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Federal judge: Visa knowingly helped Pornhub 'monetize child porn'

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Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in California has determined that Visa will remain a defendant in a lawsuit filed by 34 women who allege that MindGeek, the Montreal-based parent company of Pornhub and other online porn sites, featured explicit videos of them while they were still minors.

U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney of the Central District of California denied Visa's motion to remove the credit card company from the lawsuit.

“When MindGeek decides to monetize child porn, and Visa decides to continue to allow its payment network to be used for that goal despite knowledge of MindGeek’s monetization of child porn, it is entirely foreseeable that victims of child porn like Plaintiff will suffer the harms that Plaintiff alleges,” Judge Carney wrote in his ruling.

The lead litigant in the lawsuit claims that in 2014, when she was just 13 years old, her boyfriend filmed a sexually explicit video of her and shared it on Pornhub. The video, entitled "13-Year Old Brunette Shows Off For the Camera," had more than 400,000 views before it was taken down. It then appeared on other MindGeek sites. It was on at least one of MindGeek's sites as recently as 2020, according to the lawsuit.

The litigant alleges in the lawsuit that, her life spiraled out of control after the video went public. She suffered harassment at school, developed an addiction to heroin, and attempted suicide on several occasions. Though she is now sober, she says she remains estranged from some family members because of the video.

For its part, Visa continues to insist that it should not be listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.

"Visa condemns sex trafficking, sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse materials as repugnant to our values and purpose as a company," a statement released by the company reads. "This pre-trial ruling is disappointing and mischaracterizes Visa’s role and its policies and practices. Visa will not tolerate the use of our network for illegal activity. We continue to believe that Visa is an improper defendant in this case."

Visa also alleged in court filings that finding Visa liable for facilitating child porn could jeopardize the entire financial industry because credit companies might then be responsible for the billions of transactions made on their credit cards every year.

However, Judge Carney disagreed.

“Visa is not being asked to police ‘the billions of individual transactions it processes each year,’” Carney said. “It is simply being asked to refrain from offering the tool with which a known alleged criminal entity performs its crimes. That is not a tall order and does not spell out an existential threat to the financial industry.”

Visa and MasterCard both broke with Pornhub after a New York Times exposé published in December 2020 revealed that Pornhub featured illegal content, including child porn. After Pornhub removed the illegal content, Visa returned to the site as a payment provider.

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