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Pornhub faces lawsuit for allegedly participating in child porn, rape, human trafficking

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Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 11:33 AM CDT
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NEW YORK, N.Y. (CBS NEWS) - Pornhub is facing a lawsuit from over for being complicit when videos of child porn, rape and human trafficking have been uploaded to its website

Pornhub markets itself as a mainstream site for adult content, attracting 130 million users a day, which is reportedly more than Netflix or Amazon.

CBS News has learned that over 30 women are suing Pornhub’s parent company, MindGeek. They accuse it of exploiting them for profit and hosting and promoting graphic videos of rape, revenge and even child porn, in an effort to drive up revenue.

CBS News spoke with some of the women joining the lawsuit. Their names have been changed to protect their identities. Some of the report includes graphic language.

“I was making really good grades. I had friends. I was in clubs,” said Isabella. “I thought I was set up really nicely at the college I was at.”

Isabella agreed to speak with us only on the condition that her identity be protected, as she described in often painful detail how a private nude video she shared years ago with a high school boyfriend became public when it was posted to Pornhub.

“The video got sent to me. And immediately I knew it was me. I mean, my face, my outfit... Immediately,” said Isabella. “My heart dropped into my stomach.”

She says she was just 17 when she shot the video and thinks her boyfriend sent it to someone else who posted it anonymously. When asked if Pornhub tried to contact her to confirm her age, she said no and that the site also did not confirm that the upload of the video was consensual.

According to Isabella, over 200,000 people saw the video, including her peers at college.

“Just knowing that that many people saw it really messed me up,” said Isabella.

She said she felt ashamed and guilty because she felt like she did it to herself.

“It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I am a victim of something,” she said.

Isabella is now trying to protect other potential victims by telling her story and suing Pornhub’s parent company, MindGeek. On behalf of over 300 women, accuses the company of embracing “under-age, non-consensual and pirated content” to drive traffic to the dozens of porn sites it owns. The suit also claims MindGeek profited from content produced through human trafficking.

Lawyer Michael Bowe represents the women taking on MindGeek. He says the company skirted the rules of the traditional porn industry by allowing absolutely anybody to upload videos without first verifying ages or identities.

“The law prohibits what they’re doing,” said Bowe. “The law has not been enforced.”

Bowe has spent the past year building a civil case against the company, citing racketeering laws ordinarily reserved for mobsters and drug gangs.

“The reality is that [they are part of a cleaner porn industry] is a front,” said Bowe. “This is an organization that deals with legitimate porn of which there is a... you can make a fortune. But that wasn’t enough. They incorporated into that business child porn, traffic porn and rape videos to make money.”

Nearly half the women in the lawsuit say they were underage in videos uploaded to pornhub. Another woman, Aubrey, who appeared in a video tagged “Sleeping Pills” told CBS she was drugged and raped by her ex-husband, who filmed the assault and uploaded it to Pornhub.

“I will never, ever be able to recover the emotional pain that this has caused me,” said Aubrey.

Her ex-husband faces criminal charges for secretly recording a video of them having sex and posting it to Pornhub without her consent.

“Everybody had seen everything about me,” said Aubrey. “And that’s just... that’s a very private moment. And it’s a very vulnerable moment. And it’s just... it’s hard to come to terms with. That the world has seen that.”

Yet, people continued to see it, even after Aubrey contacted Pornhub to remove the video. Emails reviewed by CBS News show a company representative challenged her, asking “how do you know this is you?”

“I told them that it’s me. And I’m mad that it’s up there. And that I recognize myself. I recognize my bed. It’s... It’s me. And they need to take it down immediately,” she said.

Pornhub did not immediately remove the video. The process took days. But even after the site took down the video, she says copies popped up on other porn sites.

Aubrey said she constantly sees the video pop up on other websites with a different name.

CBS spoke over the phone with a former company executive who provided information included in the lawsuit. He says illegal content was viewed as being “good” for business. He also requested that his identity be protected.

“If you offer everything on the site, there is something for everyone,” said the executive. “The more you have the better it is. So for all the free sites like Pornhub, more content is always better.”

He said when content was flagged on Pornhub, MindGeek often moved it to other sites it owned.

“They removed content, but removed content popped up again and again and no one really cared,” he said.

MindGeek announced changes in December of 2020, removing millions of unverified videos, banning downloads and adding an ID requirement for people posting videos. Changes company executives addressed earlier in 2021 in a government hearing in Canada.

“Sexual material, child abuse material has no place on our platform,” said Feras Antoon, CEO of Brazzers. “It makes us lose money. It completely ruins the brand that we have been trying to build for over a decade.”

Audrey said if she had the chance to speak to the executives of Pornhub, she’d ask how they would feel if it was someone they loved.

“How would they like it if it was someone they loved? Their child, Their... you know, their sister,” said Aubrey. “They’ve got to take steps to prevent this from ever happening to anybody ever again.”

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