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Student Blog Series: Pornhub as the Trafficker: Monetization of Child Rape and the Privilege-Consent Gap

Posted: April 28, 2023

At 13 years old, Serena Fleites had a crush on a boy a year older than her in school. Only in eighth grade, she was a straight-A student who had never kissed a boy before. Her crush pressured her into making a naked video of herself that he uploaded to Pornhub without her knowledge or consent under the title “13-Year Old Brunette Shows off For the Camera.”

Not only did Pornhub showcase this piece of child sexual abuse material, but its parent company, MindGeek, maximized its profit by re-uploading Serena’s video across other websites that the company owns. Before Serena knew that the video was uploaded to Pornhub, over 400,000 people viewed it, including many of her classmates. Posing as her mother, Serena contacted MindGeek and demanded the removal of the video from the platform. However, despite knowing that child sexual abuse material was available on its site, Pornhub did not remove it for several weeks. During that time, Serena’s video was downloaded, shared, and re-uploaded countless times. On one reupload alone, the video gathered over 2.7 million views and there was no way for Serena to keep up with the uploads. Each time her video was taken down, it popped up on the site. By immortalizing the exploitation of her teenage body for profit, Pornhub became her trafficker.

Until recently, MindGeek allowed anyone to upload anything without effective oversight or verification, so it is no surprise that its site became infested with videos containing child sexual abuse, rape, and assault. However, many “performers” and “content-creators” defend Pornhub, and frame the platform as an opportunity to liberate themselves financially through the creation of self-made content. One performer, Gwen Adora, works from home and does her own videography, photography, editing, marketing, and PR. In her words, “I get to control the whole thing.” She likes that she does not have to perform with someone she does not want to perform with or film scenes she does not want to film. Another performer, Cherie DeVille, appreciates the autonomy and financial freedom that Pornhub grants her. In her words, “Before there was such an easy way to monetize self-made content, we [performers] were all at the mercy of studio-produced porn.”

These statements create the illusion that all people on Pornhub are consenting adult performers who have complete discretion always, but that is far from the truth. The ability of performers, such as Adora and DeVille, to frame content creation as freedom comes from a place of privilege that not all are afforded. In reality, there is a gap between that illusion and the fact that many in the industry do remain “at the mercy” of studio-produced porn, abusers, and traffickers; many of whom were once attracted to the industry by the “freedom” it offers. The implications of this gap are most devastating when considered in light of the vulnerability of teens, especially those in minority populations. Absent a stable home life, acceptance, guidance, or financial support, many teens are attracted to the industry by this purported “freedom,” only to find themselves exploited and trafficked.

Pornhub does not try to hide the exploitation of minors on its site, in fact, Pornhub capitalizes on it using titles, descriptions, and tags that bluntly advertise sexual exploitation. Some of the most popular videos are titled “barely legal teen sex,” “degraded teen,” “tiny Asian teen,” or “13-Year Old Brunette Shows off.” Until recently, a search on Pornhub for “girls under18” or “14yo” yielded more than 100,000 videos each. In the documentary Money Shot, porn industry professionals attempt to defend the “teen” tag against allegations of child sex trafficking by saying “teen,” in pornography, refers to a petite body type, not an age. This is problematic for two reasons.

First, MindGeek doesn’t actually care if the people in the videos they profit from are consenting or exploited. The site employs human moderators, but does not employ enough to consciously review the thousands of requests per day to remove videos of child sexual abuse material or non-consensual acts. It is virtually impossible for them to determine if a performer in a video is “petite” or a teenager, or if they are a performer or a victim. Second, even if the video is not of an actual minor, the videos and their titles, like “Screaming Teen” or “Degraded Teen”, point to a much larger issue: the sexualization of children and monetization of their rape.

Even if a video of child rape is successfully taken down, the page, title, views, and comments remain on Pornhub alongside suggestions for related videos. By providing suggestions for similar videos, Pornhub can keep people on their site and generate data and hits on those terms and keywords, while still profiting from known child trafficking even once the video is removed.

In response to allegations of rape, sexual abuse, and child sex trafficking, a performer defended the porn industry by saying “those stories have nothing to do with us as an industry.” But they do; “those stories” generate profit for Pornhub every time a video is posted of a “degraded teen.” It encourages a market for child rape, and then fulfills that demand.

The CSE Institute commends the bravery of Serena Fleites and all the survivors who have spoken out against Pornhub in the suit against MindGeek. Companies that profit from child sexual abuse material, exploitation, and trafficking must be held accountable for their criminal actions. The CSE Institute will provide updates as they become available.

This piece is part of our student blog series, written by Riley Crouthamel.

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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