The Canadian Government’s inquiry into the criminality of Pornhub’s owners proves the porn industry is rife with abuse and exploitation. It’s time to #ShutItDown.

This past week, the Canadian Government finally put the owners of Mindgeek – and by extension its subsidiary company Pornhub – under the spotlight and grilled them on their involvement in hosting child abuse, rape, and other illegal content. Members of the Canadian Parliament asked a number of probing questions about the intransigence of Mindgeek when it came to combatting confirmed instances of abusive content on their site, and their refusal to recognise their responsibility and culpability in providing a home for this material.

Much of the questioning turned on safeguards that Mindgeek had failed to implement, despite their protestations by the board members that they are “one of the safest adult websites in the world”. MP Charles Angus put to the owners: “Your link searches before the changes include: ’13 year old; 12 year old; variations of ‘middle school’; assault; drugged; exploited black teen; black teen; crying teen; drugged teen; runaway teen; teen manipulated; homeless teen; teen destroyed; abused teen; stolen teen sex tape”.

Chief Operating Officer David Tassillo was quick to bat away these titles as either inaccurate or unrepresentative of the “actual” content of the videos, maintaining the position that “teen” actually means “18-25, 27…”. The nonsensical position that “teen” doesn’t actually invoke images of being a teenager – in other words, under the age of 18 – was one of the owners’ main defences against the reams of illegal material that Pornhub has hosted in recent years, material that has been confirmed to contain footage of children being trafficked, raped, and abused.

This obfuscation is typical of a company that has been shrouded in mystery for over a decade, which even created fictional board members to act as public facing media contacts to divert attention from those actually running the company. It tried to avoid responsibility by stating that its “moderation practices” had been “constantly evolving since 2008”, and were effective at combatting instances of illegal and abusive content being uploaded.

This runs counter to the experience of individuals who sadly havehad to flag illegal content featuring themselves, such as 19 year old Serena Fleites, who was only in Grade 7 (aged 12-13) at the time of finding images of herself online). As the Globe and Mail reports: “Serena Fleites told a parliamentary committee Monday that she fell into a spiral of depression, drug use and self-harm after relenting to her boyfriend’s demands. She sent him a naked video of herself in Grade 7 that ended up on the website Pornhub, material that has proven impossible to scrub from the internet.”

Further, Fleites stated that Pornhub took more than a week to respond to her initial request to take down the video, and weeks more to remove it, only to let it surface again days later, a traumatic process that played out repeatedly. This echoes Rose Kalemba’s story, who reported that Pornhub refused to remove the videos of her rape and assault until she impersonated a lawyer.

This proves that Pornhub – and Mindgeek – are unable to self-regulate and monitor their own websites, even when faced with incontrovertible proof that their sources of revenue are engaged in criminal activity such as human trafficking. With this in mind, it is imperative that Governments across the world – not just the Canadian Parliament, but the UK too – begin to impose robust regulation on this unchecked industry.

The UK Government recently unveiled a tiered approach to combatting harmful online material, contained within the upcoming Online Harms Bill, that will place websites in categories with more or less onerous obligations in combatting harmful material, depending on how prevalent (and harmful) said material is. We urge the Government to place commercial porn sites in Category One – reserved for the most harmful, albeit legal, material.

The porn industry has proven time and time again that they cannot be trusted on this matter, and it is long overdue that the Government begin to grasp the issue with both hands. Anything else would be a failure to protect the most vulnerable, the most exploited, and those most in need of protection and support.