Released on Friday, the legislation was just the latest of Congressional actions in response to concerns about sex trafficking victims being exploited through sites like Pornhub. After The New York Times published an expose on the issue, Pornhub implemented new reforms that included blocking any unverified content from their platform.
Sasse’s and Merkley’s bill, titled the Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act, would impose this restriction on all platforms and require consent forms to be uploaded for every individual appearing in the video. It would also mandate that sites hosting pornographic content prohibit video downloads, set up a 24-hour hotline for people to video removals, and require the removal of the videos within two hours of victims flagging them.
It also directs the Justice Department to set up a database with individuals who have indicated they don’t consent to being featured in content. Before uploading images, platforms would have to check this database to ensure that no one in the image is listed.
Victims would also have a private right of action to bring civil litigation against the platform. According to a press release, this would be separate from Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, an immunity clause that has been modified in order to allow lawsuits over content with sex trafficking.
“Human dignity matters. A decent society has an obligation to fight sexual exploitation and human trafficking,” said Sasse, who has requested the Justice Department investigate allegations against the porn giant. “For years, Pornhub and its parent company Mindgeek monetized rape, abuse, and child exploitation.”
“While these suit-wearing traffickers got rich, their victims have lived with the pain and fear. That has to end now. Our bill is aimed squarely at the monsters who profit from rape. Washington ought to be able to come together to combat human trafficking and make this right.”
Pornhub did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.
In a previous statement to Fox News, Pornhub denied allowing child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on its platform.
“Any assertion that we allow CSAM is irresponsible and flagrantly untrue,” a statement from the company read referring to child sexual abuse material. “We have zero tolerance for CSAM. Pornhub is unequivocally committed to combating CSAM, and has instituted an industry-leading trust and safety policy to identify and eradicate illegal material from our community.”
Along with banning content from unverified users, the platform has pledged to beef up its content moderation and ban downloads.
That falls short, however, of demands from activists who seek to shut down the site altogether. A petition from Exodus Cry’s Laila Mickelwait has acquired more than 2 million signatures to shut down Pornhub.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) has specifically said verification isn’t enough, referencing allegations from women who claimed to be trafficked through a verified account. More than 40 alleged survivors of abuse and trafficking are suing Pornhub, claiming that it refused to take down videos from GirlsDoPorn, which produced the content.
“We are supportive of critical measures to stop sexual exploitation and abuse online, and [Sasse’s legislation] is one more way that digital purveyors of sex trafficking and abuse like Pornhub can be held accountable,” said Dawn Hawkins, senior vice president and executive director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE).
Despite hyper-polarization in Congress, this issue might be able to overcome partisan gridlock. Like Merkley, Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., joined Republicans in backing a bill that would similarly grant a private cause of action to rape and sex trafficking victims. The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., would also “criminalize the knowing distribution of visual depictions of forced or coerced sex acts.”
Non-consensual distribution of privacy-invading content or sex acts would also be criminalized under the bill, Sasse’s office said.
Regardless, the anti-Pornhub movement could encounter backlash from consumers as it garnered 42 billion visits — or an average of 115 million visits per day — in 2019. In addition, a record 6.83 million videos were uploaded to the site last year.
The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA/FOSTA), the 2018 legislation restricting Section 230 immunity, has also faced pushback from progressive Democrats like Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif. and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
Khanna backed legislation to study the effects of those bills, citing their impact on sex workers. His office told Fox News it was seen as a “first step” towards legalizing prostitution.