The dehumanizing effects of pornography affect those on both sides of the screen. Not only is the viewer dehumanizing themselves by separating the goodness of sexual intercourse from its proper context within marriage as God designed, but there is also a victim who is portrayed and treated as nothing but a simple object of desire. Far too often, the victim is a child who is being abused for the pleasure of the viewer—and it’s made possible because some companies put profit ahead of the vulnerable.
That’s the situation in a recent court case involving an abused child and two large multinational corporations. A federal judge has denied a request by the financial services corporation Visa to dismiss a lawsuit by a woman who accuses the payment processor of knowingly facilitating the distribution of child pornography. Visa is accused of continuing to provide payment processing services to MindGeek even after the company has been exposed for profiting from child pornography. MindGeek owns some of the most visited pornography websites in North America and Europe.
The basis of the lawsuit is a child pornography incident from 2014. According to court documents, at that time a 13-year-old girl was pressured by her then-boyfriend to make a sexully explicit video. Without the girl’s knowledge, the boyfriend then uploaded the video to the pornography website Pornhub, which is owned by MindGeek. Mindgeek took that video—which included the girl’s age in the title—and posted it other pornography websites, where it was viewed 400,000 times.
The teen girl contacted MindGeek and told the company the video was child pornography. The company waited several weeks before removing the video, and by the time they did it had been downloaded and reuploaded numerous times. One of the reuploads had 2.7 million views. During this time, and for years afterward, the girl received messages from strangers containing links to the videos.
When the girl asked that subsequent reposted videos be removed, she was allegedly told by MindGeek that she needed “to provide photographic proof that she was the child depicted in the video before removing [the videos].” Throughout this timeperiod, MindGeek earned advertisement revenue from the reuploads and posted the reuploads to its other pornographic websites.
The lawsuit notes that the young girl’s “life spiraled out of control” because of the videos. She made several suicide attempts and ended up moving in with a friend. At her friend’s house, an older man introduced the minor to heroin. The older man then funded her heroin addiction, encouraged her to create sexually explicit videos, and encouraged her to sell the videos of child pornogrpaphy on Craigslist.
Some of these new videos were uploaded to Pornhub and were still available on the website as recently as June 2020. MindGeek uploaded these videos to its other pornographic websites and earned ad revenue from the videos. The lawsuit claims that, “While MindGeek profited from the child porn featuring Plaintiff, Plaintiff was intermittently homeless or living in her car, addicted to heroin, depressed and suicidal, and without the support of her family.”
Along with Pornhub, MindGeek operates numerous free and paid pornographic websites. The company makes money from its free sites through advertising its paid sites and products on the free sites, by selling ad space on the free sites for the services or products of third parties, and by harvesting and selling the data of persons who use the free sites. As the lawsuit points out, “To reach their intended audience, advertisers can build campaigns around keywords like ‘13yearoldteen’ and ‘not18’; indeed, they can even target ads to people searching the term ‘child rape’ in Japanese.”
MindGeek also takes the user-uploaded content and posts them to other sites the company owns. The company is alleged to be keeping all the videos, including the ones that have been deleted. If true, this would mean that the servers owned and controlled by MindGeek would contain a large volume of child pornography that could be reuploaded or sold.
Visa was included in the lawsuit on the basis of a claim the company was complicit in MindGeek’s actions because Visa payment cards were used to pay for advertising on MindGeek sites. Visa had been frequently criticized by anti-trafficking activists for turning a blind eye to sites that included forced pornography. It was until a New York Times expose of child pornography in 2020 titled “The Children of Pornhub” that Visa stopped taking payments for that site. Visa took temporary action by suspending MindGeek but later restored services for MindGeek’s paid premium sites and for advertising on all its sites.
Because of the court’s recent actions, Visa has placed MindGeek on suspension, which means Visa cards will not be able to be used to purchase advertising on any sites including Pornhub or other MindGeek affiliated sites. Mastercard has also said it’s directing financial institutions to suspend acceptance of its products at MindGeek’s advertising arm following the court ruling.
How we can respond
While it took a lawsuit to bring about change, Visa and Mastercard are finally doing the right thing in severing ties with this pornographer. We should pray that we’ll see more of this in future, since porn companies are hindered in their exploitative efforts when they are denied access to financial services.
But while such moves cut into the supply side of the pornography equation, we should not forget that its the demand for such content—even among Christian men and women—that makes such abuse of children possible.
Our hope and prayer is that what is hidden will come to light in the fullness of time, and that the dangers and abuses of the pornography industry will be revealed for all to see. And as the church, we must be ready to proclaim the forgiveness found in the light of Jesus Christ while working to welcome, defend, and care for the vulnerable among us.