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Advocates and a cross-partisan group of MPs and senators are urging the government to hold Montreal-based MindGeek and its website Pornhub accountable, amid allegations it is abetting sex trafficking and exploitation.

Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, said the first time a teenaged girl sought her help for a video posted on Pornhub without consent was more than 10 years ago. Ms. Walker said she can’t count how many young women and girls have sought support from her organization since for the same reason, coming to her office and saying they had no idea how the videos got online and that they did not give permission.

She said it is “soul crushing” for women and girls. The videos can ruin their lives, causing them to live in constant fear that somebody will recognize them while applying for a job or walking on the street.

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“It is absolutely traumatic and excruciating and just frustrating. … MindGeek needs to be held accountable,” she said. MindGeek, which was founded in Montreal and maintains an office there, has expanded its operations to other cities around the world and is headquartered in Luxembourg.

Last week, a New York Times columnist wrote that Pornhub is “infested with rape videos.” Nicholas Kristof said the site makes money off of child rapes, revenge pornography and scenes of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags. It details the accounts of teenage girls who were assaulted in videos posted to the site, and whose offenders were arrested, but with Pornhub escaping accountability.

Pornhub has pushed back against the allegations, saying in a statement that any assertion that the website allows child sexual abuse material (CSAM) is “irresponsible and flagrantly untrue.”

“We have zero tolerance for CSAM. Pornhub is unequivocally committed to combating CSAM, and has instituted an industry-leading trust and safety policy to identify and eradicate illegal material from our community,” the statement reads. The company said it has a team of moderators who review every upload, along with parental controls, a system for flagging and removing illegal material and automated detection technology. MindGeek did not respond to a request for comment.

Conservative MP Candice Bergen raised the issue in Question Period on Monday, saying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has known about this issue since March when an all-party caucus asked him to do something to help.

“Why has the Prime Minister done nothing to stop a despicable practice that is victimizing young girls and he is allowing it to happen right in his own backyard?” Ms. Bergen asked.

Justice Minister David Lametti said sexual exploitation of children is a heinous crime.

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It is a “very serious issue and in fact, we’re taking it very seriously,” he said, adding that there are tough laws in place and he expects them to be enforced.

Conservative MP Arnold Viersen sent a letter to Mr. Lametti on Nov. 25, which follows a letter sent in March to Mr. Trudeau, calling on the government to act. It is signed by MPs from different parties, including Liberal MP John McKay, Green Party MP Elizabeth May and a number of senators including Frances Lankin, a former Ontario NDP cabinet minister.

The letter says many victims are sharing stories of their videos of child abuse, sexual assault and sex trafficking being posted on Pornhub and available to download. It says that for some, pleas to have videos removed are ignored by Pornhub for months or years.

“Even when the videos are removed, in many cases it is only hours or days before their exploitation is uploaded again. This is because MindGeek is not required to verify the age or consent of those portrayed in content that is uploaded,” the letter states.

It says the MPs and senators are “appalled at the lack of enforcement by Canada’s justice system” and asks for clarity on whether the Criminal Code adequately prohibits the publishing and or selling of sexually explicit material featuring all forms of exploitation and portrayals of gendered-based violence, minors, incest and non-consent. If so, they ask what is preventing the enforcement, and if not, would the government introduce legislation to address the gaps.

Ms. Walker said she would like to see an age-verification process, where users who want to access the website are required to prove they are of age, and a system in place that determines whether every person who appears in a posted video has authorized its publication.

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In many of the cases she hears about, men post revenge porn or porn where the girl did not know she was being recorded, Ms. Walker said. In some cases, a young woman’s ex-boyfriend posts a video he recorded of her without her knowledge. In other cases, men online ask women or girls to take off their clothes and touch themselves and tape them without permission.

During the COVID-19 pandemic this activity increased, she said. With more screen time and less time at school, young students were being lured online and convinced to perform sex acts.

“It was all being recorded and placed on Pornhub. These are underage girls and what is so detrimental about this is that even if we can get Pornhub to remove those videos, which is very, very hard, those videos are around forever because once they’re on Pornhub, they could be downloaded, shared, and they are.”

Marissa Kokkoros, executive director of Aura Freedom International, a women’s organization that works to end gender-based violence and human trafficking, said she has also worked with survivors who have had videos posted on Pornhub.

“It’s not really pornography, it’s gender-based violence. That’s the issue, and the fact that we have a generation of young people who are looking these things up and who are unfortunately under the impression that these are normal sexual acts and people who weren’t being held against their will.”

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