Hawley, Sasse lead charge against Pornhub, human trafficking

Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ben Sasse of Nebraska are leading the charge against Pornhub and human trafficking allegedly linked to the porn behemoth.

Hawley, a staunch critic against Big Tech and proponent of children’s online safety, on Wednesday introduced the “Survivors of Human Trafficking Fight Back Act of 2020,” along with Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan and Republican North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis.

Laila Mickelwait, founder of the Traffickinghub movement to shut down Pornhub and director of abolition for the anti-trafficking organization Exodus Cry, has met with Hawley and been in contact with Sasse’s office to discuss the alleged abuse and exploitation happening through Pornhub. 

“Trafficking and chid sexual abuse victims do have a route to pursue justice for themselves currently,” she told Fox News. “However, it’s narrow and it’s challenging, Hawley’s bill is critical because it will broaden the route to justice for victims of trafficking and CSAM, as well as include victims of other forms of image-based abuse, and it will enforce important protective measures for victims.”

The bill aims to give victims of sex trafficking and rape victims the right to seek compensation in federal court if pornography websites distribute intimate photos of them without their consent – an act sometimes referred to as “revenge porn” – in an effort to fight human trafficking.

“Sites like Pornhub routinely escape responsibility for facilitating abuse, trafficking and exploitation, making millions for themselves in the process,” Hawley said in a statement.

He continued: “Meanwhile, the victims of this abuse have little recourse against these powerful companies, who thrive on spreading depraved content. Serious criminal penalties are needed to crack down on these tech executives who think they are above the law.”

Pornhub did not immediately respond to an inquiry from Fox News regarding the legislation.

Sasse sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr in March requesting an investigation into the company.

The senator pointed to a slew of high-profile incidents involving sexual exploitation on the platform, including a case from last year in which Florida police arrested a man on charges of sex crimes against an underage girl who was missing for nearly a year before her mother learned that 60 pornographic videos of her had been posted to Pornhub, Snapchat, Periscope and ModelHub.

Sasse doubled down on his request in a Dec. 4 interview with the Daily Caller News Foundation, saying the DOJ “needs to open an investigation into the scumbags who run Mindgeek,” Pornhub’s parent company. 

Mickelwait agreed, saying the Traffickinghub movement wants “to see an immediate public announcement from Attorney General Barr saying he is opening an investigation and committing all of the tools and resources necessary to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law Pornhub and its parent company Mindgeek for engaging in years of complicity in serious instances of sexual crime that have destroyed the lives of countless victims around the world, including in the United States.”

She added that “MindGeek has defiantly denied” what Exodus Cry has “evidence for.”

“They have called me a liar over and over to the world through hundreds of media articles trying to silence me, and lawyers and investigators even believe they have maliciously deployed agents to attack and harass me for raising my voice about their crimes since the Traffickinghub campaign began,” she said.

Recent action and conversation surrounding the porn industry come after The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof published a Dec. 4 report accusing the site of monetizing “child rapes, revenge pornography, spycam videos of women showing, racist and misogynist content, and footage of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags.” Kristof highlights the personal story of one alleged trafficking victim who said footage of her abuse appeared on Pornhub. 

“People have been deceived by Pornhub’s very successful marketing campaigns that have presented themselves to the world as some kind of socially responsible, cheeky, ethical porn company,” Mickelwait said. 

She added that Pornhub is known as “the world’s trusted and most popular brand for pornography,” and people who visit the site “imagine that what they’re watching is consenting adults when, in reality, like Kristoph said, the site is infested with videos of real criminal acts such as child rape, assault, trafficking, and other nonconsensual imaged based abuse videos.”

Pornhub on Tuesday announced changes to its policies, effective immediately, including a new rule preventing unverified users from uploading videos, a ban on downloads, a new moderation team dedicated to identifying illegal material, the removal of more keywords, a new “Trusted Flagger Program,” a transparency report from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children set to be released in 2021, and other changes.

Prior to the website’s Tuesday changes, anyone with an email address could upload a video to the platform, Mickelwait said, and its new changes may help “prevent other victims from being as easily uploaded to the site and having their trauma immortalized with an intentionally placed download button,” but added that Pornhub should “in no way escape a well-resourced prosecution by the DOJ and paying restitution to countless victims.”

She also wants to see a formal apology from Pornhub to victims of abuse that allege they were exploited on the site, as well as legislation “that will require, upon risk of shutdown, mandatory third-party age and consent verification for every single person in every single video uploaded to porn sites, and that must exist immediately.”

“The site still has 13 million videos, most of which are non-vetted, user-generated homemade sex acts,” she said. “As of today, Pornhub is still infested with child abuse, rape, assault and other forms of image-based abuse, and at the same time, Pornhub and MindGeek, along with its financial partners, Mastercard, Visa and Discover, are still profiting off of real sexual crimes in real-time.”

Her comment came in regard to Visa’s and Mastercard’s Sunday announcements saying they would be investigating their relationship with the porn platform.

“Pornhub, specifically, needs to be shut down,” she said. “This site should not exist. We have countless victims that have come forward, have told their stories of horrific trauma and how this site has actually knowingly profited from the worst moments of their lives and immortalized them forever. Anything less than a total shutdown and prosecution is a severe injustice to victims.”

Fox News’ Sam Dorman contributed to this report.