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Judge Refuses to Dismiss Visa as a Defendant in Suit Against Pornhub for Child Pornography

Posted: September 8, 2022

On July 29, 2022, a United States District Court Judge, for the Central District of California, refused to dismiss Visa as a defendant in a lawsuit against Pornhub, Pornhub’s parent company Mindgeek USA, and Visa for allegedly violating Federal Sex Trafficking laws, including the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (“TVPRA”). While the court did dismiss the §1591(a)(2) claim against Visa, it upheld the §1594(c) claim,

According to the lawsuit, plaintiff Serena Fleites was 13 years old when her boyfriend posed an explicit video of her on Pornhub. The video, titled “13-Year Old Brunette Shows Off For the Camera,” had 400,000 views before Fleites discovered it. After she contacted MindGeek to inform them that the video was child pornography it remained on the site for several weeks before it was removed. However, by then, the video had been downloaded and re-uploaded by multiple Pornhub users, reaching millions of views. MindGeek purportedly earned revenue through advertisements that appeared next to the video and through the re-uploads. Visa allegedly knew about the substantial amount of child pornography on Pornhub but continued to process transactions and profit from their affiliations with the site.

A §1591(a)(2) claim alleges that an individual or organization benefited from participating in human trafficking. This claim was dismissed because Visa had no interaction with the plaintiff, the video, or her trafficking. However, the §1594(c), which alleges that an individual or organization conspired with another to violate section 1591, will move forward in the litigation. The court held that the plaintiff had alleged sufficient facts to establish that MindGeek benefited from participating in human trafficking, and Visa was a co-conspirator in this violation. According to the District Court decision, a conspiracy was formed because “Visa’s agreement to financially benefit from child porn can be inferred from its decision to continue to recognize MindGeek as a merchant despite allegedly knowing that MindGeek monetized a substantial amount of child porn on its websites.”

In response to the judge’s ruling, Visa suspended all advertising purchases from Mindgeek’s advertising arm, TraffickJunky. Visa’s CEO released a statement denying all of the allegations in the lawsuit and announced it would be cutting ties with Pornhub and its affiliated sites. Visa asserted that it “condemns sex trafficking, sexual exploitation, and child sexual abuse. It is illegal, and Visa does not permit the use of our network for illegal activity.”

This is not the only lawsuit currently pending against Pornhub. In October of 2021, we reported on the judge’s refusal to dismiss a separate lawsuit against Pornhub and Mindgeek, also for allowing and profiting from videos of child sexual abuse.

The CSE Institute applauds the bravery of the survivors who helped bring this lawsuit forward. The voices of survivors have the power to bring meaningful change to the narrative around human trafficking and sexual exploitation. It is crucial that every individual, company, and institution that profits from the exploitation of children be held responsible. The CSE Institute will provide updates as they become available.

All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University. 

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