The latest on Pornhub’s sex trafficking allegations

The latest on Pornhub's sex trafficking allegations

Everybody’s favourite porn site? Or is the friendliness just a veneer? Pornhub was created in 2007 and has supposedly allowed illegal and exploitative content to exist on the site ever since. Christian anti-sex trafficking organisation Exodus Cry has created a mass campaign to bring this issue to light.

*trigger warning for mentions of rape, sexual abuse, paedophilia, and kidnapping*

Pornhub is one of the most well-known porn websites in the world, currently ranking as the 10th most visited site on the internet. As one of the earliest porn ‘tube’ sites created, capitalising on the experience and creative juices of the porn visionaries Brazzers, it was destined to succeed. Just as the advent of the internet was changing the face of porn forever, Pornhub grew in fame.

Now Exodus Cry are dragging the issues with free and easily accessible porn into the public eye. 

Sex trafficking and Pornhub

The recent viral Traffickinghub video has highlighted the numerous high-profile cases of sexual abuse and exploitation associated with Pornhub’s content. Because the site thrives on multitudes of user-generated videos, the reality is that Pornhub has little control over the content being shared on their channels. This leaves room for non-consensual content to exist without condemnation.

It is easy to see how sites like Pornhub are a significant sex trafficking problem when it is estimated that in 2014, 99 billion USD was made globally from sexual exploitation. They foster an unrelenting demand for new content. This demand, ever increasing the ad revenue made from these videos, simply fuels traffickers to further exploit victims for monetary gain.

The allure of making big money for little cost has clearly impacted the cases of rape and sex trafficking that can be found in the porn industry. Why pay a professional actor when you can violate a vulnerable person for free?

The demand for immoral porn

One of Pornhub’s major issues is not only that videos of rape, abuse and paedophilia slip under its censoring radar, but that these videos are actively demanded.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has reported that 8.8 million UK internet users attempted to access child sex abuse content across the web during a period of one month in lockdown this year, a statistic based on those who tried to access URLs of known child abuse websites. Such a figure suggests that there are likely far more cases unknown to the IWF of those who did manage to locate these websites. This is the demand that Pornhub can capitalise on by having lax safeguarding checks.

The Traffickinghub campaign also reiterates the case of 14 year old Rose Kalemba. In 2009, she was kidnapped at knifepoint and raped for 12 hours. The videos of this abuse were posted to Pornhub, who refused to take them down until six months later when Rose threatened legal action. One video had upwards of 400,000 views.

An inherent problem

Activists say that sexual exploitation and the trafficking of vulnerable people is inherently linked to the porn industry. Pornhub’s actions certainly suggests this. Many investigations have uncovered numerous accounts of young women being drugged or manipulated, having their rape turned into videos made to profit on Pornhub.

Pornhub creates a friendly veneer by spreading awareness about climate change and even giving out free premium memberships to countries under lockdown during COVID-19; yet there is evidently a more sinister underside to the website.

Pornhub’s parent company, MindGeek, have previously spoken out and condemned exploitative content. Yet in practice there is apparently little being done to prevent the uploads of these distressing and illegal videos. Moreso, once the videos are up they stay there for a long time. The screening systems implemented are not enough.

Who are Exodus Cry?

Laila Mickelwait, the founder of Traffickinghub, explicitly claims on the website that this is a “non-religious, non-partisan” campaign against Pornhub. This follows allegations that Exodus Cry, the organisation powering Traffickinghub, are Christian fundamentalists with an ulterior motive. In Exodus Cry’s statement against these allegations, they argue that Pornhub created these false claims as “an obvious and nefarious attempt to distract from the evidence”.

However, there is contrary evidence to suggest that these are not simply false claims. The CEO and founder of Exodus Cry, Benjamin Nolot, has links to homophobic Christian organisations. Giving a talk titled ‘Contending for Purity in a Pornified World’ for the ‘International House of Prayer, Kansas City’, Nolot stated that: “Sexual immorality is all sexual activity outside of the marriage covenant between one man and one woman.”

Ah, so Pornhub isn’t just making it up.

Essentially, Exodus Cry seems to be guilty of overreaching their mission. While Pornhub and most sites like it are huge cogs in the sex trafficking machine, this does not necessarily suggest that all sexual activity is “immoral” if not within a heterosexual marriage.

Exodus Cry are responsible for what some might lightly describe as ‘fundamentalist Christian propaganda disguised as humanitarian work’. Their Netflix documentary ‘Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution’, directed by Nolot himself, is an example of this.

While it might be true that society needs to lose the intense focus on sexual objectification that we have developed, this should not be at the expense of womxn’s or LGBTQ+ rights. The complete abolition of the commercial sex industry need not be the takeaway from the transgressions of pornography, and the underlying implications that all non-hetero, extramarital sex should be erradicated. This is certainly not what many anti-traffickers would agree with.

The internet is a scary place

Both Pornhub and Exodus Cry have questions to answer regarding their stance on the issue of porn. 

Pornhub are very obviously allowing illegal and exploitative content to exist on their sites. Given that they are just one facet of MindGeek’s porn empire, it’s probably safe to say that the other companies are also allowing exploitation to slip through the moderating cracks. If they have such advanced software searching for this content, how is it still finding its way to the public?

On the surface, Exodus Cry has created a viral video to hold one of the world’s most visited porn sites to account for enabling sexual exploitation. Yet the organisation’s obsession with removing the ‘pornification’ of culture spells trouble for anyone who doesn’t agree with a puritanical sexual ethic.

The Traffickinghub campaign is endorsed by over 300 human rights organisations and so cannot be inherently bad. Share the video, sign the petition, seek out ethical porn to consume. Some consider sites such as OnlyFans or Bellesa to be better sources for free-range, womxn-empowering porn. 

However, think critically about the deeper messages of Exodus Cry as a whole before you start rallying behind it or donating money. The porn industry and Pornhub do need to be held accountable for their participation in the sex trafficking industry, but the presence of a liberal attitude to sex in society as a whole cannot be eradicated.