September 25, 2021

Pornhub has come under fire recently over concerns videos showing sexual assault or underage victims are prominent on the pornography website.

Both Visa and Mastercard cut ties with the Canadian video sharing site last month after a New York Times piece about videos of underage sexual abuse being published on Pornhub. A few days later, the site removed nearly every unverified video from their library to try and combat these incidents.

There are several problems stemming from this response. The biggest issue seems to be who is getting helped – or hurt – by Visa and Mastercard’s severing of their business relationship with Pornhub.

Ultimately, these decisions won’t have a major impact the bottom line of the site or its owner Mindgeek. The latter company will continue to hold a virtual monopoly on the porn industry, with three large streaming sites – including Pornhub – and many top studios falling under their corporate umbrella.

Visa and Mastercard not working with one of these sites is frustrating, but it won’t be catastrophic. There’s already been a shift to using cryptocurrency for payment on Pornhub after the two credit card companies stopped working with them.

Meanwhile, memberships to Mindgeek’s other properties can still be paid for through Mastercard or Visa.

The people who’ll ultimately get hurt most by this decision will be the individuals who post their content to these sites – both professional pornographers and amateurs alike. Already unable to advertise on places like Instagram and shadow banned on Twitter for explicit content, Pornhub was used as advertising for other sources of income, such as accounts on OnlyFans, a subscription-based site popular with strippers, pornographic actors and nude models, among others.

Visa and Mastercard’s choice just pushes sex workers further into the margins during a time of total economic uncertainty.

Yes, there are flaws in the pornography industry and in sex work in general. Sex workers face abuse, some are trafficked or pimped and there will continue to be videos posted of non-consensual sex on the internet. None of that is okay, but if the solution to fixing those issues is only going to actively harm the sex workers themselves, it’s not the right one.

The individuals whose stories were profiled by Nicholas Kristof in his New York Times piece are heartbreaking. Nobody should suffer what they had to go through, especially at such a young age. Internet Watch Foundation, an English charity combatting child sex abuse imagery found 118 instances on Pornhub in a three-year span. That’s 118 too many.

But exploitation of minors on the internet isn’t limited to Pornhub. According to Kristof’s own piece, Facebook removed 12.4 million images in a three-month period and Twitter shuttered over 260,000 accounts in a six-month timeframe last year for sexual exploitation of children. Nobody is calling for those sites to be closed down.

That’s because this isn’t about protecting vulnerable children or victims of sexual abuse. It never has been.

It’s about a minority of moral crusaders mimicking Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons. When they say “won’t somebody please think of the children” they’re really talking about prohibiting pornography, not about any real care or justice for the victims of abuse or sex trafficking.

It’s part of a larger ongoing trend of demonization of sex work. It’s no different from Instagram’s decision to crack down on sex workers’ abilities to advertise themselves, the American government’s shutdown of Backpage or the New York Post’s doxing of a New York EMT with an OnlyFans page.

These same false concerns are the reason Canada’s prostitution laws were changed in 2014 to include harsher punishment for anyone soliciting sex anywhere a person under the age of 18 would reasonably be expected to be. That describes almost everywhere.

Nobody is saying child pornography is acceptable. Nobody is saying the sexual assault of an individual should be displayed for anyone to see on the internet. Those are deeply disturbing actions and the moderation team at Pornhub and other Mindgeek sites needs to keep improving to ensure they don’t appear on their websites.

But giving these zealots the powers to control the sex industry isn’t going to help do that. The organizations opposed to Pornhub are opposed to porn, not child abuse. They’re opposed to sex work, not sexual abuse.

That approach won’t help anyone. Anti-pornography activists are advocating amputation for a hangnail, instead of actually resorting to any concrete plans to fix a serious issue. Taking money out of the hands of sex workers only hurts a group of already marginalized individuals.

It’s just a shame Visa and Mastercard can’t seem to grasp that.

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