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Student Blog Series: “Pornhub Became My Trafficker:” The Prevalence and Monetization of Child Sexual Abuse Material

Posted: April 26, 2023

Pornhub’s influence is wide-reaching, making it one of the most prominent private porn conglomerates in the world. With over 3.5 billion visits a month, Pornhub was named the 12th most-visited website in April 2023 and is comprised of more than 100 websites, production companies, and brands. Approximately 50% of Pornhub’s revenue comes from advertisements, a portion of which stems from videos that are comprised of language and content that are directly related to child sexual abuse material.

While it is no longer possible to search on Pornhub using terms such as, “underage” or “rape,” related searches, such as “girls under 18” or “14 yo,” unveil over 100,000 videos and suggestions. In 2019, 39 billion searches were performed on Pornhub by users in the United States, with “teen” listed as one of the top 25 search terms. Additionally, Pornhub-generated playlists showcase an array of compilations titled “less than 18,” “the best collection of young boys,” and “underage.” Although much of this content portrays consenting adult performers, many of the 6.8 million videos uploaded to Pornhub each year contain depictions of child sexual abuse material.

In 2019, when a 15-year-old girl went missing in Florida, her mother found her on Pornhub in 58 videos. Additionally, in 2018 media reported that the sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl in California was posted to the Pornhub site and were reported to authorities by her classmate, not by the company. In 2022, a minor who was drugged, raped, and filmed, later discovered his assault had been posted onto Pornhub. Serena Fleites, who became a central figure in a lawsuit against MindGeek, Pornhub’s parent company based in Canada, discovered that naked videos she sent to a boy when she was in 8th grade ended up on Pornhub after he distributed them to fellow classmates. In each of these cases, the offenders were arrested for the assaults, but Pornhub was able to escape responsibility for hosting these videos, not removing them from their website, and ultimately profiting off of them.

Like YouTube, Pornhub provides a platform for members of the public to post their own videos. Unlike the popular video-sharing site, however, Pornhub allows users to download videos directly from its website. This means that even if a video containing child rape or other nonconsensual material is removed at the request of authorities, the survivor, or another party, the video lives on and can continue to be reuploaded onto the platform. Every time a video is reuploaded, Pornhub can continue to run ads and make money off the content.

MindGeek has repeatedly denied that there is child sexual abuse content on Pornhub, however, the former COO, David Tassillo, has admitted that it is possible for such content to circumvent the system. Additionally, a previous MindGeek moderator stated that the goal of the company’s moderation process was to “let as much content as possible go through.” Pornhub relies heavily on human moderators to filter through videos that are uploaded onto the site. There are currently about 80 moderators worldwide that sift through approximately 800 to 1000 videos per moderator each day. For comparison, Facebook has 15,000 moderators for a site that is not centered around sexually explicit content. To meet their daily quotas, moderators often fast forward, skip over certain content, and watch videos without sound. Additionally, moderators face an extensive backlog of take down requests, many of which don’t receive attention until months after the video has been uploaded. Through this process, it is almost impossible to determine the age of individuals depicted in the videos and effectively screen for child abuse material.

Under U.S. law, online companies that are defined as electronic service providers are required to report child sexual abuse material to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) when they become aware of this material on the platform. This requirement only applies to U.S. based companies and international companies have no obligation to report; however, MindGeek decided to register in March 2020, shortly after Congress limited its immunity protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. When NCMEC would request that Pornhub take down a video, the video would be disabled, but the meta data would remain. Information on the views, comments, title, and related videos of the original post would remain viewable to users. This would keep viewers on the site, produce data, and generate search hits on terms and key words related to exploitation.

The distribution and monetization of child sexual abuse material expands beyond the scope of Pornhub. In a 2019 report conducted by NCMEC, XVideos, a rival of Pornhub, was found to contain approximately 69.2 million images, videos, and other content related to child sexual exploitation. When looking outside of the porn industry, in 2022, Facebook removed 20.5 million images related to child exploitation over a three-month period. Moreover, in 2021, Twitter saw a 31% increase in accounts actioned within a six-month period for engaging in the sexual exploitation of children. Finally, in 2021, NCMEC’s CyberTipline received 29.3 million reports of suspected online child sexual exploitation, a 35% increase from 2020. These numbers reveal that online sharing platforms, both those that disperse sexually explicit materials and those that do not, have accelerated the creation and distribution of child sexual abuse materials, making it difficult for organizations like NCMEC and law enforcement to combat such issues.

A survivor named Cali detailed the harrowing impact of the sexual abuse she endured as a child, which was documented and regularly reuploaded onto Pornhub. She explained that “I’m still getting sold, even though I’m five years out of that life.” This cycle of trauma has led many survivors to turn to self-harm, substance abuse, and suicide. Pornhub, on the other hand, continues to profit from this content and feed the demand for child sexual abuse materials.

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.

The CSE Institute will provide updates as they become available.

This piece is part of our first-year law student blog series. Congratulations to author Julia Smith on being chosen!

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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