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Lawsuit by 34 women claims Pornhub is running a 'criminal enterprise,' knowingly profiting off videos involving sex trafficking, rape, and child porn

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A group of 34 women brought a civil lawsuit against MindGeek, the parent company of Pornhub, as well as dozens of the world's most popular pornography websites. The lawsuit alleges that MindGeek is running a "criminal enterprise," which knowingly profited from non-consensual videos. The suit claims that the porn site hosted videos involving sex trafficking, rape, and even child porn.

"MindGeek is the most dominant online pornography company in the world. It is also one of the largest human trafficking ventures in the world," the lawsuit states. "And it is likely the largest non-regulatory repository of child pornography in North America and well beyond.

"It is a case about the rape and sexual exploitation of men and women. And it is a case about each of these defendants knowingly and intentionally electing to capitalize and profit from the horrendous exploitation and abuse of tens of thousands of other human beings so they could make more than the enormous sums of money they would have otherwise made anyway."

The lawsuit claims that Mindgeek is a "classic criminal enterprise" that is run like "The Sopranos," the HBO television series about the mafia. The suit alleges that MindGeek, the "most powerful online pornography company in the world," was "built and sustained in material parts on child pornography, rape, and human trafficking."

MindGeek owns and operates more than 100 pornographic websites, including some of the most popular adult video sites such as Pornhub, RedTube, YouPorn, and Xtube.

"The MindGeek defendants frequently purchased in bulk trafficked content from known trafficking areas such as Eastern Europe, Asia, and South America," the lawsuit alleges.

Michael Bowe, the lawyer representing the women, told CBS News: "This case is not about porn, it's about rape. This is a legitimate industry that consenting people have every right to participate in. It just needs to be done legally and not with illegal content."

CBS News spoke with four of the 34 women, including a woman who went by the name of "Isabella," who revealed an explicit video posted on Pornhub. She said she was coerced by her boyfriend to make a nude video when she was 17 years old. She forgot about the incident from high school until she was in college and received a text from a close friend that said: "I didn't know you did porn."

"Immediately, I knew it was me. I mean, my face, my outfit — immediately," she said. "My heart dropped into my stomach."

Without her knowledge or consent, the explicit video was anonymously posted on Pornhub, which has 130 million users each day – more viewers than Netflix or Amazon. The video was watched by more than 200,000 people, "including everybody at my college, pretty much," Isabella said.

"The view count on the video will forever haunt my dreams," she said. "Just knowing that that many people saw it really messed me up."

The shame haunted Isabella, who couldn't look in a mirror for six months and transferred to a new school because of the video that was uploaded without her consent.

Of the 34 victims in the civil lawsuit, 14 of them were underage when the videos of them were filmed, one was as young as 15 years old. There were also 14 victims of people charged or convicted of sex crimes.

Another woman, who went by the name of "Aubrey" to protect her identity, said her ex-husband secretly recorded video of them having sex and then posted the footage to Pornhub without her consent or knowledge. The ex-husband now faces criminal charges of forcible rape, domestic assault, and non-consensual dissemination of private sexual images.

A friend informed Aubrey of the video in 2018, which was viewed over 400,000 times.

"I will never, ever be able to recover the emotional pain that this has caused me," Aubrey said. "It truly, truly was a living nightmare. I — I didn't — everybody had seen everything about me. And that's just — that's a very private moment. And it's a very vulnerable moment. And it's just — it's hard to come to terms with. That the world has seen that."

A former MindGeek executive told CBS News that the illegal content was seen as "good" for business.

"I mean, if you offer everything on the site, there is something for everyone," the anonymous person said. "The more you have, the better it is. So for all the free sites like Pornhub, more content is always better."

He revealed that when content was flagged as illegal on Pornhub, MindGeek often transferred it over to one of the other adult video sites the company operated. "Removed content popped up on all their other sites and no one really cared," he said.

MindGeek issued a statement on the allegations:

The spread of illegal content is an existential threat to the internet, and every platform has the moral obligation to join the fight against it. Illegal material on the internet harms its victims, internet users and all platforms that operate online. Any suggestion that the company tolerates or celebrates this material is patently false. Anyone who attempts to post nonconsensual imagery or child sexual abuse material on the internet is a criminal, and we are committed to remaining at the forefront of the internet when it comes to the elimination of illegal content. Every online platform has the responsibility to join this fight, and it requires collective action and constant vigilance. We hope other platforms will use our model to help eradicate unwanted content.

Pornhub purged the site of more than 10 million videos of the site's 13.5 million total videos in December 2020 in reaction to allegations the website was hosting child sexual exploitation, non-consensual violence, rape, and other unlawful material, according to The Verge.

"As part of our policy to ban unverified uploaders, we have now also suspended all previously uploaded content that was not created by content partners or members of the Model Program," Pornhub said in a company blog post last year.

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