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The end of Pornhub’s campaign of intimidation

January 11, 2021    read

This piece was originally published in the Washington Examiner on January 11, 2021

On Dec. 4, the New York Times exposed Pornhub, the world’s most popular pornography website, as “infested” with illegal child sexual abuse. Visa and Mastercard confirmed that finding in a resulting investigation and immediately ceased processing payments for the porn giant.

Mindgeek, Pornhub’s parent company, responded by quickly removing 10 million videos from the site, almost 80% of its content, because it had not reliably verified the age or consent of those in the videos and could not ensure they were not children or rape victims.

These revelations were no surprise to me. I had called last February for shutting Pornhub down for this very reason. More than 2 million people signed my petition and joined the resulting #Traffickinghub.

Why did it take so long for Mindgeek to acknowledge this obvious problem? Why did it take global condemnation and financial strangulation? Because Mindgeek is a rogue organization, privately owned by secretive international interests that cared only about maximizing the amount of its content, irrespective of its source or nature. Its only concern was to return a maximum profit to its hidden owners.

No one was more aware of the illegal content on Mindgeek’s sites than Mindgeek itself. The company deceptively bills itself not as the world’s largest pornography titan but as a “tech” leader in search engine optimization and data mining. It has become clear that hiding the truth about itself is Mindgeek’s modus operandi.

Over the last year, this obfuscation strategy let Mindgeek wage an aggressive and sophisticated campaign to cover up and deflect and to discredit and intimidate those who dared to speak out. Leading this attack was Pornhub’s vice president Corey Urman, regularly quoted under pseudonyms such as “Corey Price” and “Blake White.”

Hiding behind these fake identities, Mindgeek executives and representatives have repeatedly told the public that my op-ed, campaign, and petition were “categorically and factually untrue” and “intentionally misleading,” even though they knew the claims were true.

They lied about having “a vast and extensive team of moderators” when, in fact, whistleblowers and internal documents reveal that when my campaign started, they employed fewer than 30 minimum wage “content formatters” per shift, in Cyprus, to review the millions of videos uploaded to all of its “tube sites,” including Pornhub. Most revealing, the company lied about being responsive to reports from victims about their videos. In reality, requests and comments about these filmed sexual crimes were repeatedly ignored, covered-up, and demeaned.

This overt public disinformation campaign is only the tip of the iceberg. For the last year, Mindgeek and its surrogates have simultaneously conducted a very dark, secret campaign to discredit, harass, and intimidate those who have sought to reveal the truth.

It has been infuriating and heartbreaking to witness Pornhub child sexual abuse victims who dared to speak publicly be threatened, harassed, blackmailed, physically attacked, and in many cases effectively silenced. Some of those who spoke out were gaslighted and shamed. Others who went public, who reported fearing for their safety, have now disappeared from public view. Other public victims, after being attacked and blackmailed with their own underage rape videos, have left the country and gone silent.

Mindgeek hides behind the façade of a legitimate company, but this is the stuff of mob movies. I now understand why, when I started the campaign, an advocate who previously had spoken against Mindgeek sternly asked me, “Do you have a safe room? If not, get one.”

During this period, my family and I have also been threatened, harassed, defamed, and doxxed by a group of operatives, many of whom we can connect directly to Mindgeek and its consultants. Close family members had their emails, bank accounts, and cloud storage hacked. Private family photos were emailed to them in an obvious effort to threaten and intimidate them and myself.

When Harvey Weinstein was the most powerful man in Hollywood, his sexual crimes were known among those in the industry, but the fear-inducing intimidation that he wielded was his tool to suppress and silence opposition. Until now, Mindgeek has done something similar. If we are to hold megapredators accountable, we can’t be intimidated or silenced, and we can’t allow the intimidation and silencing of victims who have courageously come forward.

I am calling all concerned citizens, victims, and advocates to join hands and voices without fear. Let us take on and take down Mindgeek’s mass sexual exploitation. It is time to hold this predatory organization accountable.

By Laila Mickelwait


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