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Justice Defense Fund’s Laila Mickelwait on How Pornhub Profits Off Child Rape and Human Trafficking

Laila Mickelwait: Pornhub monetiza videos de violaciones con anuncios

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In context, what is 3.5 billion? These are hard numbers to imagine, we very rarely deal with such figures on a day-to-day basis. We are not programmed to think in such dimensions. So, let’s simplify the answer: it’s too much, that number represents almost half of the world’s population. If it is difficult to put such a figure in context, I have an even more complicated question for you: if necessary, could you count from zero to 3.5 billion? Impossible, you say?

We could take forever, but what if I told you that a website gets that many hits in just thirty days? Yes, Pornhub, the porn industry giant receives around 3.5 billion views per month. Now we can put this in context: it’s massive. That’s more visits than Netflix, Amazon, or any other streaming platform and the statistic is growing all the time, thanks to a hyper-sexualized society that has turned eroticism into a highly profitable commercial product.

So far so “good,” right? Surely people enter Pornhub looking for a few minutes of fun and relief, without any bad intentions. Even the company prides itself on being a healthy space, a champion institution in philanthropy, donating money to social causes, and even at the height of the Covid lockdowns allowed free access to its premium content to make life easier for everyone. There can’t be anything wrong with Pornhub… Right?

We can have the innocence to think that Pornhub is a harmless business. Yes, a gigantic business. Imagine the economic benefits that a website with such a magnitude of visits generates just by clicking on its videos. You will tell me that there is nothing wrong with it as long as its products are a consensual transaction between two parties, which is true to a certain extent if we ignore the moral component that should govern any human action. The problem is that there is a side of the porn industry that we are not told about. Pornhub, along with many other websites that are part of a large conglomerate, is infested with videos that portray serious crimes.

Rape, child abuse, hidden cameras, sex trafficking, misogyny, racism, and a long list of reprehensible cases that Pornhub not only allows and promotes on its platform but also monetizes. In December 2020, a report in The New York Times, “The Children of Pornhub,” revealed that a 15-year-old girl—who went missing in Florida but was later found by her mother and the police—is in more than 58 sex videos on the platform. In California, a 14-year-old girl appeared in several videos, the case was reported to the authorities (not by Pornhub), but by a classmate who found her by chance. There are even worse cases.

Anyone can post a video on Pornhub. There is no filtering or protection whatsoever. Of the 6.8 million new videos a year, surely a large part have consenting adults as protagonists, but many also show violence and abuse, because it is impossible to be sure if a young girl in a video is 14 or 18 years old. Even Pornhub doesn’t know. They don’t really care. What’s more, the platform allows free downloading of all videos. Thus, if a video is reported as a crime and abuse, it can be republished by any user. A terrible circle to generate profits at the expense of human suffering.

Pornhub - Mindgeek - EL American
The monopoly of Mindgeek, the company that owns Pornhub and other of the world’s largest porn sites

Laila Mickelwait, #TraffickingHub, and the Justice Defense Fund

El American spoke exclusively with Laila Mickelwait, an activist who has been dedicated to fighting sex trafficking for a decade. She is the founder and CEO of the Justice Defense Fund and #TraffickingHub, two global movements whose mission is to hold major porn websites-especially Pornhub-accountable for enabling and profiting from sex trafficking and the criminal sexual exploitation of countless victims.

“Anyone who is investigating the porn industry will end up on Pornhub the world’s largest and most popular porn site as of 2020 and that is where I found myself time and time again. In early 2020, I discovered that all it took to upload sex videos to the site was an email address. No ID was required to prove the individuals in the videos were not children and no consent forms to prove they were not rape or trafficking victims. Because of this practice the site became infested with videos of real sex crime scenes that were being monetized and globally distributed,” she says as she explains how this crusade began.

Mickelwait claims to have seen a whole spectrum of abuse on Pornhub, from drugged women (whose eyes are touched to prove they are unconscious while being raped); drunk women who have no idea they are being recorded, to victims who are clearly violently abused children. “Pornhub is not a porn website,” she says confidently, “it’s a crime scene.” Her work has even earned her death threats but she says that “nothing I have gone through compares to the abuse and trauma that victims of Pornhub have faced. Pornhub and its operatives have also attacked and gaslighted victims who have come forward instead of taking accountability for the lives they have shattered.”

Laila, the content uploaded to Pornhub is, for the most part, user-generated and in almost all cases under anonymity. What mechanisms does Pornhub have in place to prevent sex crime scenes from being uploaded to its platform?

“Before December 2020, Pornhub had nearly no mechanisms in place to prevent sex crimes from being uploaded. After they were globally exposed and all major credit cards stopped processing payment for the site, they deleted ten million videos overnight and changed the upload process to require an ID for the uploader of the videos. This however does not stop abuse and criminal content from being uploaded because often the person uploading the video is the abuser or trafficker. To this day the site is still full of illegal sexual crimes, including rape and trafficking.”

Do you have a percentage of the amount of content that has been uploaded to Pornhub without any verification process?

“Eighty percent of the content on Pornhub in 2020 was uploaded without any verification process. That is the amount of content they took down from the site after The New York Times published Children of Pornhub because they had no way to verify those in the videos were not children or rape victims or victims of non-consensual content.”

How does Pornhub profit from these videos?

“Pornhub heavily monetizes every video with advertisements in and around the videos. They earn over 50% of their revenue from advertising. There could be a blatant rape with ads in the video and all around. This is how Pornhub and the advertisers profit from that rape.”

Pornhub and 80% of the Big Porn industry are owned by a company called MindGeek, a true monopoly. Can you tell us a little more about what MindGeek is?

“MindGeek has dominated the global mainstream porn industry. Porn producers have called it the “MindGeek Monopoly” They own most of the world’s most popular porn sites and brands. They also own Pornhub, YouPorn, Tube8, and RedTube, which make up the majority of the world’s most popular porn sites and these are all sites that have been full of sexual crime.” 

Pornhub and MindGeek executives have kept a low profile over the years, they have been moving in the shadows. Why do you think that is?

“The owners of Pornhub have been hiding in the shadows for years, using fake names and fake profiles and hiding from public view and scrutiny. Last year an investigative journalist hunted down owner of MindGeek in London and put his face on camera for the first time. Now he is being named in multiple lawsuits.”

Today it is incredibly easy for any child to access content like Pornhub. How do you think this affects them? Does Pornhub have a filter to prevent minors from consuming their videos?

“It is unconscionable that any child in just a matter of two clicks could end up on Pornhub with no barriers to access and could watch the real rape of a woman or another child as their introduction to sex. It is a serious form of trauma for children who are on the consuming end of these sexual crime scenes and sites like Pornhub need to be held accountable for the abuse of children in front of the screen and behind it.”

What other big hits have Pornhub taken thanks to your work?

“Thanks to the collective efforts of everyone involved with the TraffickingHub movement, Pornhub has lost many of its major advertisers: Roku, Comcast, Xfinity, Grant Thornton, Visa, Mastercard, Discover. The other companies have similarly stopped doing business with them. They are also facing 40 major lawsuits on behalf of 191 victims in Canada and the U.S., they have been the subject of parliamentary investigations in Canada and are bleeding money trying to defend themselves in court.”

What can the average person do to get involved and stop this kind of abuse?

“The petition to hold Pornhub and its executives accountable has 2.2 million signatures in 192 countries and every signature matters,” says Mickelwait (it can be signed at traffickinghubpetition.com). “Tell everyone you know about what’s going on at Pornhub and Mindgeek-owned porn sites. These sites rely on traffic for revenue, and by raising awareness, we can create a situation where consumers are deterred from using the platform.”

This should be a fight of people of good will, regardless of political ideology or religion.

A business like the porn industry is probably very difficult to control as it has too much money and too many interests. Responsibility must be individual. This type of content destroys innocent lives, separates families, is addictive, is degrading (especially for women), is violent, is destructive, corrupts and, in the end, we have the opposite of what it offers us from the beginning: loneliness and suffering instead of the alleged happiness they try to sell us. Is there a more deceitful offer than this? Are a few ephemeral minutes of ecstasy, stained by the pain and the destroyed lives of thousands of people—children, many times—worth it?

These are answers we can find within ourselves and act upon. Let us not wait for the world, for the government, or any other institution. We can make a difference, confront these big corporations before it is too late, as happened with Jeffrey Epstein and so many others. The Pornhub and MindGeek case is a million times more serious, aberrant, and has destroyed more lives than any we have seen before.

You can follow Laila on Twitter to get the latest updates on her fight against Pornhub and MindGeek and you can donate to the cause to help the victims at justicedefensefund.org.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on March 27, 2022, to properly attribute quotes to the interviewee.

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