Canada

Survivors, NGOs call for criminal investigation of porn giant MindGeek

More than 100 survivors of sexual exploitation and hundreds of non-governmental organizations are urging Ottawa to pursue a "full criminal investigation" of Pornhub's parent company.

In a letter to the House of Commons ethics committee this week, the coalition asked the federal government to push for a police probe of MindGeek, which they accuse of violating child protection laws and sharing intimate images without consent.

The Montreal-based company has come in for heavy criticism in the past few months following accusations it distributed exploitive videos and failed to adequately screen for illegal material.

MindGeek executives have denied any wrongdoing and said their company is a "world leader" in preventing the distribution of content showing child sexual abuse and non-consensual acts.

"MindGeek has zero-tolerance for non-consensual content, child sexual abuse material (CSAM), and any other content that lacks the consent of all parties depicted," the company said in an email.

"The harrowing stories of the survivors of CSAM and non-consensual imagery shake us to our core."

In December, several major credit card companies suspended payment services to Pornhub, prompting the world's largest pornography platform to scrub some 10 million videos posted by unverified users.

At least five lawsuits have been filed against the company in the U.S. and Canada over the past year on behalf of survivors of child abuse, sex trafficking and non-consensual image uploads.

"I too feel like Pornhub has become my human trafficker, and they have been relentless in doing so," said survivor Victoria Galy, testifying before the ethics committee last month about videos posted without her consent depicting what she says was sexual assault.

"Thanks to Pornhub, today is day 1,292 that I have been naked on these porn sites," another witness testified on Feb. 19.

The group behind the letter — signed by 104 survivors and 525 NGOs in countries ranging from Austria to Zambia — applauded the committee for studying the issue.

MindGeek defends efforts

The coalition called on the government to encourage an investigation by the RCMP and to take "immediate legislative and regulatory action to protect children from this predatory and unethical corporation."

The letter claims MindGeek enabled and profited from "a range of criminal content" distributed across some of its 160-odd platforms.

MindGeek CEO Feras Antoon and chief operating officer David Tassillo testified last month that all content on the website is screened using multiple software tools before being approved by human moderators.

MindGeek Canada Managing Director Feras Antoon appears on a screen during a sound check as he waits to appear virtually before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics on February 5, 2021 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"We always instruct all our agents to err on the caution side. If you have any doubt at all, just don't let it up," Tassillo told the committee on Feb. 5.

However, the coalition says that testimony implies the company "knowingly and wilfully distributed child sexual abuse materials."

Lawyer calls Pornhub's age-verification process 'a joke'

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection, the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the RCMP have all said they only began receiving reports of child sexual abuse images from Pornhub in late 2020.

"It also appears that MindGeek has violated Canada's laws on publication of intimate images without consent," the letter states.

Dani Pinter, a lawyer with the U.S. National Center on Sexual Exploitation, called Pornhub's age-verification process "a joke."

Multiple survivors, including Galy, allege that videos shared without consent — sometimes depicting sexual assault or child pornography — were posted by Pornhub's verified users.

These "content partners" must submit a selfie of themselves holding a piece of paper with their username and "pornhub.com," according to the company website.

"There was a victim in Florida whose 68 videos were shared on there. She was a missing child who was found because of those videos," Pinter said in an interview.

"The sex trafficker was a verified user who had uploaded those videos. There was another instance of that happening in California."

MindGeek said in a statement it goes "above and beyond" the demands of Canadian law.

"Those who post CSAM and nonconsensual imagery are criminals — we will not stop working to improve our security until we have prevented every one of these criminals from abusing our platforms," the company said.

It said it works with more than 40 non-profit organizations to moderate and report content on its platforms.

MindGeek voluntarily registered to report child pornography to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in March 2020, said John Clark, the centre's executive director. Pornhub submitted more than 13,000 reports to the U.S. organization, though 9,000 of them were "duplicative," Clark said last month.

The House ethics committee continues to weigh concerns about privacy and streaming platforms such as Pornhub. It is expected to file a report with recommendations later this year.

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