Related: Visa And Mastercard Sever Ties With Pornhub Due To Abusive Content On The Site

MindGeek is also facing two class-action lawsuits, a $600 million suit in Canada and another in the US with the support of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) for survivors of child sex trafficking whose content has circulated on Pornhub. The latter suit claims MindGeek did not attempt to verify the identification or age of the victimized minors in videos, which is reportedly still their standard practice not to require the identification of all individuals in content when videos are uploaded through a verified user.

This saga is far from over for MindGeek, in fact we suspect the criticism, lawsuits, and potential investigations are just beginning.

Since December, user traffic to Pornhub appears to have decreased, but it remains unclear what will happen next to MindGeek. If they do not, and demand for this content has not disappeared, what kind of adult site will take its place? Will it be any kinder to victims?

Only time will tell, but we are grateful to the survivors, advocates, and organizations who have given visibility to these issues for years and made an immeasurable impact in the lives of those who have had their lives torn apart by the adult industry’s largest player.

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