Child-porn victim testifies during Day 1 of Pornhub discussions at committee

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American lawyer Michael Bowe told the House of Commons ethics committee Monday he has investigated hundreds of instances of exploitative material on Pornhub.

A video, viewed hundreds of thousands of times, of a 15-year-old being raped.

Another of a child younger than 10 who was sold into sex trafficking.

And one of Serena Fleites, recorded when she was 14, that continuously resurfaced on Pornhub even after she requested its deletion.

“The titles would always be something like ‘preteen,’ ‘young teen,’” Fleites told the committee. “It still affects me. I have anxiety to this day.”

Fleites said it took more than a week for Pornhub to remove the video, which was only made possible after she was asked multiple times to prove that it was, in fact, her in the video and that she was underage.

“It was very obvious it was a child in the video,” Fleites said. “Even if I wasn’t the girl that was in the video, they could still tell that was a child in that video and they were still dragging out that process.”

Even after the initial video of Fleites was taken down, it was reuploaded shortly after because, until recently, Pornhub was similar to YouTube in that anyone could upload videos.

This policy only changed last December when a New York Times investigation alleged the website had published videos of child abuse and rape, prompting Pornhub to remove millions of videos from “unverified” users.

Pornhub has denied allegations it publishes exploitative content, with its terms of service maintaining it takes a “powerful stand against any form of child exploitation or human trafficking.” Neither Pornhub nor its Montreal-based parent company MindGeek responded to Canada’s National Observer’s request for comment.

Bowe, who’s representing Fleites, among others, alleges Pornhub and MindGeek were aware of this type of content and made a “knowing decision” to profit off of it.

Allegations aren’t only popping up in the U.S. An Ontario woman has initiated a $600-million class-action lawsuit against MindGeek alleging a video of her being raped as a preteen was posted to the site.

Bowe claims there’s “overwhelming” evidence that Pornhub and MindGeek knew they hosted child porn and rape videos but chose not to restrict it since the core of their business model relies on search engine optimization and algorithms that steer users towards similar content based on what they’ve already viewed.

“As soon as you try to somehow police and filter the content on your site, you start losing content, you start delaying upload times, you start losing the search engine optimization,” he said.

Bowe added the comments of people explicitly calling out videos as containing rape or child pornography is another indication.

Several MPs teared up at Fleites’ testimony and are considering introducing legislation to better regulate Pornhub and other similar sites.

Hilla Kerner, a representative of the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter who met privately with the ethics committee to advise them on how to respectfully question victims, says the Pornhub situation can be improved on two fronts: legal and societal.

“On one hand, we have to demand from the criminal justice system to reinforce the law about protection, distribution and rape in all cases, but we also need to put some serious pressure on the men,” Kerner said. “We need to boycott rape, we need to end rape. We need to hold men accountable and not to view and enjoy those images.”

She added that it would go a long way for governments to throw hefty fines at companies if they don’t comply in only displaying content of consensual adults.

MindGeek CEO and COO Feras Antoon and David Tassillo have been invited to appear in front of the ethics committee this Friday but have not yet confirmed their attendance.

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