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Student Blog Series: The Unforgivable Tradeoff: Corporate Giants Turning a Blind Eye to Sexual Exploitation in Exchange For Profit

Posted: April 17, 2023

Pornhub continues to garner billions of views per month thanks to its unique business model and data mining operations. Considering the adult content platform’s status as the 12th most visited website in the world, it comes as no surprise that both Visa and Mastercard have taken notice. Naturally driven by the capitalistic spirit of the global economy, the trio became partners in profiting from the sexual exploitation of minors using Pornhub’s platform. By partnering with Pornhub, Visa and Mastercard enabled their customers to purchase the sites subscription-based content, resulting in profits for all companies involved.

This mutually beneficial relationship came to a screeching halt after the release of the 2020 NY Times publication titled, “The Children of Pornhub.” This publication unmasked the horrors of Pornhub stating that it was “infested with rape videos” featuring minors. As a result of an internal investigation conducted shortly after the article was published, Mastercard terminated their service on the adult content site permanently. In an effort to maintain their own profitability, Visa and Discover followed closely behind. While Visa and Mastercard card holders were unable to buy content or purchase subscriptions on the site, the credit card companies maintained customers’ ability to buy ad placements on the site through Traffic Junky, MindGeek’s online advertising portal. Considering Pornhub’s ad revenue makes up over 50% of its overall revenue, it is clear that the company’s public denunciation of the site was simply an attempt to save face. It wasn’t until August of 2022 that Visa and Mastercard ended customers’ ability to purchase ads on Pornhub, two years after the publication of the NY Times article.

To date, Visa and Mastercard continue to partner with Pornhub in other ways despite the overwhelming evidence that shows Pornhub profits off the sexual exploitation of minors. Visa and Mastercard’s services can still be used to purchase Pornhub-branded swag on the company’s online store. In continuing to partner with Pornhub, companies like Visa and Mastercard effectively condone the sexual exploitation of minors in exchange for profits. This complicity in the name of capitalism ultimately promotes a culture of exploitation while ignoring the impact it has on victims Pornhub consumers.

In contrast to executives of the card companies, the United States District Court for the Central District of Florida views these relationships as a form of conspiracy. Following the commencement of a lawsuit naming Pornhub, Visa, and Mastercard for violating Federal Trafficking Laws, the District Court denied Visa’s motion to be removed as a defendant, stating that the company formed a conspiracy with the adult film platform when it financially benefited from child porn “despite allegedly knowing that MindGeek monetized a substantial amount of child porn on its website.” According to the judge presiding over the case, “Visa is not only alleged to have created an incentive for criminal conduct, but it is alleged to have knowingly provided the tool used to commit the crime.”

Due to the mounting legal and public controversy surrounding Visa and Mastercard, the corporate giants have distanced themselves from the adult film platform in hopes of preserving their reputation. In order to continue generating a profit, Pornhub was forced to start accepting an alternative method of currency, specifically crypto currency. Crypto currency such as Bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin, have become the primary methods of payment for Pornhub. The platform is also exploring new models of payment, such as token-based transactions and other digital payment solutions. As cryptocurrency is a relatively new form of currency, there are few laws that regulate its use. State and federal legislatures are actively working on legislation to restrict the usage of crypto currency, but these efforts take time. Meanwhile, Pornhub’s platform continues to exploit minors and people alike with the support of the companies that allow them to profit off their victimization.

The CSE Institute is disappointed with Visa and Mastercard’s decision to continue to recognize MindGeek as a merchant despite its monetization of child pornography. As for the Visa and Mastercard’s decision to drop Pornhub, the decision was not grounded in a sense of right or wrong, but rather a fear of losing profits. The CSE Institute continues to assert that no amount of profit is an acceptable tradeoff for turning a blind eye to child sexual exploitation. We urge the public to continue to condemn the behavior of companies and applaud those who publicly speak out against capitalism’s disregard for sexually trafficked children.

This piece is part of our first-year law student blog series. Congratulations to author Morgan Almeida 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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