I never thought I’d see the day when I would have to praise the New York Times for waging a battle against a huge force within the culture of death that just about nobody else had the courage or conviction to take head on. But that’s what seems to have happened in the past week.
Nicholas Kristof, an opinion columnist at the Times, has in recent days set his sights on Pornhub, the largest porn website in the world. Pornhub reportedly welcomes some 10.5 billion visitors a month – surpassing even Netflix in viewership.
Pornhub, incidentally, is owned by a company called MindGeek, which is located in Montreal, Canada. MindGeek owns a huge consortium of over 100 porn websites, which together constitute by far the largest porn empire in the world.
There are many, many problems with Pornhub and MindGeek, beginning with the fact that they traffic in porn, which is a dehumanizing industry that reduces vulnerable men, women, and children to objects to be consumed.
However, one of the most disturbing problems with Pornhub is its complete and utter heedlessness about the massive amounts of outright illegal, violent, misogynistic, and morally heinous content that users upload and view on the site on a daily basis.
In the past year, Pornhub has come under increasing scrutiny. However, as a shadowy multi-billion dollar corporation, whose tendrils reach into almost every household on the planet, thus far it has arrogantly withstood every attack, brushing off the pro-woman and anti-porn activists who have tried to raise the alarm.
Even a petition signed by over two million people, demanding that Pornhub be shut down, has had almost no tangible effect to date.
The Children of Pornhub
But all of that changed in the past couple weeks when Kristof decided to investigate and expose just how evil much of the content available on Pornhub is.
The first of Kristof’s columns is titled, chillingly, “The Children of Pornhub.”
Kristof summarizes what he found, writing:
Pornhub’s site is infested with rape videos. It monetizes child rapes, revenge pornography, spy cam videos of women showering, racist and misogynist content, and footage of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags. A search for “girls under18” (no space) or “14yo” leads in each case to more than 100,000 videos. Most aren’t of children being assaulted, but too many are.
Some of the stories that Kristof has uncovered are so disturbing that it is difficult even to summarize them. There is, of course, the now-infamous case of the 15-year-old girl who went missing, and who was only found after her mother found 58 different pornographic videos of her on Pornhub.
Another 14-year-old girl, Serena Fleites, was convinced by her boyfriend to record sexually explicit videos for him. Pornhub allows users to upload their own pornographic videos to the site, as well as to download videos from the site to their computer. Soon enough, Serena’s videos ended up on Pornhub. Even though her mother convinced the site to remove the videos, within short order they were back. Every time they’re deleted, they promptly reappear, making it impossible for Serena to put this chapter of her life behind her.
Serena was so traumatized by the looks and remarks she was getting at school that she started skipping classes. Kristoff tells the rest of her story:
Fleites quarreled with her mother and began cutting herself. Then one day she went to the medicine cabinet and took every antidepressant pill she could find.
Three days later, she woke up in the hospital, frustrated to be still alive. Next she hanged herself in the bathroom; her little sister found her, and medics revived her.
As Fleites spiraled downward, a friend introduced her to meth and opioids, and she became addicted to both. She dropped out of school and became homeless.
Eventually, just to make ends meet, at the age of 16 Serena started shooting and selling more photos and videos, which also inevitably ended up on Pornhub. She is now off drugs, but living in her car. “A whole life can be changed because of one little mistake,” she says.
Kristoff interviewed other victims as well, many of whom eventually attempted suicide, and all of whom pointed out the brutal psychological fact that, while the physical assault they endured eventually ended, Pornhub prolonged the suffering by preserving it and displaying it to the world for the pleasure of others.
“Epstein on an Industrial Scale”
Kristoff naturally, as a New York Times liberal, protests that he is not against pornography. He is only disturbed by the fact that MindGeek and Pornhub are profiting off of illegal and violent content, in which the participants have not, or legally cannot, consent.
He is wrong, of course, in so cavalierly dismissing the problems with porn in general. But we have to take what we can get. And when the Grey Lady (i.e. the New York Times) goes on the attack, people sit up and listen.
Pornhub appears to be increasingly alarmed about civil or criminal liability. Lawyers are circling, and nine women sued the company in federal court after spy cam videos surfaced on Pornhub. The videos were shot in a locker room at Limestone College in South Carolina and showed women showering and changing clothes.
The good news is that following Kristoff’s column, a few relatively big things happened quite quickly. In the first place, Pornhub instituted (or claimed to institute) much stricter policies, including only allowing verified users to upload videos, and preventing users from being able to download videos from the site. Clearly, it would be better if Pornhub didn’t exist. But if these measures protect children and other victims of trafficking and rape, then it is something.
However, perhaps the biggest news is that Visa and Mastercard both announced that they have cut financial ties with Pornhub. PayPal had already previously cut ties. This change will put a huge dent in Pornhub’s bottom line. We can hope that it spells the beginning of the end, although given the size of MindGeek, it will likely take more than this.
Four U.S. senators have also introduced legislation that would make it easier for victims to sue porn companies. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada was looking into regulations to regulate companies like MindGeek. And, says Kristoff, various lawyers are contemplating civil and criminal suits against the company.
However, Kristoff rightly notes that this is barely scratching the surface. Other huge porn websites, not owned by MindGeek, also feature enormous numbers of videos tagged under disturbing key words suggesting that the girls featured are underage, and even preteen.
“Most of the results probably don’t involve children,” he writes, “but too many do, and the site is luring pedophiles who can then upload their own videos. This is Jeffrey Epstein on an industrial scale.”
Shut Down the Porn Industry
Though Kristoff is unwilling to address the elephant in the living room, I will. The problem with porn is not simply that unscrupulous criminals will take advantage of children or vulnerable women who have not consented. It is that pornography is inherently violent and dehumanizing.
The advent of the Internet unleashed a monster on the world. In the space of a few years, pornography went from something that was relatively fringe, difficult to obtain, and often low quality, to something that was streaming, in high definition video, in limitless quantities, on demand, into our bedrooms, and now, via the smartphone, into our pockets.
The old “free speech” arguments that allowed pornographic magazines and video companies to operate with impunity are simply not up to the task of responding to this brave new world. The world of high-definition porn on demand is simply way more addictive, way more destructive, and way more culturally damaging than anything that has ever gone before.
The statistics are clear: a significant majority of men, and a growing quantity of women, regularly view pornography. However, if you realize how much of the content they are viewing is unspeakably degrading, it will begin to dawn on you just how profoundly damaging this phenomenon is to the health of society, not to mention the profound spiritual harm to people’s immortal souls.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is pretty succinct, but direct, about what governments should do about porn. Pornography, it says, “is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.”
Free speech does not protect grotesque obscenity. Sites like Pornhub are making their livings off the exploitation and degradation of men, women, and children. In many cases, even women who have allegedly “consented” turn out to have been strong-armed, or pressured by circumstances, to do something in a moment of desperation that they soon regret, and will regret for the rest of their lives.
Pornography is a true plague with disastrous effects. Kristoff’s column has started a conversation. But it is up to us to finish it, and bring it to its logical conclusion. It is time to denounce and shut down the porn industry.