A judge ruled that Visa must face a civil lawsuit targeting the company for profiting from child pornography and sex trafficking.
U.S. Central District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney said that Visa was directly connected with MindGeek, a privately held Canadian company that runs Pornhub and other pornography video sharing services.
Carney wrote, “It is simple: Visa made the decision to continue to recognize MindGeek as a merchant, despite its alleged knowledge that MindGeek monetized child porn.”
The suit began in June 2021, as Serena Fleites and thirty-three other women alleged that MindGeek “knowingly benefit[s] from a sex trafficking venture by benefitting financially” and that many of the videos posted on its websites “depicted underage victims and victims of assault.”
The plaintiffs also listed Visa as a defendant, saying “Visa recognized MindGeek as an authorized merchant and processed payment to its websites including but not limited to Pornhub.”
The complaint states that Visa earned “millions of dollars in profits from credit card transaction fees for premium subscriptions.” The suit alleges Visa should have known about the unlawful sex trafficking after PayPal publicly announced in 2019 it would not work with MindGeek “on the basis of the existence of trafficked, underage images and other illegal content.”
The complaint goes on to say:
Moreover, in May 2020 anti-trafficking advocacy groups sent Visa a series of letters detailing the prevalence of unlawful sex trafficking content on MindGeek’s tubesites and demanding that Visa stop processing payments and immediately terminate its relationship with MindGeek.
In addition, a 2020 expose in The New York Times, “The Children of Pornhub,” received widespread attention. Visa temporarily suspended payment services for the pornography company, which then removed 80% of its content. The company later started working with Pornhub again and still does business with other pornography websites.
Visa filed a motion to have the case dismissed because, among other reasons, “Plaintiff’s alleged injuries are not traceable to Visa.”
But Carney said, “Visa is being sued instead for knowingly providing the means through which MindGeek monetizes child porn once such content is already produced and posted.”
He pointed to MindGeek’s removal of some material to show that there was a direct link between Visa and the pornography company, adding that it was not “fatally speculative to say that Visa … bears direct responsibility (along with MindGeek) for MindGeek’s monetization of child porn, and in turn the monetization of Plaintiff’s videos.”
The lawsuit details what was done to Fleites and the other 33 defendants. It’s horrifying.
Now an adult, Fleites was in eighth grade when she “learned that a nude, sexually explicit video her high school boyfriend had coerced her to make months earlier had been uploaded to Pornhub without her knowledge or consent.”
Only 13-years-old, she asked Pornhub to remove the video, but it was weeks before the company responded and even later when it removed the video.
Classmates bullied and harassed her, and she began to skip school. She attempted suicide several times, turned to drug use and suffers from depression and anxiety.
Though now she is sober, Fleites still suffers from the trauma.
The other plaintiffs in the case tell similar stories of child sexual abuse, rape and being trafficked. Videos of them were downloaded from MindGeek companies millions of times.
Even after they knew about what these websites were doing, Visa continued to work with them and make money from these illegal activities.
After the ruling that the complaint can go forward, both Visa and Mastercard cut ties with pornography websites hosted by MindGeek.
Too little, too late.
Dawn Hawkins is the CEO of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), a group that fights pornography, child sexual abuse, sexual violence and sex trafficking. She said that both companies are still earning money from other pornography websites.
NCOSE includes Visa on its “Dirty Dozen List” of mainstream companies that facilitate, enable and profit from sexual abuse and exploitation.
She told Deseret News, “The larger problem is that there are still no laws on the books requiring companies like Pornhub to get meaningful consent from potential victims before a video is posted, or a way for victims to hold businesses accountable if they are exploited.”
Hawkins said, “The pornography industry, child sexual abuse, sex trafficking, all merged online. They aren’t separate industries. Many people think pornography is harmless, but this shows it is not harmless.”
Related articles and resources:
If you’re suffering and need help, Focus on the Family offers a free, one-time counseling consultation with a licensed or pastoral counselor. To request a counseling consultation, call 1-855-771-HELP (4357) or fill out our Counseling Consultation Request Form.
- 700 Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Their Advocates Urge Congress to Investigate Pornhub
- Danger in Their Pockets
- ‘The Dirty Dozen List’ – Corporations Enable and Profit from Sexual Exploitation
- Pornhub Makes Money on Videos of Rape and Assault of Children
Focus on the Family
- How to Fight Human Trafficking
- Resources: Overcoming Sexual Brokenness
- Resources: Sexual Abuse
- Resources to Help You Fight Pornography Addiction
National Center on Sexual Exploitation
National Human Trafficking Resource Center and Hotline – 1-888-373-7888
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