Serena Fleites and 33 Jane Does filed a major lawsuit earlier this summer against the largest internet pornography producer in the world, MindGeek, as well as the individual owners of MindGeek; investment firm Colbeck Capital, which provided financing to the company; and financial services company Visa, which processed payments for the site.
The lawsuit, which was filed in June, alleges that MindGeek is “a classic criminal enterprise carried out through wide-ranging criminal activities, including, but not limited to, human trafficking; child pornography; criminal copyright piracy; internet hacking, stalking, and doxing; blackmail and extortion; mail and wire fraud; embezzlement, bank and creditor fraud; tax evasion; and money laundering.”
Child pornography, violence, and sex trafficking are extremely common in the pornography industry. For instance, a company known as “GirlsDoPorn” was a “content partner” with Pornhub for many years, but was indicted in October 2019 and eventually ordered to pay restitution of more than $12.7 million to 22 women. In addition, Andre Garcia, a producer and performer for GirlsDoPorn, pleaded guilty to sex trafficking charges.
Pornhub claims to have “cutting-edge” moderation technology and to require “users to confirm that they have consent of the people depicted in the content,” but anti-pornography group Fight the New Drug remarks, “There is actually no viable way to guarantee that any given pornographic content is consensually or ethically made.”
Indeed, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof revealed last December that “a search for ‘girls under18’ (no space) or ‘14yo’ leads in each case to more than 100,000 videos.”
Since the MindGeek lawsuit back in June, the pornography industry has begun to fall apart. Laila Mickelwait, the founder of Traffickinghub, a group that raises awareness about the child sexual abuse and sex trafficking in the pornography industry, is the only regular commentator on these issues. Mickelwait first brought attention to the news that website Xtube, a major MindGeek porn site, is shutting down in September. She wrote: “BREAKING: Major MindGeek porn tube site Xtube is SHUTTING DOWN September 5. Lesson: If you can’t operate legally, you can’t operate at all. Next up: Pornhub.” Neither Xtube nor MindGeek has offered any explanation for the shutdown, but it is believed that the closure is due to legal troubles.
At the end of July, Germany announced that it may move to ban MindGeek’s sites and other porn sites from the national internet for failure to cooperate with age verification requirements. The actions of a national body against major pornography producers and distributors is a warning sign to an industry which has crept under the radar of criminal investigators for years.
Michael Bowe, the lead litigator in the MindGeek lawsuit, remarked in April 2021 at a congressional briefing that Pornhub has “made a fortune off millions of exploitation videos.”
“They knew that this trafficked, illegal content was on there,” he added, “and they didn’t care. The industry is a rogue industry, and they will not self-police. These companies don’t think the law applies to them. We think it does.”