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26 Feb, 2020 14:32

One American woman is trying to bring down Pornhub (but her fight isn't against porn)

One American woman is trying to bring down Pornhub (but her fight isn't against porn)

Hundreds of thousands of people have signed a petition to shut down Pornhub, and more join every day. Laila Mickelwait, who started it, says her fight is not about politics or ideology, it’s about stopping rape and child abuse.

Since the website’s inception in 2007, Pornhub is one of the most accessed pornography websites around the globe, and the number ten ranked website in the world, according to SimilarWeb.com. It’s the flagship website of MindGeek, a web empire that owns several of the best-known and most-visited porn sites.

Given Pornhub’s popularity and the nature of its content, controversy was inevitable. However, the most recent petition to bring the site down doesn’t invoke religious feelings, decency or porn addiction. It claims Pornhub may have aided in human trafficking.

Enter Laila Mickelwait, director of Abolition for Exodus Cry, and president and founder of New Reality International. Both are Christian organizations, with Exodus Cry focusing on battling back against sexual exploitation and trafficking. Laila has been fighting sex trafficking for over a decade.

I have had a passion to combat sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation since before it was popular to do so… because the exploitation of the most vulnerable in our society is something that needs our full attention, it needs our time and our resources.

Laila’s background includes a master’s degree in Public Diplomacy from the Annenberg School of Communications and the Dornsife School of International Relations at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. She’s also been part of The Millenium Project think tank, and her research and writing was featured in the annual “State of the Future” report. According to her website, she’s advocated for legislative reform at the UN and several nations in regards to the fight she says she’s so passionate about. She recently took the time to talk to me about her uphill battle against Pornhub.


Why resist the porn monolith?

Calls against pornography are far from uncommon, coming mostly from various conservative personalities and ranging in the severity of proposed measures. Recent examples include Daily Wire personalities Michael Knowles and Matt Walsh advocating increased regulation and censorship respectively. But Laila doesn’t demand the abolition of porn as a whole, and her quest against Pornhub isn’t based in ideology; her petition calls out real and sinister crimes: rape and human trafficking.

Pornhub has recently had several brushes with some disturbing crimes, including when a Florida man uploaded 58 pornographic videos of himself having sex with a teenage girl to several plarforms, including Pornhub. The girl later said she was forced to have an abortion. The man was arrested and charged with lewd battery on a victim aged between 12 and 16. Another egregious instance was reported on by the BBC, where a woman was raped at 14 and then the video of it ended up on Pornhub.

The most notorious case, the one that brought the wrath of even the liberal media outlets down on Pornhub, was with Girls Do Porn, where over one hundred women victimized by that company was the final straw for Pornhub to end their “official partnership” with them. The owners of Girls Do Porn have been arrested and charged with counts of sex trafficking, but one is a fugitive at large.

Also on rt.com ‘Girls Do Porn’ bosses hit with criminal sex trafficking charges amid ‘coercion’ allegations

“I knew this was happening but things came to a head when Pornhub – the largest and most popular purveyor of internet porn in the world – hosted and profited off of the rape and trafficking of a 15-year-old girl who was abused in 58 videos on their site,” Laila said of the Florida case, adding: “Pornhub even admitted to ‘verifying’ the child on its official Twitter account, however, after realizing, they admitted being complicit, they deleted the Tweets.” 

Beyond allegedly scrubbing the tweets, Pornhub responded with a statement saying: “Pornhub is actively working to put in place state-of-the-art, comprehensive safeguards on its platform to combat this material.” They reference software such as Microsoft’s PhotoDNA system, as well as fingerprinting software Vobile. They further state that: “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.”

Petitions and Pornhub’s sins

Laila first called for Pornhub to be completely shut down in an article for the Washington Examiner. She then began a petition when people asked for something they could sign to show their support. Over at Change.org and traffickinghub.com, you can see over a quarter million people have thrown their digital signatures behind her.

One thing that she’s taken time to highlight is the porn giant’s allegedly lax standards when it comes to verification and its treatment of their “talent.”

It is so bad that it is almost unbelievable that a company this big could be so reckless and have such a disregard for the safety of women and children.

“This is a scandal beyond comprehension that anyone can upload sex acts to the largest porn website in the world and no one has any idea if the women in the videos consented or if the young looking girls are actually children,” Laila continued.

She tried the verification process herself. “I was able to get onto the site and in under 10 minutes create an email address (pretending to be a 16-year-old) then use that email address to create an account on Pornhub and immediately upload test content to the site. It was that easy. There was no verification of a government-issued ID required or any proof of consent to be able to upload sex acts to the site.”

I took a look for myself, and found the verification process for amateur performers is indeed a joke. It asks that the amateur performer take a picture of themselves. That’s it. There is no checking of identification or age verification. Just a photo with a piece of paper, which is the same method used by Reddit and its erotic self-posting subreddits. Pornhub says it uses “state of the art” software to subvert content such as Girls Do Porn, but an experiment by Motherboard showed that simple editing tricks were enough to get around it, proving the website’s protections are full of holes. These are the same protections mentioned in Pornhub’s response to the petition, which Laila has dismissed as not even “remotely acceptable.”

The battle ahead

The heinous things going on within Pornhub and around it are not a partisan issue. There’s a blatant lack of protection, and a blatant lack of care. During our interview, Laila was completely aware of how tough of a fight she was in.

”Pornhub is now a mainstream name, when people know such horrific exploitation of women and children is happening on a platform that is so ingrained in our lives, that combination is like fire and gasoline.”

Despite the massive support for her petition, plus the articles that she has written in several different outlets, there is an endgame that Laila has in mind. The approach is through the market itself, but also something that would require a cultural change in the modern day, especially with pornography being so readily available. Keep in mind that anyone with a smart device could open their browser and be looking at Pornhub in seconds. 

We have to end the demand for it… we need to look beyond the fantasy to see the reality of what is taking place in this exploitative massive industry.

Whether or not she has success in the long run, it’s safe to say that Laila knows that the fight is far from over.

Editor’s note: After the story was published, we were contacted by a Pornhub representative, who brought our attention to the fact that the charges against the suspect in the Florida case do not include kidnapping, which is confirmed by court papers found on the Broward County Clerk of Courts website, case number 19012838CF10A. We have changed our article accordingly. We have also clarified that the 58 videos were uploaded to several platforms, not just Pornhub.