As major porn site Pornhub faces backlash over its enabling of sex trafficking, it’s timely that the story of Mia Khalifa is once again making headlines.
There’s been a lot of drama of late surrounding porn giant Pornhub, with over one million people calling for the site to be shut down, and a video exposing the site’s profiting and enabling of sex trafficking going viral, all under the growing global movement #TraffickingHub. Yet there’s another name which has been making headlines in relation to the site, and whilst her story isn’t strictly related to #TraffickingHub, the experience of former pornstar Mia Khalifa points to similar problems which linger beneath the surface of the world’s largest porn site.
Born in Lebanon, Khalifa moved to the US when she was seven. In 2014, a 21-year-old Khalifa, now a sports commentator and social media personality, was approached by a man who asked if she’d ever considered filming porn. Despite only spending three months in the industry and creating 11 videos, Khalifa became the number 1 searched pornstar on the site, attracting a wild amount of attention.
This was partly because one of the videos she’d made for porn studio BangBros featured the Lebanese-born Khalifa wearing a hijab. Khalifa herself is a Christian, and despite expressing concern about wearing the garment, the directors maintained that it would be fine, with Khalifa claiming she felt “pressured” into doing the scene. It wasn’t fine.
Only a week later Khalifa started receiving death threats from ISIS. The terrorist group even hacked her Instagram and sent her a digitally altered video of herself being beheaded.
“We weren’t trying to exploit [Khalifa’s ethnicity]. We wanted to embrace it. No one could have anticipated the negativity surrounding it,” Alex Hawkins, Vice President of Marketing for xHamster has described. “The outrage it caused in the Arab world ended up being a bit of a ‘Streisand effect’. Suddenly, everyone was searching for her. The effort to censor her only made her more ubiquitous.”
Thinking of the time Islamic extremists threatened Mia Khalifa with eternal damnation in hell and she just said “I have been meaning to get a little tan recently.”
— Smite Club (@thegoldroosh) June 24, 2020
In 2015, Khalifa signed a long-term contract with BangBro’s parent company, WGCZ Holding. However, only two weeks after signing she decided to resign. Yet due to her contract, the company continued to have control over a website and domain name attached to her stage name. Despite never having paid for the rights to use her likeness, they continue to use a website with her name to this day. This is a common occurrence in the porn industry, with Pornhub being a particularly notable offender.
Recently, Khalifa posted on TikTok revealing that she experiences hourly dissociative attacks from “remembering hundreds of millions of people’s only impression of you is solely based on the lowest, most toxic, most uncharacteristic 3 months of your life when you were 21.”
@miakhalifaIt is what it was♬ original sound – weebkiller
Despite not being active in the porn industry for five years, Khalifa’s videos have remained as popular as ever, and she is still the number 7 ranked pornstar on Pornhub. Unfortunately, the death threats have never stopped. Khalifa has blamed BangBros for “promoting [her] 6-year-old videos like they’re new making millions of ppl [sic] think I’m still active,” revealing that she hasn’t felt safe going to the grocery store alone in years. Despite her efforts, Khalifa has been unable to get her videos taken down.
I just want B*angbros to stop actively putting me in harm’s way by promoting my 6-year-old videos like they’re new, making millions of ppl think I’m still active. The death threats are emotionally crippling, I haven’t felt safe even going to the grocery store alone in years.
— Mia K. (@miakhalifa) June 26, 2020
Whilst Khalifa herself may not directly blame Pornhub, the fact that the website both allows and profits from videos which are hosted against the subject’s will points to a blatant need for change. It’s an issue also at the heart of the #TraffickingHub campaign, which cites that in the last two years alone, 118 cases of child rape and trafficking were discovered on the site. These cases hark to the systemic problems of Pornhub, including parent company MindGeek’s monopoly over the porn world, lack of industry regulation, and predatory business practices.
Despite everything, Khalifa has faced backlash from many on social media who criticise her for painting the sex work industry in a bad light:
I’m not sure who’s more naive: Me for signing my life away to exploiters, or you for thinking I own any of the rights to the content? I have zero control over it and have been fighting for years to figure out a way to get it taken down. https://t.co/KL2LIh9r97
— Mia K. (@miakhalifa) June 24, 2020
Extraordinarily, Khalifa claims that she only made $12,000 from the videos, despite the fact that they have garnered more than 1,331,691 views in total, and Khalifa has remained one of the most searched pornstars on the site.
BangBros have recently hit back in response and claimed that Khalifa actually “received in excess of $178,000.00 from BangBros and its affiliated entities alone.” The company have also sent Mia Khalifa a cease and desist over defamatory statements.
Today we sent @MiaKhalifa a legal C&D demand which lists some of her defamatory, false statements about Bangbros over the years and a list stating the actual facts. We encourage her to share the fact check list with her audience. We doubt she will though.#FactsBeatFiction
— BANGBROSOFFICIAL (@BangBrosDotCom1) June 30, 2020
Now Khalifa, who has amassed a large social media following and even been hailed as a feminist hero, is the subject of a petition calling for the removal of her videos, and a hashtag #JusticeForMia has begun trending on TikTok. At the time of writing, almost 2 million people have signed the petition.
“Mia and her team have provided countless financial offers to the current owners of her domain name and pornographic videos to no avail,” the petition describes. “Mia attends therapy on a consistent basis for trauma, emotional distress, and consequences of bullying [related to her hijab video].”
The petition calls for her domain names to be returned and her videos removed and fairly disputed in court without putting Mia Khalifa in “deep financial ruin”.
Whilst some have criticised Khalifa’s decision to get involved in the industry in the first place, the reality is that nothing justifies such a blatant breach of consent which potentially endangers someone’s life. Khalifa’s story, and the fact that Pornhub continues to host and earn profits off her videos, only further illuminates the deep-seated injustices inherent in the system.
To sign the petition, head here.