The Corner

Media

Another Look at the Horror of the Porn Industry

Outside the New York Times building in Manhattan, August 3, 2020 (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Late last year, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof published a compelling exposé called “The Children of Pornhub,” sharing the horrifying stories of children who had videos of their experiences of sexual abuse uploaded to the popular Internet-pornography site Pornhub.

Last week, Kristof published a second installment on this grim subject, this time criticizing XVideos, the world’s most-visited pornography site, which likewise hosts videos of the rape and sexual abuse of minors. Kristof points out, too, that Google’s search engines help direct people to this content, though such footage is illegal. Here’s more from Kristof’s report:

Women and girls, and men and boys, are sexually assaulted or secretly filmed, and then video is posted on a major website like XVideos that draws traffic through search engines. While the initial video assault may be brief, the attack on dignity becomes interminable. . . .

I wrote in December about Pornhub, a Montreal-based website that pioneered access to free porn uploaded by anyone — so-called tube sites that are like YouTube for nudity and sex. Since that article, credit card companies have stopped working with Pornhub, the site has removed more than nine million videos, and the Canadian and United States governments have been cracking down on the company’s practices.

But as I noted at the time, the exploitation is rooted not in a single company but in an industry that operates with impunity, and punishing one corporation may simply benefit its rivals. That’s happening here. When Pornhub deleted videos, millions of outraged customers fled to its nemesis, XVideos, which has even fewer scruples.

After Kristof’s initial article on this subject, Pornhub faced intense public criticism, including from federal lawmakers, who introduced a bipartisan bill to require Internet-pornography sites to obtain the consent of all parties in explicit footage before allowing users to upload videos.

At the same time, Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), one of the bill’s sponsors, reiterated his previous calls for a federal criminal investigation of Pornhub, and its parent company MindGeek, for continuously allowing this abusive and illegal content to appear on its site.

In response to the public backlash against its practices, Pornhub initially denied responsibility for the child sexual-abuse content, calling the assertion that such content appeared on its site “irresponsible and flagrantly untrue.” At the same time, a spokesperson for the company asserted that every single video uploaded to the site is reviewed by human moderators, though he also admitted that some amount of this illegal content had in fact made its way onto the site.

After major credit-card companies announced that they would no longer permit users to pay for Pornhub using their credit cards, Pornhub changed its tune, rolling out a new policy that permitted only “properly identified” users to upload videos and disallowing any downloads, an effort to prevent individual users from preserving illegal content even after it has been removed for violating the law.

Kristof’s latest reporting on this topic, this time targeted at an even more popular site, is well worth reading in full, but be forewarned: The subject matter is gruesome, and the stories he shares are heartbreaking. One young woman, Heather Legarde of Alberta, Canada, who agreed to put her name to her story for the piece, told Kristof: “How do you get your head around 200,000 guys masturbating as you’re being assaulted?”

Her story is just one example of a reality we prefer to ignore, because to address it would require taking a real look at the costs of an essentially unregulated porn industry. Perhaps her story, and the others Kristof shares will be the occasion for another small reckoning, this time for an even larger pornography site and maybe even for Google, which appears to have no scruples about facilitating users in their search for illegal content featuring the abuse of minors.

Though Kristof insists at the beginning of his article that “this isn’t about pornography, but about rape and sexual abuse,” the reality is that the two are far more entangled than most people know or are willing to acknowledge. Far from providing a form of harmless entertainment, the porn-production and -distribution industry is guilty of rampant abuse, violations of the law, systemic mistreatment of women, and abundant ties to the sex-trafficking industry. We are long overdue for a cultural reckoning with all of it.

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