Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., pledged Friday to introduce legislation that would provide a federal right for sex trafficking victims to sue sites like Pornhub.

His announcement came amid an ongoing controversy surrounding Pornhub's verification measures and the appearance of victims on online pornography platforms.

He was specifically responding to a New York Times column that accused the site of being "infested with rape videos." Columnist Nicholas Kristof reported on an alleged trafficking victim who said footage of her abuse appeared on Pornhub.


In a statement to Fox News, Pornhub denied allowing child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on its platform.

"Any assertion that we allow CSAM is irresponsible and flagrantly untrue," a statement from the company read.

"We have zero tolerance for CSAM. Pornhub is unequivocally committed to combating CSAM, and has instituted an industry-leading trust and safety policy to identify and eradicate illegal material from our community."

But anti-trafficking activist Laila Mickelwait argues that the massive platform doesn't do enough to safeguard its content. Fox News previously reported on her petition which racked up more than 1.2 million signatures and calls for the website to be shuttered. The petition was later moved to, according to Mickelwait, where it has more than 2.1 million signatures.

Mickelwait, who serves as Director of Abolition at ExodusCry, praised Hawley's legislation in a statement to Fox News on Friday.


As Mickelwait noted, internet services are limited in the immunity they can claim under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). In 2018, President Trump signed legislation that created an exception to that immunity, blocking platforms from using 230 as a defense for several sex trafficking offenses, regardless of whether they materially contributed to the unlawful conduct. It specifically aims to hold platforms accountable if they knowingly facilitate sex trafficking.

"The Department of Justice has the ability to immediately prosecute and should do so," she said.

"However, much more is needed for all online sexual exploitation victims to have access to justice and that is why I sincerely commend Senator Hawley for introducing important and needed legislation to broaden the protections and tools for all victims, so that every victim exploited by a site like Pornhub has a clear path toward justice. It is time for the US government to use every single tool available to prosecute Pornhub and hold its parent company MindGeek accountable for the egregious crimes of child abuse and trafficking that it has knowingly profited from. It is high time for swift and decisive action.”

Pornhub maintained that it "has actively worked to employ extensive measures to protect the platform from such content. These measures include a vast team of human moderators dedicated to manually reviewing every single upload, a thorough system for flagging, reviewing and removing illegal material, robust parental controls, and a variety of automated detection technologies." 

It also said in March that its "content moderation goes above and beyond the DOJ’s recently announced Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse."

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.


As the company noted, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which identifies child sexual abuse imagery online, reportedly found 118 incidents of videos on Pornhub containing child sexual abuse or rape between 2017 and 2019. IWF spokeswoman Emma Hardy also said that other commonly-used sites "pose more of an issue of child sexual abuse material than Pornhub does."

It's unclear how many incidents Pornhub found on its own. The spokesperson pointed Fox News self-reported data from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram showing much higher numbers for enforcement actions taken against child sexual content. But when asked for Pornhub's internal data on its own enforcement actions, the company didn't provide any. Instead, it suggested Fox News should ask IWF about its findings regarding the other three platforms.

Amid a slew of high-profile incidents involving sexual exploitation, the porn giant faced scrutiny from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

In March, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr requesting an investigation into the company. Sasse pointed to a slew of high-profile incidents involving sexual exploitation on the platform, including a case from last year in which Florida police arrested a man on charges of sex crimes against 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.


Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, have also expressed concern in response to the controversy surrounding Pornhub.

“Pornhub’s failure to remove nonconsensual pornography from its website is destroying lives," Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., told Fox News at the time. She also called on Congress to pass her Stopping Harmful Image Exploitation and Limiting Distribution (SHIELD) Act, which she said would impose "criminal penalties for posting nonconsensual pornography on sites like Pornhub."