Culture

Judge Claims Visa Knew About Pornhub Selling Child Porn

By Gwen Farrell
·  5 min read
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Earlier this month, a judge for the United States District Court for the Central District of California dropped a bombshell. The Honorable Cormac Carney delivered a legal decision in the form of a blistering message to Visa and MindGeek, the parent company of the online pornography giant Pornhub.

In his decision, Judge Carney reveals that he has decided not to exclude Visa from the current ongoing lawsuit against Pornhub, brought by 35 plaintiffs and former victims, which alleges that Pornhub hosted child porn content and therefore not only profited from but encouraged the trafficking and rampant sexual abuse of vulnerable minors. The lawsuit also names Visa, alleging that the company was complicit in these crimes by doing business with Pornhub and with MindGeek. 

Visa tried to extricate themselves from the suit, but Judge Carney’s decision was final and damning. In it, he asserts that Visa knew about MindGeek’s subsidiary hosting child porn, meaning the company should thereby be held criminally liable for the abuse of not only the plaintiffs, but all other minors who were taken advantage of by having their assaults documented and hosted for viewers on the platform.

Let’s Recap

We’ve documented this disturbing case since it began, but let’s quickly review what we know so far about the lawsuit, and about Visa’s involvement in Pornhub’s illegal activities.

In December 2020, a New York Times investigation was the first to introduce the public to “the children of Pornhub” in a lengthy expose by Nicholas Kristof. Kristof’s piece is as informative as it is upsetting; in it, he reveals just how much of a stranglehold Pornhub has on the online community, where millions of users post their own sexually explicit content each year. The site has more traffic than Amazon or Netflix, and generates a staggering amount of revenue from ads.

It also profits from assaults on children. Kristof explains, “Its site is infested with rape videos. It monetizes child rapes, revenge pornography, spy cam videos of women showering, racist and misogynist content, and footage of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags.” Parents have discovered content featuring their missing children on the site, and videos which feature unconscious or incapacitated women are too numerous to count. 

Pornhub has more traffic than Amazon or Netflix.

Kristof’s investigation had substantial effects – less than a month after its release, Pornhub announced it was conducting an overhaul of all its content and removing all unverified material. Visa then attempted to distance itself from the fray by announcing it would no longer permit payments to be made on Pornhub or other MindGeek subsidiaries, which includes other sites which produce and promote sexually explicit material. But in hindsight, this decision had less to do with doing the honorable thing than it did with covering up the deeply rooted connection between the two companies.

Recent Developments

Knowing what we know now, the inevitable conclusion we come to is that Visa’s decision had less to do with stopping the exploitation of children than it did with covering up their own complicity in the matter. Once the suit against Pornhub and MindGeek was announced, Visa saw the writing on the wall and tried to get out of the situation. They were unsuccessful, to say the least.

Among the legal allegations made in the suit is that Visa violated California’s Unfair Competition Law. This legislature serves to penalize “unlawful, unfair, or fraudulent business practices,” and associates Pornhub’s ability to host unlawful content through Visa’s empowerment through their business relationship. 

Judge Carney dismissed the motion with his recently released decision, citing that “Visa knew that MindGeek’s websites were teeming with monetized child porn.” Judge Carney adds that Visa has demonstrated a clear willingness “to continue to recognize MindGeek as a merchant despite allegedly knowing that MindGeek monetized a substantial amount of child porn.”

He further writes: “Visa is not being asked to police ‘the billions of individual transactions it processes each year.’ It is simply being asked to refrain from offering the tool with which a known alleged criminal entity performs its crimes. This is not a tall order…Visa’s conduct is intertwined with MindGeek’s criminal act.”

The Case Is Ongoing

Now, the U.S. District Court fielding the lawsuit is demanding that Visa show up (and pay up, if necessary). The discovery process has been extended to December 30, 2022, giving the plaintiffs’ representation four months to present adequate or convincing evidence that Visa enabled Pornhub’s profiteering from the criminal abuse of the minors exploited in thousands of its videos.

Visa knew that MindGeek’s websites were teeming with monetized child porn.

Judge Carney’s decision not to dismiss Visa’s involvement dealt a blow to the underpinning of the criminal activity on Pornhub, which not only survived but thrived on the site. Because we can readily assume that the true depth of Visa’s complicity has yet to be revealed, the forthcoming discovery will uncover just how participatory our everyday institutions are in the most egregious of crimes.

While we’ll likely never know every name on Jeffrey Epstein’s client list or see every trafficker brought to task, our criminal justice system has been given a rare opportunity here: to protect and empower the weak and hold those who stole their youth from them responsible for their illegal acts.

Closing Thoughts

Both the lawsuit and the exposé have pulled the mask off a debate many see as merely an issue of consent. The circumstances surrounding this case, which enabled the ill treatment of so many victims and allowed both Pornhub and abusers to profit off them, have revealed that consent is a non-issue in the majority of porn that’s produced, or at least the porn that’s most popular. 

In a society that isn’t satisfied by the bare minimum of the sexually explicit, but which demands the abuse, humiliation, and the disgustingly, unforgivably violent against the vulnerable, the players behind the curtain have finally been uncovered. But only the conclusion of this case will communicate if we have it in us to confront our culture’s most taboo but widely available vice and hold it accountable.

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