April 9, 2021

U.S. Congressional Briefing Packs a Powerful Punch Against MindGeek’s Exploitation Empire 

On April 8th, 2021, a Congressional briefing was held to uncover evidence of the criminality of Pornhub, and its parent company MindGeek. The briefing reached at least 70 members of Congress and their staff, as well as over 2000 registrants, including law enforcement, lawyers, journalists, and the general public. 

Co-Hosts of the Briefing:
Breaking Free • Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) • Mentari Human Trafficking Survivor Empowerment Program • More Too Life • National Center on Sexual Exploitation • Organization for Prostitution Survivors • Rights4Girls • SPACE International – USA • Christine Stark • Survivors for Solutions • Traffickinghub • United Against Slavery

MindGeek has exponentially come under public fire and scrutiny for hosting videos of child sexual abuse, rape, sex trafficking, and non-consensually recorded and/or distributed content since early 2020 as more survivors came forward with their stories. A December 2020 New York Times article, “The Children of Pornhub,”  brought a lot of attention to these realities. Traffickinghub’s petition, a campaign calling for accountability for Pornhub’s executives, has gained over 2 million supporters.

Meanwhile a new, global campaign aimed to tactically deconstruct MindGeek and Pornhub’s infrastructure is underway, targeting corporations like Visa, Roku, Diesel, and more that support the sexual exploitation empire through advertising revenue, payment processing, distribution, and technology. The Canadian Parliament has hosted hearings and 70 Members of Parliament have called on law enforcement to investigate Pornhub for criminal violations. 104 Survivors and 525 NGOs from 65 countries have joined in calling for criminal investigations as well. Six lawsuits have been filed in recent months as well.

The congressional briefing, Uncovering the Evidence of Child Exploitation, Sex Trafficking, and Non-consensual Content on Pornhub,  featured 16 experts and survivors alike, all coming from different yet impressive backgrounds: lawyers rigorously investigating MindGeek, to law enforcement professionals, to former public representatives. All echoed the same message from various angles of experience: That the time for action is long past due, and every moment this exploitative and deeply harmful company continues to operate with impunity is a moment that could have prevented the victimization of countless lives. 

The briefing exposed the MindGeek empire for what it really is—a corporation built on the monetization of sexual abuse and exploitation, profiting from rape and child sexual abuse, ignoring victims and survivors, and promoting and normalizing material featuring racism, misogyny, sexual violence and more. 

Michael Bowe, a lawyer representing a survivor of Pornhub, talked about how he has spoken to over a hundred survivors who have similar stories to his client’s.  

“Serena [survivor, client] is an example of what has happened to thousands, maybe tens or hundreds of thousands of women. 

The impact . . . doesn’t end with the assault and the posting. It takes life away from women and derails their life.

This is an industry that is not occupied by responsible corporate actors . . . this is an industry, which for various reasons, grew up in illegality.

Nobody was better acquainted with what was on its site than MindGeek. It knew.

This is a group that is indicative of the entire industry. Within the industry it is not a rogue. The industry is a rogue industry, and it will not self-police.”

—Michael Bowe

The pornography industry profits from many outright crimes: assault, battery, fraud, sex trafficking, labor trafficking, rape, obscenity, defamation, and child sexual abuse. In any other industry, these crimes would be universally seen as unacceptable, and those responsible would be held accountable. However, MindGeek is allowed to not only host that content with impunity, but make millions of dollars from the trauma of men, women, and children. 

Shandra Woworuntu, Serena Fleites, and Autumn Burris—all survivors—emphasized the lifetime of trauma that they live through due to the abuse and exploitation they faced. These were heart wrenching accounts of trauma and abuse at the hands of this online titan of trafficking and empire of exploitation.  

The images and videos of my sex trafficking were uploaded online. The pain lasts forever.”

—Shandra Woworuntu 

Pornhub’s business model and internal structure are built on search engine optimization. It uses a scale network to have the most popular and profitable images appear first when consumers search for pornography online.  

Laila Mickelwait, founder of the Traffickinghub movement, talked about how the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children demanded that Pornhub remove videos of child rape. MindGeek executives have admitted that while “child porn” would yield no search terms on Pornhub’s site, a search on Google for the same term will link to Pornhub and drive traffic to its site. This means that instead of removing abusive titles, tags, and views, Pornhub continues using child abuse videos to drive traffic to their site via search engines. 

Laila also outlined six core areas of criminal content on Pornhub—Sex Trafficking, Child Sexual Abuse Material, Rape, Incapacitated Sexual Assault, Revenge Porn, Hidden Cameras—going further to give detail and show internal documents with information about the moderation practices that laughably aim to keep this criminal content at bay. 

For context, MindGeek owns over 160 tube sites featuring this content, where millions of videos are being uploaded per year, and yet they are lax in ensuring robust content review. 

“It’s not just the content that’s on the site. The fact is that Pornhub has been criminally negligent in their moderation practices. 

In fact, we have documentation that they had, as of early 2020, under 10 Pornhub moderators per 8-hour shift. They actually had 30-31 total per day for all of MindGeek tube sites.”

—Laila Mickelwait

There is no form of degradation, humiliation, torture, or abuse that pornography has not attempted to sexualize, and MindGeek has known, condoned, and promoted these kinds of videos across Pornhub and their other pornography websites with abandon.  

Dawn Hawkins, CEO of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, discussed the list of proposed “improvements” MindGeek touts, using buzzwords such as “biometric user verification,” “improved moderation,” and “transparency reports.” She warns that MindGeek desperately hopes law enforcement, the government, and the public will overlook their criminal behavior. More importantly, they are hoping advertisers and payment processers like credit card companies will resume lining the pockets of MindGeek executives. 

“Websites like Pornhub and XVideos cannot be made safe enough! 

The superficial compromises that these websites are making right now—only after immense pressure—cannot do enough to prevent these abuse videos from being on their site.  

The so-called “transparency report” released by Pornhub this week is not only further admission of their guilt as they admit that they viewed, approved, distributed, and monetized 653,000 sexual abuse videos, but it’s also full of lies.  

For example, they claim not to allow incest of any kinds, yet 50% of the videos on their homepage yesterday contained incest themes based on the titles alone.”

—Dawn Hawkins

Attempting to apply regulations to the pornography industry and allowing this company to self-regulate will not work. This path will only lead to more victims. Any progress we gain in this fight for justice is simply not sustainable without the weight of criminal accountability, legal action, and a strong stance against exploitation from Congress.  

MindGeek must be held accountable through our society’s court systems so that no corporation can get away with the rampant marginalization and exploitation of any people—especially the most vulnerable among us.  

Congress and law enforcement must stop allowing a company to distribute and profit off the exploitation, trauma, abuse, rape, violence, and illegal content of men, women, and especially children with no lasting consequence.  


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