The world’s largest porn company is being sued by abuse and trafficking survivors.
“For years, Mindgeek has monetized rape without consequence and openly profited from child sexual abuse material. Far from being ‘just’ another tech company, Mindgeek has built a destructive corporate empire that is designed to flourish by facilitating and distributing all manner of sexual abuse and violence on its platforms…the message to Mindgeek is clear: the impunity is over.”
Those were the words Dani Pinter, senior legal counsel for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law Center (NCOSE), shared following the publicization of a massive class-action lawsuit filed by an accomplished assembly of survivor-focused and commercial litigation law firms against Mindgeek, the parent company of Pornhub and 47 other subsidiaries.
Pinter was effectively saying two things: first, that Mindgeek has reportedly been making money for far too long off of toxic content that includes real abuse and, second, that Mindgeek’s ability to allegedly continue profiting off of such content like child sexual abuse material (CSAM)—also commonly known as “child porn”—stops with this lawsuit.
And what’s more, this isn’t the only lawsuit against Mindgeek for their alleged profiting from nonconsensual and abusive content. In December 2020, 40 women identified as “Jane Doe” filed a lawsuit against Mindgeek for allegedly knowingly profiting from images and videos of their sex trafficking nightmares and failing to properly moderate Mindgeek-owned sites for the abusive videos. The suit, which was filed in the Southern District of California, seeks punitive and compensatory damages of more than $80 million.
But what does all of this mean? When you think of lawsuits, you might think of a couple of random movie scenes where one character threatens to sue another. But what does that actually mean and how is that going to change Pornhub or Mindgeek’s behavior?
The perks of a lawsuit
A lawsuit is a court-based process where one person, business, or entity can hold another person, business, or entity liable for some type of harm or wrongful act. If Party A’s attempt to hold Party B liable is successful, Party A will usually be awarded compensation for the harm that resulted from Party B’s wrongful actions (known as “restitution”).
So, how does this help anyone?
Well, there’s the obvious answer: the party harmed gets money to pay for damages and their suffering.
However, that’s not the only perk.
A lawsuit has the ability to wake up the public to the harms being caused by the party who is and or has been acting wrongfully. Moreover, a successful lawsuit can set a precedent for others who were previously harmed by the accountable party to also seek restitution.
Both of such perks help the party who is held accountable for wrongdoing to not harm other parties in the same way in the future.
So, now that we’ve discussed lawsuits generally, let’s dive into the specifics of the one against Pornhub.
The lawsuit against Mindgeek
The lawsuit against Mindgeek by NCOSE is a specific type of suit called a “class-action lawsuit.” What this means is that the lawsuit being brought against Mindgeek is being brought not just by one person, but by a number of people who have been wronged by the porn company. This provides those accusing Mindgeek of wrongdoing a stronger footing because there is strength in numbers.
The representative class members of the suit are two survivors of childhood sex trafficking who unfortunately reportedly had videos and images of their sexual abuse posted on Pornhub and other Mindgeek-owned sites.
The first survivor was a 16-year-old who was drugged and raped by a man in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Her child sexual abuse and rape was all filmed and uploaded to Mindgeek-affiliated websites where Mindgeek allegedly “reviewed, categorized, tagged, and disseminated” the sexually exploitative content. One of the videos had even been viewed over 2,400 times since it was uploaded in early 2018.
According to the suit, neither Mindgeek nor Pornhub made any attempt to verify her identity or age, nor did they inquire about her status as a victim of trafficking or otherwise try to protect or warn against her traffickers before or while the video of her being drugged and raped was sold, downloaded, viewed and advertised on Pornhub.
The story of the second survivor is tragic, and similar. While still a minor, a sex trafficker forced her to engage in sex acts with numerous adults while being filmed. Those videos were also uploaded and disseminated through Mindgeek-affiliated websites, such as Pornhub.
With compelling allegations that suggest a successful outcome to the lawsuit, what would happen if the courts found that Mindgeek was liable for wrongdoing?
What happens if the lawsuit against Mindgeek is successful?
We can’t be certain of what’ll happen to Mindgeek and Pornhub if the class action lawsuit is successful, but we can look at how recent and overdue negative publicity affected the company and its prominent porn site as a case study on what might happen.
Two months ago, New York Times award-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof wrote an illuminating exposé on Pornhub discussing its practice of hosting illicit and exploitative content, including the likes of CSAM. Shortly afterward, Visa, Discover, and Mastercard announced they would also be suspending their payment processing services with the porn site.
A few days later, these events led Pornhub to purge about 10 million videos from its site in a matter of one night. More specifically, available videos on the site dropped from 13.5 million to 4.7 million, meaning that Pornhub removed most of the videos on its site due to negative publicity (which would presumably lead to a lessening of profits—a big deal considering the biggest players in the porn industry historically have put profits over people).
Additionally, the survivors would receive restitution from Mindgeek due to its reported profiting off of CSAM content, and a precedent would be set for other survivors to come after the company for similar restitution.
The public backlash could also lead other companies currently affiliated with Mindgeek and Pornhub to refuse to be affiliated with them until they stop hosting toxic content, just as Visa, Discover, and Mastercard have done.
Why this matters
We can’t put it any better than Pinter did: Mindgeek has reportedly “monetized rape without consequence and openly profited from child sexual abuse material” for years.
We believe it’s important for porn consumers and individuals everywhere to be aware of the fact that the porn industry, which masquerades as a for-the-people provider of cheap and harmless entertainment, is anything but that. Even pornographic content that isn’t necessarily of trafficked or abused individuals has been shown by decades of research from respected institutions to negatively impact individuals, relationships, and society.
Mindgeek needs to be held accountable for reportedly hosting and profiting off of illicit content like CSAM, and this lawsuit may be only one of the first of many. All the same, this is another opportunity for people everywhere to learn about the harmful effects of porn and the business practices of this harmful industry.