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Shame on Pornhub: Taking Advantage of a Crisis for Commercial Sexual Exploitation

Posted: May 30, 2020

The COVID-19 Pandemic has changed the way in which the world operates. While we are still grappling with the effects the pandemic has had on those who are sold for sex, we know the inequalities at the heart of commercial sexual exploitation have only been intensified by this public health crisis. We are publishing a series of articles aimed at providing a glimpse into how COVID-19 is impacting various areas of the commercial sex trade. We hope this series is informative and will inspire our readers to continue advocating for those who are commercially sexually exploited, especially during this trying time.


Pornhub, the world’s largest pornography website, has been using the coronavirus pandemic as a publicity stunt – and allowing its site to provide a forum for further exploitation of vulnerable people. In March, Pornhub made headlines when they offered free access to its premium services to everyone in Italy currently under a national lockdown. The announcement came after Italy rose as one of the global epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic, with Pornhub claiming to donate part of its monthly proceeds to help Italian organizations tackling the crisis.

After Italy, the website turned its sights onto the United States – now offering free subscriptions and premium memberships for those abiding by stay-at-home orders. Pornhub now boasts advertisements to “Help Flatten the Curve with Free Premium”. Covid-19 inspired videos have even been posted depicting healthcare workers, in hazmat suits, engaged in sex. Pornhub has claimed to  be an ally in combatting the coronavirus pandemic – donating 50,000 face masks to healthcare workers in New York City – but meanwhile, it has used its platform to perpetuate commercial sexual exploitation.

While these publicity stunts were sure to garner attention for the pantheon of pornography, it masks the devastating impact of social distancing and isolation on marginalized people, including survivors of sexual violence and sex trafficking. It portrays commercial sexual exploitation – the kind that is rampantly displayed on Pornhub’s website – as another commodity to stock up on during this pandemic, much like food, water, or toilet paper. This mindset is dangerous as social service providers try to grapple with the profound impact that this crisis will have on providing victims and survivors access to much-needed resources – and Pornhub is using it to boost its sales at every turn. These attitudes towards commercial pornography – especially that which depicts nonconsensual or “revenge porn” – diminish the high virality and, unfortunately, growing body count of a deadly and infectious disease. It confuses activities to idly pass the time, with the perpetuation of victimizing patterns and continued trafficking of vulnerable populations. Pornhub published statistics on its usage since the coronavirus pandemic began – and the website garnered even more in profits based on people willing to pay to view acts of commercial sex. Global traffic on the site has grown by over 11% since the pandemic began.

Earlier this year, a mother found her missing underage daughter after a trafficker posted videos of her on Pornhub – 58 in total. Yet, Pornhub, owned by media powerhouse MindGeek, still has “no system in place to verify reliably the age or consent of those featured” in the videos posted to its site. Videos of young children being raped have allegedly been hosted on Pornhub in the past, amongst a bevy or other nonconsensual content. Despite its claims that “victims of nonconsensual porn” can easily request videos to be reported and removed, internal investigations have revealed that the system can be “easily and quickly circumvented with minor editing” to prevent any reporting. Pornhub is now facing international backlash for their unwillingness to properly monitor the videos posted on their site, with activist Laila Mickelwait, leading the charge to expose #TraffickingHub and championing a petition to hold the company accountable for their numerous misdeeds.

In a time where internet pornography viewership is increasing around the world, Pornhub is endowed with even more responsibility to monitor its content and respond to posted videos depicting sexual exploitation. As it currently operates, Pornhub is profiting off of the sexual victimization of countless victims. There is virtually no way to ensure the videos on Pornhub and the other “tube” sites they operate are of consensual sex acts. The CSE Institute implores everyone to research the numerous allegations against Pornhub and think twice about the acts of kindness and charity the company uses to shield their sinister business practices.

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