Federal courthouse in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of 40 women against Pornhub’s parent company for hosting videos produced by former San Diego-based website GirlsDoPorn.com, the owners and operators of which are facing federal sex trafficking charges.

The plaintiffs, identified as Jane Does 1 through 40 in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Diego federal court, allege Montreal-based MindGeek owns and operates a multitude of pornographic sites that have hosted videos featuring the women, and maintained its business relationship with GirlsDoPorn even as the site came under scrutiny for allegations of videos made through coercion and fraud.

The suit alleges MindGeek’s business partnership with GirlsDoPorn continued through late 2019 and only ended because GirlsDoPorn ceased to exist amid a Department of Justice sex trafficking investigation and a civil lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court.

The federal suit alleges that after the partnership ended, MindGeek’s sites continued hosting victims’ videos, including as recently as Dec. 12.

“MindGeek knew it was partnering with and profiting from a sex trafficking venture for years,” the latest suit alleges. “MindGeek also knew of the significant harassment and trauma GirlsDoPorn’s victims were enduring by its continued publication of the victims’ videos. MindGeek simply did not care and continued to partner with GirlsDoPorn until it was no longer profitable because of the indictments and arrests.”

MindGeek did not respond for comment regarding the lawsuit.

The company and its most popular site, Pornhub, were featured in a New York Times article this month alleging Pornhub hosts videos featuring rape and child abuse. In the article’s wake, several major credit card companies — including Visa, Mastercard and Discover — cut ties with the website and Pornhub instituted a ban on videos uploaded by unverified users and removed millions of videos from the website this week.

In the Superior Court case originally filed in 2016, GirlsDoPorn’s owners were sued by 22 women who alleged they were coerced to film pornographic videos or led to believe their videos would only be distributed to private owners, rather than proliferated online on GirlsDoPorn’s subscription website, as well as numerous free sites, many of which are owned by MindGeek.

Several of the women alleged they were lured to San Diego with online advertisements that made no mention of nudity or pornography, much less the GirlsDoPorn business name.

The women were awarded nearly $13 million earlier this year by San Diego Superior Court Judge Kevin Enright, who ruled the defendants pressured the women to sign documents replete with “broad, vague releases couched in disorganized, complicated legalese,” which obscured the victims’ concerns over potential online dissemination. Other women hired as “reference models” allegedly spoke to uneasy victims over the phone and claimed they had been featured in prior videos without issue, falsely assuring victims that their videos would not end up on the internet.

Once the women discovered their videos were posted online, the website owners ignored requests to take the videos down and cut contact with the women altogether, Enright ruled. The women also alleged GirlsDoPorn’s owners shared links to their videos with people within the victims’ social circles in order to drive up website traffic.

Late last year, prior to Enright’s ruling in the civil suit, federal prosecutors filed sex trafficking charges against the site’s owners and operators, alleging many of the same claims presented in the civil case. Six defendants are currently charged, including GirlsDoPorn owner Michael James Pratt, who remains at large.

–City News Service

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