Could Pornhub actually get shut down?

A petition to get Pornhub shut down has been signed by more than two million people, but could the adult entertainment juggernaut really be shut down?

In case you haven’t heard, a petition calling for the shut down of major porn site Pornhub has been gaining traction over the last few months. At the time of writing, more than two million people have signed.

Supported by more than 300 organisations, the sprawling #Traffickinghub campaign has accused Pornhub of the enabling of sex trafficking and exploitation. But could the porn giant actually be shut down?

pornhub shutdown
Photo: Traffickinghub

Annually, there are 6 million videos uploaded to Pornhub. The site receives 42 billion visits a year, equal to 115 million visits per day, a figure which Pornhub proudly points out is the “equivalent of the populations of Canda, Australia, Poland and the Netherlands.”

It’s hard to believe that such an entertainment juggernaut could actually be shut down, no matter the industry. However, with the TraffickingHub petition picking up steam since February this year, there is serious pressure on Pornhub to change how their platform is used.

There have been an increasing amount of cases and evidence that point towards videos being uploaded without consent or without the knowledge of a party involved. It even gets as bad as several instances of sex trafficking and child rape films being hosted on Pornhub.

Early this year San Diego-based adult film purveyor GirlsDoPorn paid out AUD$18 million in damages to women who claimed they were duped into filming for the site, promised that the videos were only to be sold on DVDs overseas or for a private collector and that they would never appear online.

The women outlined the mental distress, psychological trauma, and reputational harm caused by subsequently finding these videos online, with the trial tactics of GirlsDoPorn only increasing their exposure among the women’s families and peers. GirlsDoPorn owner, Michael Pratt, failed to appear in the civil trial, and it’s believed he is currently on the run from child pornography charges in New Zealand.

The trial showcased just how porn sites manipulate women to film non-consensual porn, with Pornhub itself having partnerships with companies such as GirlsDoPorn. However, it gets worse when looking at cases such as Rose Kalemba, who found the video of her rape at 14-years-old uploaded to Pornhub.

After being threatened, stabbed, and raped, Kalemba was told by police there were no leads to find her rapists. A few months later after finding links shared by her student peers on MySpace, she found videos of her rape titled, ‘teen crying and getting slapped around’, ‘teen getting destroyed’, and ‘passed out teen’.

Pornhub let these videos stay up for six months despite Kalemba emailing and pleading for the videos to be removed. Finally, she set up a fake email posing as a lawyer and threatening legal action. Within 48 hours the videos were gone. However, due to copycat videos uploaded using different usernames and titles, the footage will continue to live online forever.

Despite the fact that Kalemba’s case occurred back in 2009, it’s still a prevalent problem on Pornhub today. Late last year, a 15-year-old Florida girl who had been missing for a year was located by her mother after 58 videos of her rape and sexual abuse were discovered on Pornhub. Her abuser, Christopher Johnson, was spotted with the missing girl at a 7-Eleven and is now facing a felony charge.

While these cases are severe in nature, it’s also not uncommon to find people who have been turned into ‘porn stars’ without their consent or knowledge. Sadly, there have been many cases of people secretly recording sex and uploading the videos to Pornhub with tags such as ‘secret recording’.

The group behind the petition to get Pornhub shut down, anti-human trafficking organisation Exodus Cry, issued this response when overwhelmed by the number of emails directing their attention to Pornhub’s complicity in mass sex-trafficking: “Pornhub is clearly profiting off of, enabling and promoting the worst kind of racism, hatred, abuse and exploitation of minorities, children, women and the LGBT community, especially youth.”

Of course, Pornhub pleads innocence to encouraging or playing host to such content, responding to the TraffickingHub petition by stating: “Pornhub has a steadfast commitment to eradicating and fighting any and all illegal content on the internet including non-consensual content and child sexual abuse material. Any suggestion otherwise is categorically and factually inaccurate.”

However, by hosting popular categories such as ‘young teen’, ‘drunk stolen Snapchat’, and ‘secret recording’, unfortunately, the site encourages such non-consensual filming.

Furthermore, the actual requirement to post a video to the site doesn’t require any sort of government-issued identification – and hence uses no system to verify age or consent. In fact, to become ‘Pornhub-verified’ all you need to do is send a photo of yourself holding a piece of paper with your username on it.

Not such a tight security measure when you consider that the 15-year-old girl, whose 58 videos of rape found themselves on Pornhub, was verified. This means that Pornhub verified a 15-year-old girl to feature in pornographic material.

It’s hard to argue that Pornhub itself hasn’t been complicit in these cases, but whether it’ll get shut down is another question. Porn is currently banned in countries such as India, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, with India seeing the blocking of 857 porn sites earlier this year. The result? Public outrage.

Following the ban, governments were criticised for their internet censorship, with legal experts believing that the move was unethical. This eventually resulted in an order being passed allowing these sites as long as they did not contain any child pornography. Ironically enough, India ranks fifth for daily visitors to Pornhub. With VPNs now readily available, it is not enough to ban a website; the website needs to be shut down or at least be systematically changed.

In 2015, then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron wanted to see restrictions put in place to make porn inaccessible for under 18s – a move which would essentially end free porn. The legislation would entail installing age verification controls, making it harder to not only view but upload porn.

The UK porn block scheme was put into motion in 2017, before being abandoned altogether in October 2019 due to privacy concerns. In the move to ban, limit or restrict the hosting of porn, this seems to be an ever-reoccurring outcome.

So could Pornhub actually be shut down? With the growing evidence of exploitation and abuse of women and children hosted on the site, it is possible. However, if history is any indicator, it’s not yet likely.

Despite this, with the combined pressure from the millions of people who have signed the TraffickingHub petition, the anti-human trafficking organisations raising awareness, and the high profile celebrities, such as former pornstar Mia Khalifa, who have spoken out against the site, Pornhub could be motivated to adjust the way they run things.

It’s time Pornhub takes responsibility and implements changes to the systems that currently allow for illegal, non-consensual, and abusive films to be uploaded. Using valid ID checks to verify who is watching and uploading porn, being more responsive to requests for videos to be taken down, and implementing increased surveillance of what is being uploaded to the site, are all ways in which the porn giant could combat the problem, and alternatives to the most controversial solution of all: ending ‘free’ Pornhub altogether.

The evidence is there and it is damning. Coupled with a growing campaign behind the movement, if Pornhub refuses to make a change, government officials may very well be forced into taking action.

Next Up: Mia Khalifa explained, the former pornstar whose videos remain on Pornhub against her will