Countertrafficking Experts Applaud Texas Porn Age-Verification Law

By Aliya Kuykendall Published on March 25, 2024

When a federal appellate court in early March upheld a Texas law requiring porn websites to verify users are at least 18 years old, decency advocates of all stripes cheered. Now, even more good news could be on the horizon: Less revenue for human traffickers.

That’s because, rather than asking users to verify their ages as the new law stipulates, Pornhub simply blocked Texans from accessing its website. And ultimately, that could dam up a revenue stream often used by human traffickers, who use pornography websites to advertise their victims for prostitution, explained Nic McKinley, CEO of the countertrafficking group DeliverFund. “They also film pornography with their victims and then sell that pornography through websites like Pornhub,” he told The Stream. “That’s why any friction that any state can put into the pornography industry writ large is a positive step in the right direction for fighting human trafficking.”

Pornhub had about 10 million users in Texas, a manager with its parent company said in an undercover video, referencing the Texas law.

Exactly how many of those 10 million users Pornhub has lost is in question, given that geography-based blocks can be avoided with a virtual private network (VPN). McKinley said: “Forcing customers to 1) figure out what a VPN is, 2) figure out how to use the VPN, 3) pay for the VPN (increase in price) will have a negative effect on the market.” Despite the workaround, he said it’s still possible that Pornhub is hemorrhaging money in Texas.

Dawn Hawkins, CEO of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), said, “Texas is to be commended for fighting to protect children from accessing online pornography, which is rife with child sexual abuse material, rape, sex trafficking, image-based sexual abuse, and other nonconsensual content. Research is abundantly clear that pornography can be extremely harmful to children.”

NCOSE lists facts including these on their fact sheet about the damage hardcore porn does to children:

  • A 2022 survey found that 52% of 13- to 17-year-olds who had been exposed to pornography (73% of 1300+ sample) saw violent pornography including choking (36%), someone in pain (37%), or depictions of what appeared to be rape (19%).
  • “A meta-analysis of 37 studies found that exposure to violent or rape pornography increased a child’s odds of experiencing sexual exploitation by nearly three times.”
  • “Use of hardcore pornography is linked to harmful outcomes such as mental health problems, child-on-child harmful sexual behaviors, risky sexual behaviors, and physical and sexual victimization.”
  • “In 2020, 34% of 13- to 14-year-olds said it is normal for kids to share self-generated nude photos of themselves with others. Sending, receiving, and asking someone for nude images (“sexts”) is significantly associated with pornography use among boys and girls … Self-generated imagery now accounts for nearly a third of web pages featuring sexual images of children (child pornography).”

A half-hour film produced by Magic Lantern Pictures, Raised on Porn, highlights the damage porn does to the brains of minors and how that poisonous effect plays out as they grow up and enter relationships and marriages or find themselves seeking illegal content.

Here’s What Pornhub Claims to Want

In a statement to users in Texas, Pornhub wrote, “We believe that the only effective solution for protecting minors and adults alike is to verify users’ age on their device and to either deny or allow access to age-restricted materials and websites based on that verification.”

The company claims that the Lone Star State’s law will put “minors and your privacy at risk.” Rather than verifying a person’s age every time they seek to access a porn site, the company says, a better option would be to use a one-time verification of a user’s age on their personal computer, tablet, or phone that then allows them to use all porn websites going forward.

McKinley said Pornhub’s “solution” is no solution at all.

“A young child can use a device that is owned by somebody who’s of age,” he explained — a parent, older sibling, uncle, or friend. “If you go into a sex store and want to buy pornography, you have to pull out your driver’s license. So why shouldn’t you have to do the same thing on a site that sells pornography? It’s just an online sex store.”

“Any friction that any state can put into the pornography industry writ large is a positive step in the right direction for fighting human trafficking.” — Nic McKinley, DeliverFund

People buying alcohol and cigarettes already have to prove their age, McKinley added. Pornhub’s actions “would lead us to believe that they are more interested in protecting and removing friction from their e-commerce platforms than they are the protection of children.”

So why would Pornhub willingly give up revenue from 10 million users in Texas?

“To try to make all of their users in Texas angry at Texas politicians, which is not going to work,” McKinley said. That’s “a fundamental failure to understand Texans.”

For one thing, Texans who formerly used Pornhub can still access plenty of other porn sites, he pointed out. Secondly, “I highly doubt that anybody in the state of Texas is going to create a public outcry about this, because they would essentially be identifying themselves as an active pornography user — which is something that is just not going to make them real popular.”

Pornhub’s Role in Sex Trafficking

Does the Texas law (and Pornhub’s response to it) help law enforcement protect society from traffickers?

“Absolutely,” McKinley said. “The less money the traffickers can make, the fewer venues they have for the distribution of human exploitation, the easier it is to find them.” The internet is vast and law enforcement have a lot of data to sift through. “The fewer places that we have to look on the internet for the clues we need to figure out who the traffickers are and to find trafficking victims,” McKinley said, “the easier our job is.”

The idea that PornHub has been involved in human trafficking is not a conspiracy theory, he said: Pornhub’s parent company, Aylo Holdings (formerly MindGeek), admitted as much last December and paid a $1.8 million fine to the U.S. Department of Justice for it, plus additional payments to the victims. The DOJ said that between 2017 and 2019, Aylo received money that its administrators knew or should have known was from the sex-trafficking operations of the GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys websites, which published some of their content on Pornhub. The DOJ explains:

  • In September 2017, Aylo learned that women in GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys videos had filed a lawsuit against the operators of the websites. They women alleged that they had been tricked and coerced into filming porn and that the porn was posted on Pornhub without their consent.
  • Between 2016 and 2019, Aylo also received several content removal requests from women who wanted GirlsDoPorn to remove videos of them videos from its websites. The women told Aylo that they had been lied to and defrauded into making these videos. They said the videos were posted on Pornhub.com without their consent. Aylo did seek and receive information from the website operators that appeared to establish that the women had given consent for their videos to be posted online. But Aylo did not independently verify consent. They also did not remove all the videos that were requested to be taken down.
  • In August 2019, Aylo learned that a GirlsDoPorn videographer had testified during the civil trial that he lied to women, telling them that their sex videos would not appear online so that they would agree to appear in the videos, and that such videos were posted on Pornhub.com. Despite learning this, Aylo continued to host the GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys channels on its websites and financially benefit.
  • On or about October 14, 2019, Aylo finally removed the official GirlsDoPorn channel from its platforms. However, the company did not take steps to identify for removal all unofficial GirlsDoPorn content from its website at that time. Aylo knew that the individuals operating GirlsDoToys were the same as those who operated GirlsDoPorn and that many of the women featured in the GirlsDoPorn videos were also featured in the GirlsDoToys videos. But Aylo did not remove the official GirlsDoToys channel from its platforms until December 2020 — over a year after removing the GirlsDoPorn channel.

By the end of 2023, two class-action lawsuits had been filed against Pornhub concerning its profits from child sexual abuse material and sex trafficking.

 

Aliya Kuykendall is a staff writer and proofreader for The Stream. You can follow Aliya on X @AliyaKuykendall and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.

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