Laila Mickelwait's timing was perfect. It was, in some ways, inevitable that her “TraffickingHub” campaign to shut down Pornhub would go viral when it launched in February.
Right after the Superbowl, an event that's been incorrectly called the biggest human trafficking day of the year for almost a decade—the Washington Examiner published Mickelwait's op-ed titled “Time to shut Pornhub down.” In that piece, she used recent incidents of exploitative content on one of the most popular porn platforms on the internet to argue that Pornhub should be shut down entirely. She highlighted videos that led to the arrest of a rapist after he uploaded child porn of his victim to the site, as well as the Girls Do Porn lawsuit.
Mickelwait told me that readers of that op-ed asked her to start a petition. Now, it has nearly two million signatures in support of shuttering Pornhub. In March, dozens of protestors, some from anti-porn and anti-sex work groups, gathered outside of Mindgeek's Montreal headquarters, in support of TraffickingHub. Mindgeek is the parent company of Pornhub, as well as several other porn sites, including RedTube and YouPorn.
“Pornhub, the world's largest and most popular porn site, has been repeatedly caught enabling, hosting, and profiting from videos of child rape, sex trafficking, and other forms of non-consensual content exploiting women and minors,” the TraffickingHub petition states. “We're calling for Pornhub to be shut down and its executives held accountable for these crimes.”
Motherboard's own reporting on the Girls Do Porn lawsuit has shown how tube sites like Pornhub are used by abusers to dox and harass women and post nonconsensual porn. Our reporting has shown that Pornhub’s held partnerships with companies like Girls Do Porn, which systematically pressured, harassed, and threatened women into doing porn have legitimized them, and that Pornhub's failure to enforce its own policies means it can host illegal content like upskirt videos. There are many legitimate reasons for revenge porn victims and adult content owners to be critical of Pornhub, some of which TraffickingHub points out.
But what people who sign the TraffickingHub petition might not understand is that the campaign, while focused on Pornhub, comes from the world of anti sex trafficking activism—and specifically, from a large Christian organization, Exodus Cry, which opposes decriminalizing or legalizing sex work and wants to abolish porn altogether. On its website, Exodus Cry claims to be “committed to abolishing sex trafficking and breaking the cycle of commercial sexual exploitation while assisting and empowering its victims.”
The people speaking out against TraffickingHub, many of them sex workers and abuse survivors themselves, say its parent organization has a history of homophobia and bigotry, and are peddling a victim narrative to “save” sex workers while harming them with pushes for legislation that doesn't work.
Religiously affiliated anti-trafficking organizations aren't just Bible thumpers. The legislation they've advocated for has done tangible harm to sex workers, on top of upholding stigmas against sex work as work, painting everyone in the sex trade as victims in need of saving from their circumstances.
Exodus Cry's website states that it uses funding to change laws that will “end the sex industry,” and “works with governments and legislators... to implement legislation that creates criminal culpability for sex buyers, pimps, and traffickers, and brings freedom and support to victims.”
As TraffickingHub gained popularity in recent months, years of criticism of Exodus Cry has resurfaced. Some of that criticism stems from a “chapter leader application” form that once appeared on the Exodus Cry website.
The application involved taking a “purity covenant,” agreeing to a detailed, Biblical statement of faith, and answering questions like “Do you believe heterosexual sex outside of marriage is sinful? Yes/No, if No please explain,” and “Are you currently struggling with pornography?; Have you struggled with pornography in the past?; Are you or have you struggled with homosexual thoughts, feelings or behaviors?”
University of Liverpool criminologist Gemma Ahearne, who found and wrote about the application in June 2019, said that at the time it was accessible on the Exodus Cry website and visible through a Wayback Machine archive. The application is no longer available on the Exodus Cry website, and the Internet Archive told Motherboard the entire Exodus Cry domain was excluded from the Wayback Machine as of June 1, 2019, following a response to a request from a rights holder to have it removed from archival view.
On August 19, I emailed Mickelwait to ask about the origins of the chapter application. On August 20, she responded with what she said was “an official statement from Exodus Cry on the libelous accusations.”
The statement, which was published on the Exodus Cry website the same day, said that “Exodus Cry is an organization that since its inception has never advocated, campaigned, or focused on any other issue besides sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. Sexual exploitation is the singular focus of Exodus Cry, and any suggestion that Exodus Cry has campaigned against any other issue is categorically false.”
The statement also includes a quote from Exodus Cry founder Benjamin Nolot in response to a 2013 tweet in which he said “I oppose homosexual marriage on the premise that it is an unspeakable offense to God and His design for marriage between a man and a woman.”
“Like much of our nation, a decade ago when the issue was being widely debated, I expressed in a single personal tweet that I thought government had a role to play in defining marriage,” Nolot said in that statement. “Even former president Obama held similar views in the past. Today, like many, my views have evolved and I believe every individual should make that decision for themselves without government being involved in such a personal choice. I advocate for the right of all people to be free from all forms of oppression and that without question includes the LGBTQ+ community.”
Mickelwait and the statement also said that Exodus Cry does not even have chapters, something she's brought up previously on Twitter when confronted with the application screenshots.
“There is only one Exodus Cry. Exodus Cry does not have chapters,” the statement says. “Therefore a 'chapter application' has no relevance to our organization’s work. This claim intentionally misrepresents our organization.”
Exodus Cry may not have chapters now, but it did at one point. A 2009 annual report by Exodus Cry touted the organization had “26 chapters in five different nations (including the United States).” a 2010 annual report mentions a “local Exodus Cry chapter” in Norfolk, Virginia.
I sent Mickelwait these reports, and asked again whether the chapter application, which included the “purity covenant” and the questions about gay marriage ever appeared on the Exodus Cry site.
She sent me another statement, attributed to Nolot: “We have investigated the 'chapters' application and determined that 12 years ago when EC was formed a volunteer borrowed a document that had been used by another ministry as a model for EC and there were sections related to chapters that inadvertently remained in the documents as a relic. As explained, EC does not have chapters, and has not had chapters for over a decade, therefore the application has no relevance to our work. Exodus Cry is in the process of removing those legacy materials now that they have been brought to our attention”
The chapter application is no longer available on the Exodus Cry website, nor does the site seem explicitly religious at first glance. There's a page that notes the organization's original connection to prayer, quotes the Bible, and says that "we have seen the Lord’s mighty hand of deliverance in response to prayer," but otherwise Exodus Cry and TraffickingHub both have slick websites featuring animated explainer videos and photographs of excited and diverse young people.
The organization's own tax filings show it seems to be slowly distancing itself from religious affiliation. In 2015, it stated its purpose as being "built on a foundation of prayer and is committed to abolishing sex slavery through Christ centered prevention, intervention, and holistic restoration of trafficking victims.” In 2017, it dropped the “Christ” part, and by 2018, it made no mention of prayer or religion whatsoever, instead stating its purpose as an “international non-profit organization committed to abolishing sex trafficking and the commercial sex industry while assisting and empowering its victims.”
In 2018, Open Democracy wrote about Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution a documentary directed by Nolot which has been on Netflix since 2017. The film documented spring break in Florida and critiqued “hookup culture,” but didn't disclose the religiously-affiliated background of its production—drawing criticism from women's rights groups for hiding these affiliations.
Primarily by interviewing drunk college students on the beach, the documentary builds the case that sexualization in media and pop culture is to blame for objectification of women's bodies and toxic masculinity. Like the current debate around “WAP” that upset several Republican politicians and conservative pundits, it questions whether women can take full, unashamed and public ownership of their sexuality without harming themselves, and whether that is something people really want or are just told that they want by popular culture. It identifies and highlights issues many people, even those who don't think of themselves as religious or anti-sex, can agree are problems—such as the pressure some young women feel to cater to a male gaze, rape culture, and risky or dangerous sexual encounters in college—without ever making its religious affiliations explicit. Someone can easily browse Netflix, watch Liberated, and largely agree with its message without knowing anything about the people who made it.
TraffickingHub similarly gained support on social media from people who didn't understand what they were signing up for.
Mika Lavallee is not a sex worker or an activist, but when she saw the TraffickingHub petition on Twitter, she signed it immediately.
“I signed the petition for the purpose of allyship. For victims and survivors of sex trafficking,” she said. “The TraffickingHub video really did a good job at villainizing Pornhub, and at a perfect time when many petitions for all sorts of injustices were being shared on all social media platforms. Without doing my research, I signed the petition thinking I was doing a good thing that would make positive change and help victims.”
Ginger Banks, Gwen Adora, and Maya Morena are just three of the many sex workers who have been speaking out against TraffickingHub, posting Instagram, Twitter and TikTok videos about Exodus Cry's conservative roots for months.
“It's such a fucking publicity game, especially with like, 'Oh my god, but it was named 'stop sex trafficking' and you're against it? That means you're for sex trafficking,’” Banks told me.
Banks recently started her own petition, demanding that Pornhub and its sister sites YouPorn and Redtube change their video uploading and verification processes so that content couldn't go up without the owner's consent. As of writing, that petition has over 8,000 signatures.
Adora hosted an Instagram Live about the TraffickingHub campaign in July. “The entire mission of TraffickingHub is not what myself, other sex workers and survivors believe to be effective for their end goal—shutting down a porn site isn't going to stop the abuse that happens in person and online,” Adora told me.
Lavallee saw one of Banks' videos on the topic, and regretted putting her name on the petition without digging deeper. “I truly felt uncomfortable that I had signed that petition,” she said. “I am pro everything they’re against!”
Change.org petitions were flying around the internet around the time Lavallee signed TraffickingHub this spring. Many of them were demanding justice for Black people murdered or harmed by law enforcement. But people across all industries started demanding more for themselves: a newly-invigorated labor movement broke out across the U.S., and this included within the adult industry. TraffickingHub's use of “abolitionist” language has a long history within trafficking awareness groups. The term abolition appropriates 18th and 19th century movements to abolish slavery, and Exodus Cry invokes the legacy of William Wilberforce, a deeply religious 18th century abolitionist against the British slave trade.
Abolition has gained a renewed mainstream popularity during the Black Lives Matter movement, as people call to abolish the police. But in the context of sex work, workers reject the phrase. “Not only do sex workers not see our work as akin to slavery but using this term minimizes and trivializes the experiences of those who have (and do) endure slavery,” according to the Global Network of Sex Work Projects.
TraffickingHub's arrival tapped into something sex workers have been talking about for some time, but has only recently reached mainstream conversations.
“Criticisms of various companies and MindGeek are fairly common in the sex work community,” Morena told me. “Campaigns like this often find something real they can use to push an agenda. For many people, the TraffickingHub campaign is the first time they've ever heard of MindGeek, or tech conglomerates in general that make a business model largely from stolen porn.”
TraffickingHub's website notes that it is “powered by” Exodus Cry. Mickelwait said that she initiated and directs the TraffickingHub campaign, which is supported by Exodus Cry financially, with human resources, technical support, and legal support.
“There are 300 organizations and almost two million people from 192 countries who are part of this effort who agree that no one should be raped and trafficked for profit on the world’s largest and most popular porn site,” Mickelwait told me. “The Traffickinghub campaign is a non-partisan, non-religious effort that consists of a diverse group of individual advocates who share this common goal.”
Exodus Cry and some of the groups supporting TraffickingHub are against all forms of commercial sex work, and are working toward legislation sex workers say will harm them. Eighty-two organizations are listed on the TraffickingHub website as supporting the cause. Almost half of these explicitly support an “end demand” model of sex work (they use the term “prostitution” instead of sex work), also known as the Nordic model, which criminalizes sex buyers and which sex worker advocacy groups say only exposes them to more risk because sex work doesn’t go away, it simply becomes less visible and thus more dangerous.
A few examples: The Coalition Against Women in Trafficking believes decriminalizing sex work would be “a gift to pimps, traffickers and the sex industry.” The UK-based Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation is anti-pornography and against all sex work, and lists several claims about the adult industry on its site, including that “it’s impossible to know for sure whether production was consensual,” which is false. Dublin-based NGO Ruhama states “prostitution has negatively impacted on women’s liberty, bodily autonomy and physical and mental wellbeing.” Space International calls for the Nordic Model. Defend Dignity, one of the groups present at the Mindgeek headquarters protest, states that “prostitution is a form of sexual exploitation, oppression, and violence especially against women and children and seriously undermines their dignity and value” and "prostitution is detrimental to a healthy society.”
So many of these organizations claim to be fighting for exploited women by pushing a model of partial decriminalization—in “ending demand” and the Nordic model—while ignoring the people they're trying to “rescue,” who say that they don't want full legalization or to end demand but rather, full decriminalization of the sex trade. They often set up the argument as legalization versus criminalization, with their own solution in the middle, even though sex workers as well as human rights groups including Amnesty International say that only full decriminalization will make their work safer.
On Exodus Cry's website, the organization claims that “time, testing, and research have demonstrated unequivocally that policies focused on eliminating demand are extremely effective in eliminating sex trafficking,” citing a 2012 paper on legalizing sex work. But this isn't what that paper claims.
“The likely negative consequences of legalized prostitution on a country’s inflows of human trafficking might be seen to support those who argue in favor of banning prostitution, thereby reducing the flows of trafficking,” the paper's authors concluded. “However, such a line of argumentation overlooks potential benefits that the legalization of prostitution might have on those employed in the industry. Working conditions could be substantially improved for prostitutes–at least those legally employed–if prostitution is legalized.”
“Research and the testimonies of survivors have demonstrated that full decriminalization and legalization legitimizes and increases trafficking as well as the violence and exploitation of vulnerable sex workers and we don’t support legislation that would expose the most vulnerable to increased harm and exploitation,” Nolot said when I told him sex workers say the “end demand” model would harm them.
“Partial decriminalization is the only solution that will both protect those who sell or are sold for sex, while holding those who exploit them accountable for their actions,” Nolot added. He cited as research, a paper written by anti-porn and anti-sex work activist Melissa Farley, and SPACE International executive director Rachel Moran, both outspoken advocates for the Nordic model.
One of the biggest organizations supporting TraffickingHub is the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, which lobbies to abolish pornography, wants to pass the EARN-IT bill which a myriad of internet freedom advocates say will be devastating to rights online, and applauded the passage of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which has done material harm to sex workers and made exploitation worse. On August 4, the White House press secretary cited NCOSE's unfounded statement that TikTok enables human trafficking as proof that EARN-IT should pass. Ron DeHaas, chairman of the board for NCOSE, says porn is a tool of Satan.
TraffickingHub argues that Pornhub removed 118 instances of child sexual abuse material in the last three years—a statistic Pornhub doesn't deny. But sex workers who speak out against shutting down Pornhub point out is the culpability of most social networks for abusive content, including revenge or child porn. In 2019, Facebook said it removed 11.6 million pieces of content related to child nudity and child sexual exploitation in just three months. Twitter says it took action to remove more than 30,000 unique accounts reported for child sexual abuse between January and June 2019.
“Being against the organization or their goals becomes ‘you're against these survivors personally”
In response to the TraffickingHub petition, the UK-based child sexual abuse nonprofit Internet Watch Foundation has said that platforms like Twitter and Facebook “pose more of an issue of child sexual abuse material than Pornhub does.”
“But, of course, no one will petition for those social media sites to be taken down—because people are more concerned about porn and sex work than anything else,” Adora said.
“Pornhub has a steadfast commitment to eradicating any and all illegal content, including non-consensual and under-age material, and actively works to employ state of the art, comprehensive measures to protect its platform from such content. Any suggestion otherwise is categorically and factually inaccurate,” a Pornhub spokesperson told Motherboard. “Regarding the group [Exodus Cry] behind the campaign and petition, their history of hateful rhetoric toward women and the LGBTQ community, as well as toward those who don't abide by their vision of purity, is extremely disturbing.”
In a response to Pornhub's previous public statements against Exodus Cry and TraffickingHub's allegations, TraffickingHub published a “Statement of Inclusion,” which says “we do not discriminate based on sex, race, class, political views, religious or non-religious views, or sexual orientations.” The response then quotes support from several sex-worker exclusionary radical feminist and anti-sex work organizations, including abolitionist organization Prostitution Research & Education that denies sex work is real work, and prominent anti-porn scholar Gail Dines.
Politicians, lobbyists, and fundraising organizations use human trafficking as a lever to pull on whatever pet project they want, because trafficking—especially child and sex trafficking—is a conversation-ender. No one, not even people who oppose more funding for trafficking prevention or criticize groups like Exodus Cry, would support sex trafficking or say it needs to be allowed to go on unchecked. But campaigns like TraffickingHub set up a false dichotomy: Either you're for shutting down Pornhub, or you're against stopping saving children from the horrors of sex trafficking.
“Being against the organization or their goals becomes ‘you're against these survivors personally,’” sex worker Maya Morena said. “People sign on largely because of the emotional appeal, they're less likely to look into the orgs, or the possible consequences of pushing for a quick carceral solution. People forget that they're supporting organizations and actual political policies.”
We've seen it happen most recently with the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, FOSTA. After Donald Trump signed the bill into law, Exodus Cry wrote on its Facebook page: “FOSTA/SESTA has already made a significant impact on the ecosystem of sex trafficking... This could be considered the most significant macroeconomic event ever, related to commercial sexual exploitation.” In a way, that's correct. After FOSTA, it became harder than ever for sex workers to vet clients, as sites cracked down on sexual speech in order to avoid breaking the law and incurring fines.
The legislation wasn't even effective at stopping human trafficking. “Not only is the law arguably creating negative side effects for speech online and creating danger for sex workers, it is not even achieving its legal objective,” law associate Emily Born wrote in her study of post-FOSTA impacts for the New York Law Review in 2019.
The way anti-trafficking organizations portray sex workers as needing rescue is apparent throughout their missions. For example, Exodus Cry's “In Her Shoes” campaign tells stories of women who were so moved by abolitionists' messages of salvation from brothels or sex work that they handed over their stiletto heels, as a “symbol of slavery, fastened about the ankles of sexually exploited women.” When Helen Taylor, Exodus Cry's Director of Outreach and Intervention, testified at a DC council hearing against the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 (which would have decriminalized sex work in DC, making sex work safer), she pulled out a pair of high heels as a prop.
The TraffickingHub website says that donations made through the campaign go to Exodus Cry. According to Exodus Cry, it's raised almost $200,000 through TraffickingHub so far. “Those who financially support the Traffickinghub campaign are enabling us to further expose the violent injustice of rape and sex trafficking that Pornhub is profiting from,” Mickelwait told me. “In addition, funds coming into the campaign help provide support and legal services to survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation on Pornhub.”
There are no details on the TraffickingHub campaign site as to how, exactly, they plan to shut Pornhub down or hold it accountable, beyond amassing signatures, which in themselves don't do anything. But Mickelwait told me that the plan is “to hold Pornhub accountable to the full extent of the law both criminally, civilly and legislatively.”
Mickelwait plans to keep the petition running until it accomplishes the “aims of the movement,” she said: “To hold Pornhub accountable for enabling and profiting from the mass rape and trafficking of women and children; and until the enactment of legislation that requires third-party verification of age and consent for every person featured in every video on 'porn tube' platforms that host pornography.”
If that accountability comes in the form of a total shutdown of Pornhub and tube sites like it, some sex workers say this will only make things worse for them, as their work is already marginalized. But sex workers don't represent a homogeneity of needs and beliefs. Some sex workers stand by TraffickingHub, in spite of what Exodus Cry stands for, and are willing to look the other way when it comes to Exodus Cry's abolitionist agenda. Others believe Exodus Cry's mission will only harm them more.
“The people that are pushing back on [Pornhub] that still say, ‘I rely on this and I just want them to do better,’ are not getting the same kind of traction publicly, because they're sex workers,” sex worker rights advocate Kate D'Adamo told me. "I think it is disingenuous, and intentionally disingenuous, from folks like Laila [Mickelwait] to pretend like there are people who are pro-Pornhub, [versus] people who want to shut it down... Most people that I've interacted with want Pornhub to do better, but just can't lose that income. But they do have very valid concerns.”
Mickelwait told me that she'd consulted with sex workers and sexual abuse survivors from a range of experiences and beliefs while building the TraffickingHub campaign. Two of those spoke only on the condition of anonymity, claiming that they feared retribution or retaliation from Mindgeek, Pornhub's parent company.
“Multiple people in my industry have told me Laila from TraffickingHub is tricking me and others by claiming to be against child porn, but really they want to abolish porn,” a sex worker who is supportive of TraffickingHub's mission told me. “There's truth to that... It gave me pause, but ultimately, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. I don't think anyone is going to abolish porn, that's ridiculous. When you have consenting adults agree to make love on camera, there is nothing illegal about that.”
Most of the TraffickingHub supporters who are also sex workers I spoke to expressed frustration about Pornhub's lack of responses to copyright complaints and stolen content.
One said that they came across TraffickingHub online after getting frustrated with reporting their own stolen content on Pornhub. They say Pornhub didn't take the content down, so they went searching for help.
“I was furious,” they said. “It was on this day when I searched for an organization with like-minded views and found TraffickingHub.”
Another sex worker, who goes by Kai, told me that Mickelwait reached out to them to ask about their experiences with Pornhub. Kai, who is a victim of child sexual abuse, stopped uploading their work to Pornhub recently, after seeing what they said was disturbing content on the platform.
“So many sex workers including myself are survivors of sexual abuse and other sexual violence,” Kai said. “I cannot in good faith support a website that would profit off the torture and pain of children, and even some adults as well. TraffickingHub is necessary to show that no amount of money and no site should ever be able to support and profit off of trauma and abuse.”
I asked Kai what they thought about Exodus Cry's stances on prostitution being a form of exploitation.
“I will not lie, I have seen criticism of Exodus Cry saying they are homophobic and against sex work,” they said. “I am a gay sex worker and honestly if it is true I don't really care. Everybody has a right to their own opinion if it is true and ultimately all I care about is that right now that you're trying to help us."
Shiloh Connor set up a separate petition called “Sex Workers Against ExploitationHub” in June, “to raise traction in sex work circles without being forced to interact with problematic orgs like ExodusCry,” they said. “I don't necessarily think THAT petition is necessary, but I do believe that a dedicated campaign to shut down MindGeek and redistribute its financial assets is necessary," Connor told me.
“We the undersigned formally condemn and demand the shutdown of MindGeek and its subsidiaries, and the funds gained from the company over the past 5 years be redistributed to all models, content producers, camgirls, showgirls, and victims of abuse/trafficking exploited by the company,” the petition, which has raised a little more than 3,200 signatures, states.
Connor said that while they agree with criticisms against Exodus Cry, they still spoke with Mickelwait. “Yes, she has acknowledged her organization's homophobia and SWERFisms [sex worker-exclusionary radical feminists, or feminists who don't support sex work] lightly in the past. But words are not enough,” they said. “I feel that by creating a sex positive campaign to walk alongside hers, I can start a conversation about the inherent humanity of sex workers, and how anti-trafficking orgs and decrim orgs need to work together.”
“That is categorically and demonstrably false as innumerable written and other communications I have had reflect," Mickelwait said regarding Conor's claim that she's acknowledged the organization's past. "Exodus Cry is nothing but loving toward, respectful of, and supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, and any suggestion that I have said otherwise is false.”
Not all sex workers want Pornhub to shut down, because Pornhub can be an important source of income for some: its verified Amateur Program, Modelhub platform, ad revenue on video uploads, and tips from fans all pay out to varying degrees. For many established models, Pornhub is a revenue stream among several other paid subscription platforms like Onlyfans. And because Pornhub is one of the world's most popular and accessible porn sites, even free content can boost a performer's brand if fans find them there and move to paid sites.
“We are the people who depend on these platforms for income, but we also acknowledge and push for change”
Supporters and detractors of the campaign agree that Pornhub needs to do a better job of preventing stolen content from being hosted on the site. Banks' petition for better verification practices voices what most sex workers who've had their work reposted to tube sites without their contest struggle with: that their content can go up on these sites for free, without their knowledge, often without their credit, and without them profiting from the ads that run alongside the content. But for years—and still, today—porn piracy was something most people outside of the industry didn't care to talk about. The only people speaking up about it were sex workers, and people who aimed to use the problem of piracy to accuse the entire industry of exploitation.
“It's not a crazy concept that they should only allow porn on their website from people who want their porn on the website,” Banks said. “There's just no one else speaking out against this, and the only place you have [people speaking out] is the internet, where stuff is so viral... people don't do any of their own research, they just take what they are told at face value.”
In the same way, many of the people criticizing TraffickingHub are sex workers who are often pushed to the margins of the internet thorough shadowbanning or, ironically, platforms kicking them off due to FOSTA or appeasing advertisers and investors—the very same practices they're fighting against.
Holding Pornhub accountable for copyright infringement and lax verification processes is a catch-22 for some sex workers. Because the industry is already stigmatized, speaking out about the issues within it—as many did when accusers of on-set abuses came forward in June—is even more difficult.
“Sex workers are the most critical people when it comes to our own porn platforms and the problems that come with them,” Adora said. “We are the people who depend on these platforms for income, but we also acknowledge and push for change. We participate in our own boycotts—we are the people who make porn companies money so we are vocal about our criticisms and hold them accountable for their wrongdoings. Not many other social platforms can say that.”
The campaign for shutting down Pornhub doesn't stop with one platform. Mickelwait celebrated PayPal's removal of service to Pornhub as a win, and are pushing for other major credit card companies to do the same—despite sex workers saying that fewer payment options in an already highly discriminatory financial situation will only make exploitation worse.
We're inundated with sex trafficking and human trafficking narratives every day, from Wayfair conspiracy theories to QAnon being given a platform in the White House.
Now, a trafficking narrative is threatening to advance another harmful bill through Congress: the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act, known as EARN IT. This bill would form a National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention, and develop practices meant to “prevent, reduce, and respond to the online sexual exploitation of children, including the enticement, grooming, sex trafficking, and sexual abuse of children and the proliferation of online child sexual abuse material.” The commission would be made up of law enforcement officials and Silicon Valley industry representatives.
In July, a Judiciary Committee panel unanimously voted to progress EARN-IT to Senate vote, applauding themselves for working toward stopping trafficking.
“I think that EARN-IT and TraffickingHub really play into each other in terms of providing this very glossy cover that a lot of people don't necessarily look into,” D'Adamo said. “At the end of the day it's going to be people who are reliant on—not just Pornhub but porn sites in general—for their income, who are not going to be centered, and whose livelihoods are not going to be considered when we're looking at what the damage is.”