Pornography websites: verify age and consent

Popular pornography websites have repeatedly been exposed hosting videos featuring rape, sex trafficking victims, image-based sexual abuse and child sexual abuse. One of the key reasons for this is pornography websites that allow members of the public to upload videos do not verify the age and consent of all individuals featured in those videos. Urgent government action is needed to change this.

Learn about Dame Diana Johnson MP’s efforts to introduce age and consent checks on pornography websites here.

What’s the problem?

At present, leading pornography websites allow individuals to upload pornographic videos without verifying the age or agreement of the individuals featured in those videos. Consequently, websites such as Pornhub have been found hosting and profiting from videos featuring rape, sex trafficking, child sexual abuse and image-based abuse.

‘”I sent Pornhub begging emails. I pleaded with them. I wrote, ‘Please, I’m a minor, this was assault, please take it down.'” She received no reply and the videos remained live.’

– ‘I was raped at 14, and the video ended up on a porn site’, BBC News, 10/2/20
  • In 2019, PayPal stopped processing payments for Pornhub, one of the most popular pornography websites in the world, after an investigation by The Sunday Times revealed the site contained child abuse videos and other illegal content. This included an account on the site dedicated to posting “creepshots” of UK schoolgirls. In 2020, Mastercard, Visa and Discover blocked the use of their cards for purchases on Pornhub after an investigation by the New York Times found child abuse videos on the site.
  • Pornhub is now subject to multiple lawsuits launched against its parent company, Mindgeek, by victims whose abuse was uploaded onto Pornhub and monetized by the company. Plaintiffs against Pornhub include victims of image-based sexual abuse from the UK, such as Crystal Palace footballer Leigh Nicol. Nicol’s phone was hacked and private content uploaded to Pornhub without her knowledge.

“The damage is done for me so this is about the next generation. I feel like prevention is better than someone having to react to this. I cannot change it alone but if I can raise awareness to stop it happening to others then that is what I want to do. …The more that you dig into this, the more traumatising it is because there are 14-year-old kids on these websites and they don’t even know about it. The fact that you can publish videos that have neither party’s consent is something that has to be changed by law, for sure.”

– Leigh Nicol, Crystal Palace footballer, Sky Sports interview, 18/6/21
  • In 2021, Mindgeek settled a lawsuit brought against it by 50 women who had been victims of a sex trafficking operation run by GirlsDoPorn. GirlsDoPorn was a pornography production company that had a partnership with Pornhub, which hosted its videos. Victims of this pornography producer were coerced and deceived into having sex on camera without the knowledge that the videos would be posted online. To date, three individuals involved in GirlsDoPorn have been convicted of sex trafficking and/or conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and the owner is currently on the FBI’s most wanted list. The 50 women who sued Pornhub alleged the website was aware of the allegations against GirlsDoPorn yet continued its partnership with the company.

The impact on victims whose filmed abuse is uploaded onto pornography websites can deeply traumatic and life-altering. Yet websites hosting user-generated pornographic content have continued to ignore public calls to implement robust age and agreement verification processes. This dangerous and harmful practice cannot be allowed to continue.

What’s the solution?

In order to stop women and girls in the UK being sexually exploited via pornography websites, it is vital the Online Safety Bill requires all pornography websites and user-to-user services to:

1. Verify that each individual featured in pornographic content on their site is an adult.

2. Verify that each individual featured in pornographic content on their site agreed to the content being uploaded before it is published.

3. Enable any individual featured in a pornographic video to withdraw their consent to that content remaining on a website.

These are rock bottom requirements for preventing image-based sexual abuse. It is a scandal that pornography websites are not currently required to adopt these safety mechanisms and have instead been free to profit from abuse with impunity.

Amendments debated during report stage of the Online Safety Bill

On 15 July 2022, amendments tabled by Dame Diana Johnson MP to the Online Safety Bill, which would have required pornography websites to verify the age and permission of those featured in content uploaded to their sites, were debated by MPs.