Under-fire adult entertainment platform Pornhub has a new problem in the form of a $105 million lawsuit that alleges it knew its site hosted videos featuring misled sex trafficking victims as early as 2016, but ignored their desperate pleas for help.At the centre of the lawsuit are 40 women who were allegedly tricked or otherwise coerced into making porn videos that they then unsuccessfully fought Pornhub to remove.
“I’m going to kill myself if this stays up here,” one woman complained to Pornhub in 2016. “I was scammed and told this was only going to be on DVDs in another country. Please I’m begging you, please, I’ll pay!” she said.
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Five days later the woman sent another take-down request on a different site owned by Pornhub parent MindGeek.
“This is ruining my life,” she said.
Months later, in 2017, she sent yet another request after the videos remained up.
“This company lied to me about this being on the internet! They told me it would only be available on DVD in Australia,” she said.
“My work friends and family all know and this very link is being sent around. I want to just die,” she said in an all-capitals complaint.
“I did not consent to being online,” another woman told the site, adding she “and other girls are being brutally harassed”.
“I was told this video went to a private viewer, and now it is all over the internet,” another woman wrote to Pornhub in 2016.
“I was lied to, and this isn’t okay. I have reached out to them with no response,” she added.
The videos allegedly turned the women into “pariahs” in their communities who were “brutally harassed by peers and strangers”.
“The victims were ostracised by friends and family, many lost their jobs, and some were expelled from college. The relentless harassment caused all victims to become suicidal and some even attempted such,” the lawsuit alleges.
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The lawsuit further alleges MindGeek received dozens, if not hundreds of similar take-down requests “and never conducted an investigation of the repeated claims of fraud or coercion perpetrated by its content and viewshare partner”.
Videos remained up until after the principals of the production company that made them were indicted on sex trafficking charges.
The women were allegedly lied to and told they could remain anonymous and the videos wouldn’t be posted online.
“In reality the entire purpose was to post the videos on the internet,” the US Department of Justice has alleged.
Earlier this week Pornhub purged more than 10 million videos from the site and restricted uploads to verified accounts, content partners, and members of its model program.
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The production company that victimised women in the new lawsuit was a Pornhub content partner until the platform removed it in October 2019, shortly after the charges were laid.
The lawsuit alleges MindGeek has previously sought to acquire its video library in 2018, but backed out after it “further learned of the fraud and coercion” it used to “recruit and groom its victims”.
Years had passed since women had begun requesting the site take the production company’s videos down after they were allegedly tricked into appearing in them.
The women in the lawsuit are demanding a jury decide whether to award each of them at least $US2 million ($A2.64 million) each in compensatory and punitive damages, bringing the total value of the lawsuit to at least $US80 million ($A105 million).
The production company called GirlsDoPorn was founded by Michael Pratt, 38, who remains on the run from sex trafficking and child porn charges after fleeing to his home country of New Zealand.
The sex trafficking charges, announced in October last year, allege he and the site’s co-owner Matthew Wolfe, performer and producer Ruben Andre Garcia and assistant Valorie Moser deceptively lured victims with ads for modelling jobs that they weren’t told were porn films until they’d agreed to the gig.
“Some women were not permitted to leave the shooting locations until the videos were made and others were allegedly forced to perform certain sex acts they had declined to do. Allegedly, some of the women were sexually assaulted,” the FBI said on its wanted poster for Mr Pratt, which attracts a $US10,000 ($A13,200) reward for information leading to his arrest.
All four face potentially spending the rest of their lives in prison if found guilty of their respective offences.
Mr Pratt, Mr Wolfe and Mr Garcia face minimum 15 year sentences for their charges of sex trafficking by fraud, force or coercion, while Ms Moser was charged with conspiracy to commit the same offence.
Mr Pratt was also charged with production of child pornography for attempting to “employ, use, persuade, induce, entice and coerce a 16-year-old to engage in sexually explicit conduct”, according to an indictment last year.
GirlsDoPorn was already ordered to pay $US12.7 million ($A16.7 million) to nearly two dozen women who sued the site in a 2016 lawsuit for lying to them about how the videos would be distributed.
Ms Garcia has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. Mr Wolfe is awaiting trial.