Anti-Pornhub petition gains steam, accuses adult video giant of facilitating sex trafficking

An anti-Pornhub petition with the goal of shutting down the adult video giant and holding its executives accountable for allegedly facilitating human trafficking has acquired nearly 370,000 signatures.

The petition is addressed to U.S. and Canadian officials and targets the CEO and COO of MindGeek, which owns PornHub. Anti-trafficking activist Laila Mickelwait started the petition, claiming that PornHub makes it too easy for sex traffickers to feature victims in videos uploaded to the site.

As of Thursday, the petition had more than 367,000 signatures.

"They're set up for exploitation," Mickelwait told Fox News in an interview, adding that she plans to formally notify the Trump administration of the petition.

The petition points to several instances of trafficked victims appearing on pornographic sites, including an underage girl who was missing for nearly a year before her mother learned that 60 pornographic videos of her had been posted to Pornhub, SnapChat, Periscope, and ModelHub. As Mickelwait noted on Twitter, PornHub described the girl as a "verified model with valid ID."

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"Pornhub is generating millions in advertising and membership revenue with 42 billion visits and 6 million videos uploaded per year," the petition reads. "Yet it has no system in place to verify reliably the age or consent of those featured in the pornographic content it hosts and profits from."

"In fact," the petition goes on, "all that is needed to upload pornography onto Pornhub is an email address. No government-issued ID is required, not even to become “verified” with its trusty blue checkmark that makes everything seem a-OK."

Mickelwait added that Pornub also does not have any "reliable system in place to verify that those in the videos it hosts are not trafficked children being raped on film in order to line the pockets of its executives."

On Friday, Pornhub told Fox News that Mickelwait's petition was "factually wrong and intentionally misleading."

“Pornhub has a steadfast commitment to eradicating and fighting any and all illegal content on the internet, including non-consensual content and child sexual abuse material. Any suggestion otherwise is categorically and factually inaccurate. While the wider tech community must continue to develop new methods to rid the internet of this horrific content, Pornhub is actively working to put in place state-of-the-art, comprehensive safeguards on its platform to combat this material," Pornhub Vice President Blake White said in a statement provided to Fox News.

White added: "These actions include a robust system for flagging, reviewing and removing all illegal material, employing an extensive team of human moderators dedicated to manually reviewing all uploads to the site, and using a variety of digital fingerprinting solutions. We use automated detection technologies such as YouTube's CSAI Match and Microsoft's PhotoDNA as added layers of protection to keep unauthorized content off the site. We also use Vobile, a state-of-the-art fingerprinting software that scans any new uploads for potential matches to unauthorized materials to protect against any banned video being re-uploaded to the platform. We are actively working on expanding our safety measures and adding new features and products to our platform to this end, as they become available. Furthermore, Pornhub will continue to work with law enforcement efforts and child protection non-profits in the goal of eliminating any and all illegal content across the internet."

Mickelwait later responded to Pornhub's statement, telling Fox News: "Pornhub allows users to upload content to their website with only an e-mail address -- no verification of age or consent of those in the videos. This is a factually accurate statement and can be proven by anyone. They also will verify anyone with only a photo and a piece of paper stating a username -- again no verification of age or consent required. This is a policy and practice that enables rampant sexual exploitation of vulnerable women and children throughout the site."

The video-sharing site reported that it garnered 42 billion visits -- or an average of 115 million visits per day -- in 2019. In addition, a record 6.83 million videos were uploaded to the site last year.

"To put this in perspective – if you strung all of 2019’s new video content together and started watching them way back in 1850, you’d still be watching them today!" Pornhub says.

Mickelwait's organization started a website called TraffickingHub.com, mocking the video giant, and is promoting a protest at PornHub's Montreal headquarters on March 8, International Women's Day.

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The petition was addressed to several U.S. senators, including Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who have previously sponsored anti-sex trafficking legislation.

“Any person or company responsible for human trafficking or facilitating it, especially the sexual exploitation and abuse of children, should be punished to the full extent of the law," Rubio said in a statement provided to Fox News. "I will work with my colleagues to close any archaic loophole in Federal law that allows anybody to escape prosecution.”

Portman told Fox News that he would "continue to work to ensure that no more men, women, or children fall victim to this terrible crime.” His legislation, titled the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, became law in 2018 and outlaws companies from knowingly assisting or facilitating sex trafficking.

The Justice Department declined to comment. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-Calif., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have backed legislation that would study the effects of Portman's bill. The bill is viewed by its sponsor, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., as a step towards legalizing sex work.

According to Khanna's office, the law has forced sex workers off of online platforms and into more dangerous situations. "Sex workers have relied on such internet platforms to screen clients and negotiate boundaries for consensual, transactional sex services, including condom use and other harm reduction strategies," Khanna said in a press release in December.

It's unclear how Khanna's legislation would impact PornHub.

Mickelwait's petition was also addressed to Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who recently introduced legislation to reauthorize a comprehensive study on human trafficking.

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“At any moment there could be thousands if not hundreds of thousands of individuals being trafficked in the United States, but we have no way of knowing just how widespread this horrific crime really is," Hawley said in a statement provided to Fox News.

Hawley added: "If we’re going to make effective policy decisions around this, we have to get the data necessary to understand just how pervasive it is – both in our communities and online. That’s why I’ve introduced a bill to commission the first comprehensive federal study on human trafficking in more than a decade. This is a major step in moving the ball forward, so we can help victims and put criminals behind bars.”