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You can help hold pornography sites accountable

02 March 2021
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By Beth Hiemstra and Julia Beazley

The Children of Pornhub,” a New York Times article published in December 2020, described the devastating consequences for youth when their images are posted on pornography platforms. The article tells the stories of young people like Serena Fleites, and the lasting damage to her life caused by the uploading, viewing and sharing of her image on Pornhub.
 
The article asked, “Why does Canada allow this company to profit off videos of exploitation and assault?”
 
In February 2021, the House of Commons ethics committee began a study on the Protection of Privacy and Reputation on Platforms such as Pornhub, and invited Serena to be a witness.
 
Serena told the committee her story on Feb. 1, 2020. She described how she moved to a new town in junior high and how a boy she liked pressured her to send him a video of herself.
 
Eventually, she gave in to his demands. When she was 13 years old, Serena sent the boy a video, less than a minute long. In heartbreaking detail, Serena told the committee how her life was destroyed as that video was circulated throughout her school, her town and was ultimately posted on Pornhub, the most popular free pornography site online.
 
When she found out the video had been uploaded to Pornhub, Serena asked the site repeatedly to take it down. Asking once should have been more than enough. Instead, Pornhub ignored her multiple requests to have the video removed, until she pretended to be her mother. They required her to prove her identity and her age, even though the video was clearly of a minor. She faced delay after delay. After the video was eventually taken down, it was posted again by another user. To this day, Serena can’t be sure the video of herself as a young teen is not posted on Pornhub or some other pornography site.
 
The NY Times article told how Serena’s life has fallen apart as a result of that boy’s actions and Pornhub’s negligence. She dropped out of school, started drug use and became homeless, living out of her car for a time. She didn’t tell her family what had happened for years. She’s now 19 years old and has begun to tell about what happened to her in the hopes of helping others who’ve been similarly victimized – and of holding Pornhub to account.
 
Serena is not the only one, not by far. The Canadian Centre for Child Protection told the ethics committee there is a “tsunami” of victims coming to organizations like theirs for help to get their images taken down or reported.
 
The RCMP also said they’ve had a dramatic increase in reports of online child sexual exploitation in recent years. Stephen White told the committee, “In 2019, the Centre received 102,927 requests for assistance, an increase of 68% since 2018 and an overall increase 1,106% increase since 2014.”
 
This exponential growth in exploitation is a crisis that requires urgent attention from all of us.
 
The EFC sent a brief to the ethics committee asking them to take concrete actions to hold pornography platforms, like Pornhub, accountable for hosting and monetizing videos of child sexual abuse and exploitation. Children and youth face lifelong consequences when images of their abuse or exploitation are shared online and widely viewed. The EFC’s brief recommended the government require pornography sites to verify the age and consent of each person who appears in videos before they are uploaded.
 
Pornography platforms must be held accountable to Canadian laws on child pornography and on distributing intimate images without consent. MindGeek, which owns Pornhub and more than 100 other hardcore pornography sites, has offices in Montreal with 1,800 staff. Any company operating in Canada, or seeking access to a Canadian market, must abide by and be held accountable to Canadians laws.
 
The EFC’s brief also pointed to the harm to children and youth who view violent and degrading pornography online. We asked the committee to require pornography platforms to put in place meaningful third-party age verification to ensure that those who access and view their content are adults.
 
A letter to the ethics committee signed by 104 survivors of sexual exploitation and 525 stakeholder organizations from 65 countries, including the EFC’s Centre for Faith and Public Life, urges a full criminal investigation into MindGeek for appearing to have violated Canada’s child protection laws and laws regarding the sharing of intimate images without consent.
 

What can you do?

The EFC’s website has resources such as a sample letter to MPs asking them to protect children and youth both in front of and behind the screen. Ask your MP to support initiatives requiring pornography sites to verify age and consent of those whose images are uploaded, and to require pornography sites to put meaningful age verification in place to ensure only adults can access their content.
 
Become more informed. The EFC’s partner Defend Dignity is hosting a free online summit on May 6-7, 2021. Sign up for the Canadian Sexual Exploitation Summit and join with other Canadians fighting sexual exploitation.
 
Author: Julia Beazley