Pornhub sued for $40m by 40 victims of ‘GirlsDoPorn’ sex trafficking

Victims say a content partner used ‘fraud, coercion, and intimidation’ 

Clea Skopeliti
Friday 18 December 2020 12:20 GMT
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Pornhub’s parent company is being sued for $40m (£29.5m) by 40 women who allege it profited from a content partner’s sex trafficking of “high school and college-aged women”.

The women accuse the parent company, MindGeek, of continuing a partnership with GirlsDoPorn despite being aware of the trafficking allegations against them. 

Its owners were charged with sex trafficking in the US in October last year, however, the complainants said videos owned by the content partner remained on the Pornhub website as recently as 12 December.

The victims filed a complaint with a California court on 15 December, saying GirlsDoPorn "sex-trafficked hundreds of high school and college-aged women using fraud, coercion, and intimidation".

"GirlsDoPorn (and MindGeek) knew the unconsented publication of [a] victim's sex video would upend the victim's life," the document said. It adds that the victims were "brutally harassed by peers and strangers" as a result of the videos’ publication, leading some to attempt suicide.

Pornhub failed to remove the videos after they were reported, the complainants said, adding that some of the victims had pleaded with the company to take them down to no avail.

The lawsuit is demanding AUS$40m in damages, as well as the profits the parent company made from hosting and promoting the GirlsDoPorn videos.

The lawsuit follows mounting allegations of child sexual abuse imagery and rape being hosted on the porn website. Last week, Mastercard severed ties with Pornhub and Visa suspended payment processing after the adult website was accused of hosting videos of child-abuse and rape.

The payment companies took action after their own investigations into allegations made by The New York Times and reviews of their relationships with the Canadian-based website.

In light of the allegations, Pornhub removed millions of videos and changed its policy to limit user uploads and block user’s ability to download content.

The decision to remove the videos came after a report that found the site’s upload function – which allowed anyone to upload videos for others to view – was being used to share child sexual abuse imagery and other harmful content.

The company initially took the decision to ban all unverified uploads from posting content, before extending those rules to also remove all previously uploaded and unverified content.

NotYourPorn, a group campaigning to make hosting non-consensual porn on such websites illegal, welcomed the developments, calling them a “step in the right direction” while adding that “the need for regulation of the porn industry… is ever-present”. 

In a statement on Twitter, it said: “The measures taken against Pornhub, although important, are concerning because they have revealed that, for Pornhub, the threat of losing their profit at the hands of MasterCard and Visa was a better reason to make changes to their platform than the substantial evidence of abuse on the site.”

In January, a US judge awarded $13m (£9.6m) in damages to 22 women who the court found had been coerced and tricked into making porn by GirlsDoPorn, including in videos hosted on Pornhub. 

GirlsDoPorn owners Michael James Pratt and Matthew Isaac Wolfe, along with two members of staff, were charged with sex-trafficking crimes in a US federal court. Michael Pratt is a fugitive on the FBI's most-wanted list, while Mr Wolfe is awaiting trial.

Lawyers for the victims said some of the women had been "forced to perform certain sex acts they had declined to do, or they would not be paid or allowed to leave".

MindGeek was contacted for comment.

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