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Survivors say Pornhub's indifference to exploitive videos traumatized them

OTTAWA — For more than two years, Victoria Galy pleaded with the largest porn site in the world to take down videos of her posted without her consent and depicting what she says was sexual assault. First she flagged the footage to Pornhub in 2018.

OTTAWA — For more than two years, Victoria Galy pleaded with the largest porn site in the world to take down videos of her posted without her consent and depicting what she says was sexual assault.

First she flagged the footage to Pornhub in 2018. Then she tried to formally report it to the Montreal-based company, but was told she would have to present proof of ownership to have most of it removed.

“Many of the videos were labelled 'teen' and were clearly of a person that was drugged and/or intoxicated," Galy told a parliamentary committee Friday.

"I completely lost my self-worth ... At times I was suicidal,” she said, her eyes welling up.

Eventually the Tennessee resident took a leave from the law firm where she'd worked as a paralegal for 16 years and moved in with her mother to help her care for her 16-year-old son and seven-year old daughter with Down syndrome.

Pornhub told her that most of the 60-odd videos were claimed by one of its "verified models" under the name of Vicky Lust, Galy said. She sent the company photos of identifying physical features such as a birthmark and recordings of her voice to prove it was her in the videos, which garnered more than eight million views.

"They are of course all over the internet now, having been downloaded by who knows how many users and on a plethora of other websites," Galy said.

"To think of the amount of money that Pornhub has made off of my trauma, date rape and sexual exploitation makes me sick to my stomach."

The company finally took down the posts and "fingerprinted" the content to prevent re-uploads following a New York Times piece and her own civil lawsuit in December, more than two years after she first alerted the platform.

The accusations from Galy and two other survivors before the House of Commons ethics committee Friday afternoon directly contradict recent testimony by executives from Pornhub's parent company MindGeek, who claim it responds swiftly to illegal posts and works actively to remove child pornography.

It also highlights the challenges of clamping down on exploitive content, even as the company stresses the safeguards involved in videos uploaded from "verified users" — official content partners and members of Pornhub's "Model Program."

Pornhub announced in December it would remove all videos that weren't uploaded by verified users, resulting in most of the content being scrubbed.

"The problem is that my videos were verified," Galy said.

A verified user must submit a selfie of themselves holding a piece of paper with their username and "," according to the company website.

Galy suggested Pornhub require each partner to provide a business licence before being allowed to upload videos.

The testimonies come as MPs on the ethics committee weigh concerns around privacy and streaming platforms such as Pornhub.

MindGeek — legally headquartered in Luxembourg, but with its main office in a nondescript glass building along a sunken highway in Montreal — is facing a class-action lawsuit in Quebec alleging it profited off material showing child sexual abuse and non-consensual activity.

It is also being sued by 40 women in California who claim the company continues to profit from pornographic videos of them that were published without their full consent. 

Pornhub says it has removed all videos uploaded by non-verified users. The move came after Visa and MasterCard decided in December to stop allowing their cards to be used on Pornhub.

Between eight and 10 million videos uploaded by unverified users were removed from the website after the change, David Tassillo, MindGeek's co-owner and chief operating officer, told the committee earlier this month.

A witness who testified anonymously Friday said pornographic content of her shot when she was under 18 was posted to the site, and that Pornhub resisted her requests to have it removed.

She accused MindGeek executives of dishonesty when they claimed to make extensive efforts to screen out child pornography.

"I would never put the onus on the children. We are putting the onus on us," Tassillo told the committee on Feb. 5.

"When somebody uploads a video to our website, he or she agrees to comply with our terms of service, which clearly state that he must have the consent," CEO Feras Antoon said.

Tassillo and Antoon characterized their company as a "leader" in preventing the distribution of images of child sexual abuse and non-consensual pornography.

If Pornhub were full of child pornography and non-consensual pornography, the four million Canadians who visit the site daily would be calling the police, Antoon said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2021.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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