Over 30 Women Allege Pornhub Knowingly Profited Off Videos Showing Nonconsensual Sexual Content

The lawsuit calls Pornhub and its parent company MindGeek a "classic criminal enterprise"

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Over 30 Women Allege Pornhub Knowingly Profited Off Videos Showing Nonconsensual Sexual Content
Photo:Ethan Miller / Staff (Getty Images)

On Thursday, a lawsuit was filed against Pornhub and its parent company MindGeek on behalf of 34 women accusing the site of knowingly profiting off videos depicting rape, child sexual abuse, and other non-consensual sexual content, as well as revenge porn. The civil complaint alleges that Pornhub is a “classic criminal enterprise” that relies on a business model that intentionally monetizes non-consensual content without permission from the people in the videos. MindGeek owns over 100 pornographic websites, production companies, and brands, and across its platforms, the company amasses 3.5 billion views per month. Pornhub specifically sees 130 million users each day.

Of the 34 women participating in the lawsuit against Pornhub, 14 said they were underage in the videos of them that were uploaded to the site, and 14 were victims of people who have been charged and/or convicted of sex crimes. One of the women says she was drugged and raped by her then-husband, who uploaded a video of the assault to Pornhub. The video had been on the site for three years before she learned of its existence. Another woman, whose ex-husband secretly recorded them having sex and uploaded it to Pornhub without her knowledge, said that she struggled to convince the Pornhub representatives she contacted to remove the video.

Several of the women told CBS News they got involved with the lawsuit after contacting Laila Mickelwait, the founder of a campaign to shut down Pornhub called Traffickinghub. Traffickinghub is affiliated with Exodus Cry, a religious organization that works to abolish pornography altogether and has advocated for criminalizing entire parts of the sex industry. The involvement of this anti-porn organization in the development of this lawsuit brings up concerns that these efforts to protect victims of sexual violence could lead to the creation of policies that actually endanger the lives of sex workers and make it more difficult for them to work—similar to what happened with FOSTA/SESTA.

However, Michael Bowe, the lawyer representing the 34 women in the lawsuit, claims that his goal is not to eliminate online pornography, but just to push the industry to comply with regulations. Bowe has spent the past year building a case against MindGeek using racketeering laws typically utilized in cases involving organized crime or drug operations. “This case is not about porn, it’s about rape,” Bowe told CBS News. “This is a legitimate industry that consenting people have every right to participate in. It just needs to be done legally and not with illegal content.”

After Pornhub came under fire over the non-consensual content on its site last December, Mastercard and Visa blocked card users from making purchases on the site. The scrutiny led MindGeek to overhaul its procedures, removing millions of videos uploaded by unverified users, which amounted to deleting 80% of content on the site. In 2020, MindGeek also removed the ability for users to download videos and added a requirement that people posting videos verify their identity. However, the site still doesn’t require users to verify the identity or age of everyone who appears in a video, nor does it seek the permission of everyone who appears in videos shared to the site.

The lawsuit also contains information shared by a former MindGeek executive, who claims that the company saw illegal content as “good” for business. “I mean, if you offer everything on the site, there is something for everyone,” the anonymous executive told CBS News. “The more you have, the better it is. So for all the free sites like Pornhub, more content is always better.” He also claimed that when content was flagged on Pornhub, it was a common practice at Mindeek just to move it to one of the other porn sites that the company owns. “Removed content popped up on all their other sites and no one really cared,” he said.

In a statement to CNN Business, Pornhub reasserted its commitment to seriously investigating complaints regarding “the abuse of its platform,” but denied the lawsuit’s claims about the company’s structure. “The allegations in today’s complaint that Pornhub is a criminal enterprise that traffics women and is run like ‘The Sopranos’ are utterly absurd, completely reckless and categorically false,” Pornhub wrote.

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