GirlsDoPorn sentencing is win for trafficking victims. But justice isn’t yet fully served.
The women faced a dark reality — that for the rest of their lives people would use the crime scene footage of their abuse for pleasure and profit.
By Laila Mickelwait
Ruben Andre Garcia was sentenced last week to 20 years in prison for participating in a sex trafficking scheme called GirlsDoPorn.
GirlsDoPorn filmed more than 100 women, many who had their lives destroyed by Garcia and his cohorts. The women were lied to, Garcia recruited some when they were still underage, and all of them were lured to California through an intricate web of deception.
Garcia’s victims were coerced, defrauded and forced to participate in recorded sex acts, some of which were violent to the point of drawing blood.
Once they were in the room, Garcia ensured they felt they couldn’t leave. He and his partners used threats of lawsuits, canceled flights home and, in some cases, physically blocked the door so the young women could not escape.
After the initial ordeal, the victims’ nightmare was far from over. The videos were heavily monetized and globally distributed on Pornhub, the world’s largest and most popular porn site. Pornhub consistently ranks in the top 10 most visited among all the websites in the world, drawing more visitors in April than Instagram, CNN and Walmart.
GirlsDoPorn was a popular Pornhub partner channel for more than eight years, with 780,000 subscribers and 670 million views. Pornhub’s infamous download button, placed on every video, ensured the women would never escape the trauma, as millions of users around the world had the opportunity to download the abuse videos and re-upload them at any time in the future – and they did.
GirlsDoPorn’s victims were doxxed, harassed and humiliated, and they felt they had a full-time job they never asked for – trying to get the videos of their trafficking removed from the internet.
It was a demented game of whack-a-mole. As soon as one video was down, a friend or a stranger would notify them that another was up.
The women begged GirlsDoPorn and Pornhub to remove the videos as early as 2011. GirlsDoPorn was charged with trafficking in October 2019, but a year later, a simple search I conducted for “GDP” on Pornhub returned more than 300 videos and images of the victims.
The women faced a dark reality – the knowledge that for the rest of their lives, people would use the crime scene footage of their abuse for both pleasure and profit.
Many victims became suicidal
It’s not surprising that many of these women became suicidal. As they faced Garcia at the sentencing last week, all of the women recalled the deep trauma they faced as a result of his actions. Half of them said the widespread proliferation of their abuse videos convinced them death was a better option than living in perpetual pain and humiliation.
One woman stood before Garcia with sutures on her wrist from a recent attempt to end her life, flashing it to the judge as she spoke.
Brian Holm, one of the attorneys who has fought for the victims for more than six years, said Garcia’s sentencing was a life-changing moment for the women.
“Garcia being held accountable was the validation they need to begin the long healing process ahead of them,” Holm told me. “In some cases, we’re talking about women whose parents disowned them because they blamed their daughters for what happened.”
While the victims may never be fully free of the trauma they have suffered, one of the women, who months before had tried to take her life, told Holm after the sentencing that she has never felt better than knowing Garcia was finally held accountable.
Indeed, justice is redeeming, it is necessary, and it is deeply healing for those who have been abused, but justice has not been fully served yet for these victims and their perpetrators.
Michael Pratt, the main culprit of the trafficking scheme, fled the country and is a wanted fugitive. And Pornhub executives who are accused of distributing and profiting from the victims’ trauma have yet to face civil or criminal consequences.
Garcia’s sentencing is a groundbreaking moment in the fight against sex trafficking, but it’s not a sufficient end to the story. His victims have tasted justice, but they are not done yet with retribution. Fifty GirlsDoPorn victims are now suing Pornhub, demanding more than $100 million in damages for their pain and suffering.
What does all of this mean for the rest of us? It means we are now aware that things aren’t always as they seem when it comes to online pornography.
Investigation found images of abuse
Last year, The New York Times exposed Pornhub as a platform for monetized rape, child trafficking sexual abuse, and other forms of nonconsensual image-based abuse.
For those of us who care about the injustice of sexual crime and desire to stand in real solidarity with its victims, our activism must include holding to account all individuals and corporations that participate in exploitation.
And that includes holding Pornhub executives accountable for the role they played in the GirlsDoPorn trafficking scheme.
That is exactly what the survivors intend to do next.