With increased concern of online exploitation during the pandemic, women’s advocates are demanding government action against Pornhub, a Montreal-based pornographic video-sharing platform owned by MindGeek.
Controversy has arisen around the company in recent months amid allegations of sharing images without consent, including child sexual abuse images, which the company denies.
The London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC) in southwestern Ontario helps women and teenage girls who have been abused by their intimate partner or a sex purchaser. Executive director Megan Walker told The Epoch Times that exploited sex workers have shifted to computer screens during the pandemic.
“We have seen an increase in the number of women who used to be trafficked into hotels and motels along the 400 series highways but are now being trafficked to pornography,” she said.
Walker said that young teens are also being exploited.
“During the first six weeks of COVID, we had six parents call us,” Walker said. “Some of their daughters were on the internet and were lured by men who identified as boys who were interested in them to take off their clothes and do … sexual things.”
On Feb. 19, Walker testified before the House of Commons standing committee on access to information, privacy, and ethics that 143 women told LAWC last year “that technology was used in their assault and another 64 reported that pornography was prevalent in their relationship and oftentimes they were forced to play out the scenes in pornography.”
She also described for the committee the harm that the women helped by her organization have experienced in relation to Pornhub.
“One of the women we served, who was involved with Pornhub, wrote that ‘it was soul destroying to find videos of me on Pornhub. Discovering how readily available they were broke me. Being hit with the reality that anyone could see the darkest points of my life nearly killed me,’” Walker said.
“One of the common themes that we hear from victims of pornography who are not able to have their pictures or images removed is that they feel incredible shame and are oftentimes suicidal,” she noted.
“It took The New York Times’ article for Pornhub to remove millions of videos after an investigation showed a large number of them featured underage girls and non-consenting and trafficked women and girls. Pornhub is complicit in the trafficking of women and girls.”
The New York Times had published an in-depth opinion piece by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof in December 2020 titled “The Children of Pornhub: Why does Canada allow this company to profit off videos of exploitation and assault?”
In an earlier session on Feb. 1, Serena Fleites a young woman from California, testified that a nude video of herself that she had made in Grade 7 and sent to her boyfriend, following his constant urging, was later uploaded to Pornhub.
Fleites said it took weeks for Pornhub to remove the video after she requested it, and it kept being uploaded “over and over and over again.”
“At the end of the day, they really don’t want to remove the videos. In reality, their whole process should have been, from the beginning, having people verify their age and identity before the video can even be uploaded,” she said.
In the same session, Michael Bowe, a lawyer based in New York, said his firm has been investigating hundreds of cases similar to that of Fleites. Included in their investigations, he said, are cases of “adult women who were raped and the rape was videotaped and put on Pornhub, of trafficked women who have had their videos put on Pornhub, and all sorts of other non-consensual content that has been put on Pornhub.”
MindGeek CEO Feras Antoon told the committee in a Feb. 5 session that “child abuse material has no place on our platform.” He also said the company has removed “a large portion of unverified user-uploaded content,” and that they “have content today only from verified uploaders.”
Walker told The Epoch Times that the experience is traumatic for the women whose images end up online without their consent.
“We have women in our office who identify as being suicidal as a result. They’ve felt ashamed. Many of them won’t leave their home. … Some men will post it with the woman’s phone number and address, so it places them in a significant amount of danger. I could go on and on.”
Seeking Justice and Prevention
On April 12, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, Justice Minister David Lametti, and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair testified before the ethics committee as part of its hearings into PornHub and MindGeek.
In February, more than 100 survivors and their supporters signed a letter to the ethics committee requesting a “full criminal investigation” by the RCMP into MindGeek, describing it as a “predatory and unethical corporation.” This was followed by an open letter to Lucki issued by over 70 senators and MPs demanding that the RCMP investigate the allegations against the company.
A petition titled “Shut Down Pornhub and Hold Its Executives Accountable for Aiding Trafficking,” launched by California resident Laila Mickelwait, founder of Traffickinghub, has been signed by over 2.2 million people from 192 countries as of April 14.
“It’s a matter of will, and hopefully these hearings will put the necessary pressure on the government, on Justice Minister David Lametti, on Miss Lucki, on Bill Blair to actually do what needs to be done,” Mickelwait, who testified before the committee on Feb. 19, said in an interview.
“We need to see not only reparations for victims through civil litigation, but we need to see justice for victims in the form of criminal prosecutions. And then we need to see legislation put in place that would help prevent this from happening again in the future,” she added.
The Epoch Times contacted MindGeek’s media department for comment. Someone identifying themselves as Ian Andrews replied, saying “It is our policy to remove a piece of content flagged as underage or non-consensual immediately for review.”
On Feb. 5, MindGeek executive Corey Urman testified before the ethics committee that “Ian Andrews” is a pseudonym for one of the company’s communications staff.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misidentified the MindGeek executive who spoke about the identity of Ian Andrews. The Epoch Times regrets the error.