It’s been quite the year.
A year that shook us, challenged us, and exposed us. Most of us experienced loss of various kinds, whether it was a loved one, a job, or our sanity. It’s been a terrible year for the vulnerable, as well. Polaris reported a 40% increase in crisis calls, children were trapped in abusive situations during lockdown or quarantine, and online predators had an easier time than ever in grooming underage girls.
Despite all the hardships and heartbreaks of this past year, there are GOOD things happening in the fight against human trafficking. In a topic that is mostly dark and disturbing, I’m thrilled to share with you three amazing breakthroughs.
1. Pornhub, the world’s largest porn site, removed over ten million abuse videos.
This past December, Nicholas Kristof published an exposé in the New York Times called “The Children of Pornhub.” This article boldly presents the revolting truth: Pornhub is making money off child rape and trafficking videos. A number of brave survivors shared their stories with Kristof, and here’s an excerpt:
“ ‘Pornhub became my trafficker,’ a woman named Cali told me. She says she was adopted in the United States from China and then trafficked by her adoptive family and forced to appear in pornographic videos beginning when she was 9. Some videos of her being abused ended up on Pornhub and regularly reappear there, she said.”
Much like YouTube, anyone can upload content to Pornhub. Every minute, almost three hours of new content are uploaded. With only around 80 moderators, whose job is to “let as much content as possible go through,” the platform is wide open for nonconsensual violence and child abuse. When trafficking survivors requested videos of themselves to be removed, many times they were ignored. Even when their request was granted, it was often too late, since the video had already been downloaded. Someone else could upload it again and again, either on the same platform or some other site.
Since Pornhub is based in Montreal, Kristof called out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with this blatant question: “Why does Canada host a company that inflicts rape videos on the world?” Kristof also challenged credit card companies like Visa and Mastercard to suspend cooperation with Pornhub.
Coupled with the efforts of anti-trafficking organizations such as Exodus Cry, this exposé had a massive ripple effect. Trudeau issued a statement saying he was working to address the issue. Both Visa and Mastercard announced they would stop processing payments on Pornhub. Discover soon followed. Pornhub finally responded with policy changes: only verified users can upload content, downloads are banned, and the number of moderators will be expanded. They also removed over half of their content–material that should never have been approved to begin with–including rape videos of unconscious girls and spy cams in changing rooms.
Fight the New Drug, a site dedicated to educating the public on the devastating effects of porn, states: “It is a shame it took the threat of losing Mastercard and Visa for Pornhub to make a change, and not the pleas of countless survivors of rape, abuse, and trafficking.”
The war isn’t over, but this is a victory nonetheless.
2. U.S. senators introduced bipartisan bills that would empower trafficking survivors.
Inspired by Kristof’s article mentioned above, Republican senator Josh Hawley, with support from Democrat Maggie Hassan and other lawmakers, introduced a bill (Survivors of Human Trafficking Fight Back Act) that would allow survivors to sue websites benefiting from their exploitation. Senator Hawley says:
“Sites like Pornhub routinely escape responsibility for facilitating abuse, trafficking, and exploitation, making millions for themselves in the process. Meanwhile, the victims of this abuse have little recourse against these powerful companies, who thrive on spreading depraved content. Serious criminal penalties are needed to crack down on these tech executives who think they are above the law.”
If passed, this law would also criminalize the distribution of nonconsensual porn, making it easier for victims to seek justice and hold companies accountable.
A second bipartisan bill (Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act), introduced by Senators Jeff Merkley and Ben Sasse, would impose a number of restrictions on anyone trying to share pornographic content. According to Fox News, this bill would “require consent forms to be uploaded for every individual appearing in the video,” “prohibit video downloads” on porn sites, “set up a 24-hour hotline” for video removal requests, and “require the removal of the videos within two hours of victims flagging them.”
This legislation is much needed, and it would make circles of protection around our most vulnerable. In this deeply divided time, I love that both sides are working together! This isn’t a left versus right issue, and the only effective way to end human trafficking is through unified efforts.
3. The DHS launched the Center for Countering Human Trafficking.
Whatever your opinion on President Trump, his administration made fighting human trafficking a key focus, and that is something we can applaud.
In January of 2020, Trump signed an executive order “combating human trafficking and online child exploitation.” This order was designed to “strengthen federal responsiveness to human trafficking,” “improve methodologies of estimating the prevalence of human trafficking,” and “improve interagency coordination with respect to targeting traffickers.” This order also created a government center for fighting trafficking–the first of its kind.
In September of 2020, the Department of Homeland Security established this Center. Although the DHS has been combatting trafficking for years, this integrates all the government resources under one roof, making them far more effective in rescuing victims, training law enforcement, gathering intelligence, and prosecuting criminals. Eleanor Gaetan, director of public policy for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, stated:
“To date, there’s been a lot of piecemeal approaches many government agencies have been involved in…Without coordination, we will not be able to bring justice to the victims.”
In fighting human trafficking, law enforcement are always in need of more resources, and the Center does just that.
There have been other victories as well. Instagram took steps to address the sexual exploitation that happens on their platform. Since the pandemic has made outreach to trafficking victims difficult or even impossible, Instacart and DoorDash provided resources and hotlines on their apps.
I’m encouraged to see people stepping up, and I hope you feel the uplift as well! If you haven’t yet joined the fight for freedom, learning to recognize the signs of exploitation is a great first step. You don’t have to wear a badge to make a difference.