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The Downfall of Pornhub! An Interview with Laila Mickelwait, Bold Founder of the Traffickinghub Movement

This is an interview between our founder, Kristen Jenson, and Laila Mickelwait, founder of the Traffickinghub movement. They discuss how Traffickinghub got started, why porn tube sites are especially dangerous for children, and 5 simple actions anyone can take to contribute to the movement. Watch the interview or read the transcription below. (Transcription edited for clarity).


KRISTEN: Hey everyone! It’s Kristen Jenson with Defend Young Minds and I’m so happy to be here with Laila Mickelwait. I’m truly honored that she’s here with us.

She is the founder and CEO of the Justice Defense Fund and the founder of the global Traffickinghub movement, supported by millions around the world. She’s been combatting the injustice of sex trafficking for over a decade and is a leading expert in the field. She received her Master of Public Diplomacy degree in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State.

I really appreciate her work in this Traffickinghub movement because it has been so effective in battling one of the hugest porn websites on the planet

So Laila, welcome!

LAILA: Thank you for having me and thank you for your participation in the Traffickinghub movement, because I know without a doubt it is because of the participation of so many different organizations and so many advocates and individuals and survivors that this has had traction. It goes so far beyond one person or one organization and it’s truly been an honor for me to be a part of it. 

KRISTEN: Laila you are bold and I just think it’s amazing what you’ve done. Honestly, from the bottom of my heart, I am inspired by you and your work. It’s really audacious what you set out to do. And I love it! Because that’s really what you have to do. You have to be bold to get out there.

How Traffickinghub got its start

KRISTEN: Tell me more about Traffickinghub and why you decided to start the Traffickinghub movement.

LAILA: Like you said, I’ve been combatting the injustice of sex trafficking for a long time--it’s been about fifteen years. And I’ve spent the last nine years investigating the intersection between what we call the “big porn” industry and sexual exploitation. And for those who don’t know, there is a “big porn” industry just like there’s a “big tobacco”, there’s a “big tech”, and there is “big porn.” 

Related: Today’s Porn Industry: 5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know

I was investigating the relationship between big porn and sexual exploitation--specifically criminal sexual exploitation. Like sex trafficking, child sexual abuse. 

But I was also looking at the harm that it does to children who have free access today to these tube sites. 

In just a couple clicks they could be on Pornhub, they could be on XVideos or XHamster--watching the real sexual abuse of other individuals.

So I was looking at this and anyone who is investigating this issue will end up on Pornhub because as of December, it was the largest, most popular porn site in the world. In 2020 they had

  • 130 million visits to the site per day
  • 47 billion visits per year.
  • Enough content uploaded to this one site that it would take 169 years to watch the content uploaded in just one year (2019).

Needless to say I ended up on Pornhub and during my investigation, I discovered that all it took to upload a hardcore sex act or a sex scene to these sites was an email address. 

In under ten minutes, anyone from around the world could upload a video, anonymously, without showing ID to verify that there’s not a child in the video, without showing a consent form to say that this is not a rape victim or image-based abuse victim or a trafficking victim, none of that. Just an email address. 

This is something that millions of people would already know. But no one had ever sounded the alarm about it before. So I started connecting the dots between some articles in the media that were showing real child abuse.

For example, there was a 15 year old girl in Florida who was in the media in 2019. She was missing for an entire year and she was found when 58 videos of her rape and abuse were found on Pornhub. And they actually matched surveillance video of her trafficker from a 7-11 camera to the Pornhub videos.

So I started using the hashtag #Traffickinghub to say this is not a porn site, this is a crime scene. 

This is not a porn site, this is a crime scene. -Laila Mickelwait

And people started to catch on. Then I wrote an op-ed about this issue that got published with a lot of reaction from people. And people actually called on me to start a petition. It wasn’t my idea. And I copied and pasted my op-ed, it went viral and that’s kind of how all of this started.

KRISTEN: That’s great. Sometimes it just takes the right person to put the things together and make the connection and get it out there and people can see. I know the followers of Defend Young Minds really care about this issue.

Why porn tube sites are especially dangerous

KRISTEN: Why are porn tube sites of particular concern? I know you mentioned only needing an email address to upload content. What other issues are there with these tube sites? Because back in the day you had to purchase pornography--the hard core stuff. You had to buy or rent the videos with an ID. And now there are these tube sites. Can you share why these tube sites are so dangerous for children?

LAILA: First, I want to explain what a porn tube site is. It basically uses a YouTube model that features user-generated content. That means that you don’t need to be a porn-production studio in L.A. to make porn today. You just need to have an iPhone. You just need to have a camera--which anybody in the world could have. And you could record a sex act in the back of a car, in a hotel room, in your house, in the park--anywhere. And then, like I mentioned before, anonymously and almost instantaneously upload this to the world’s most popular porn sites. And then those videos are offered for free to the world. 

When we think about children’s access, there’s no barrier to children ending up on the homepage of XVideos, the home page of Pornhub or XHamster. 

There was recently a peer-reviewed study done that found that a significant portion of the videos that are on the home page of these porn tube sites are showing sex acts that are non-consensual or criminal sex acts, or representing criminal or non-consensual sex acts. And there’s no barrier for children. 

So this is the model of these sites and they make money. They make hundreds of millions of dollars per year on this content. But they offer it for free. And it’s a model that is based on advertising revenue. So the more content they have, the more Google searches they’ll show up in, the more traffic that is driven to the site, the more money they will make on advertising.

They also harvest user data and monetize that. Which when you think of the millions and millions of people who are visiting these sites everyday, including children, and that user data is being monetized. And they’re selling premium subscriptions as well. So that’s how they make money off of free content.

How porn tube sites make their money

  1. Advertising
  2. User data
  3. Premium subscriptions
And it’s very dangerous for kids, because there are no barriers to access unless a parent is very, very diligent. And a lot of parents just don't know. And then there’s lots of situations where even if you’re the most caring parent in the world, your child is not in your care 24/7. And that’s the reality.

KRISTEN: Which is why we always talk about the internal filter and teaching kids why they need to reject pornography and how.

So this is an entirely different business model and it’s one that’s especially dangerous for children, because as you said, there are no barriers for them to get on.

Abuse in front of and behind the screen

KRISTEN: There have been some figures about how many kids are on Pornhub and it’s astonishing really.

LAILA: Just in my research, I’ve come across comments that say “Like this comment if you’re under 18.” “Like this comment if you’re under 16.” And there’d be hundreds of likes on that comment on Pornhub. There’s a significant number of under 18 users of these sites. And they’re being used and abused, not only in front of the screen, but behind the screen as well. 

In front of the screen because I call this a form of second-hand sexual abuse, for a child to be exposed to a rape, for example as their introduction to sex when they’re 8, 9, 10, 11 years old. But also there’s children who are being abused behind the screens. Those are the ones being used in the films and abused there. So there’s abuse happening on both sides.

KRISTEN: Right. I was just talking with a grandmother who let her 9 year old granddaughter have access to an unprotected iPad and she was looking at pornography. Kids of all ages are curious, so it’s important to train them up early to know what it is, know why it’s harmful and know how to reject it.

The victims in front of the screen

KRISTEN: What are the effects on the children who are viewing this material?

LAILA: I’ve had a number of instances--especially over the last year and a half during the time this Traffickinghub movement has really taken off--where distraught parents have contacted me  saying my 8 year old, my 10 year old, my 11 year old stumbled upon or intentionally accessed these sites--maybe their friends are talking about porn at school and they put porn in the Google search when they’re alone in their room and they ended up on Pornhub. And these thumbnails play without you even pressing on them, so you can have rows and rows of thumbnails of pornography that will autoplay so a child only has to end up there for a few seconds and then they’re exposed to the content.

Some parents told me their son stumbled upon Pornhub and he thought he watched a real rape. It’s possible he did watch a real rape because of what we know about Pornhub. And they say he was traumatized and he hasn’t been the same since it happened, he’s had to be in therapy, his personality has changed. It was a real trauma in the life of this boy. 

Another distraught father messaged me saying that his son had been exposed to Pornhub at a young age--somewhere between 8 and 11. And then decided to act out what he was seeing on his siblings--his younger sister. And now the whole family--all the siblings--are now in therapy because of the sexual abuse that was a result of this child being exposed to Pornhub and then copying what he saw.

Related: Sexual Assault Expert Warns of Heartbreaking Trend Among Children

These are just anecdotes--it’s common for parents to reach out to me with these kinds of stories. But it’s not just anecdotes. We know from stories that porn access for under 18s and adolescents is ubiquitous today. It’s easy to access and it’s a real threat to the health and safety of our children.

KRISTEN: You mentioned the child-on-child harmful sexual behavior. We talk a lot about that at Defend Young Minds and how children are imitative. That’s just how they’re wired. So it’s not unthinkable that they would view something and then copy it. We see that with our own kids.

LAILA: Yes! I have a young daughter and she thinks she’s Moana much of the time. She really believes it and acts it out, and sings the songs and just copies what she sees. And that’s just part of childhood I think.

KRISTEN: Yes. And it’s great when they’re seeing healthy behaviors. That’s how they grow up and become a healthy adult. But when they’re seeing these really terrible, unhealthy behaviors it has the opposite effect.

In some states they consider pornography and exposure to pornography for children as non-touch sexual abuse. I also believe that.

Related: Child on Child Harmful Sexual Behavior Part 1: A 3-Step Path to Prepare Parents

The victims behind the screen

KRISTEN: These videos that are being made of children--where they’re really being raped because a child cannot give consent, they just are not old enough and don’t have the wherewithal to give consent to this kind of act. Because they cannot imagine the fallout--how this is going to play out for the rest of their lives. 

So how do these child survivors deal with this? How are they affected and how can they ever escape the abuse when it’s put online?

LAILA: One thing I do want to mention is that, yes, in many cases this is a situation where a child has been raped and then that crime scene is recorded and uploaded to the world’s most popular porn sites, like Pornhub. 

In other cases, these are teens and tweens who are pressured at school. And this is important for your audience to understand because it could happen to any child in today’s digital age. Where there is so much pressure to be sexting and to be sending sexual content between a young teenage boyfriend and girlfriend where he says “If you love me, please send me a video.” And the girl (or boy) will feel pressured to do it. And then this content gets out of their control. The person they sent it to may upload it to a site like Pornhub freely and easily. Or they could send it to their peers and then that gets out of hand and one of them could upload it to Pornhub. And sometimes even the real name of that child will be attached to that video. And the school. And the hometown of that child. All this would be attached to that video.

I came across a situation like this just months ago. There was an underage 15 year old girl, a victim of CSAM (child sexual abuse material). And her name was attached. Her hometown, her city. 

And the problem was that content could then get replicated and duplicated. As of December, Pornhub had a download button on every video on the site where any one of those 130 million viewers per day could find that child’s abuse, download it to their device and upload it again and again and again...forever. So once it gets out there it’s almost impossible to get offline--because it gets replicated and duplicated and re-uploaded again and again. 

And what happens to these survivors is they become severely traumatized, not only by the incident of abuse, but then by the ‘immortalization’ of their trauma. They say, “I can never overcome this because I’m in constant terror and fear that this is going to be uploaded again and again.” And it is--uploaded again and again and again. It’s like they can never escape it. 

And in the case where they’re doxed--where their name’s attached--this has implications even in adulthood. They can’t get a job because their name is attached to these videos. 

The impact on victims--on the whole spectrum of abuse all the way from blatant rape to sending an under-age sexting video that gets out of hand--is very severe and can be life-threatening for these kids who often become suicidal.

KRISTEN: Right. Back when I was a kid if I made a mistake, it didn’t follow me my whole life. But unfortunately when kids make a mistake with sexual material and they may not have made the best choice, it could follow them the rest of their lives. And we need to do something about that because that’s just not right.

LAILA: I also want to point out that it’s not even just that child themselves who made the wrong choice--and I agree that it is a wrong choice--but I also want to point out that the person on the receiving end of that made a horrible choice. They made a criminal choice to upload that content online or to non-consensually share that material.

So I think we need to be educating all children that if they get this material and upload it and it’s underage--THAT’S A CRIME! It’s very serious. They need to understand the implications of what they’re doing on both sides.

KRISTEN: Yes. Definitely. I think so many kids do not understand that it's criminal, so we need to educate them and let them know what the ramifications are. Because kids are just impulsive and they do things. But it’s really good to show them that everybody has a digital footprint. And sharing underage sexual material, pornography, is a felony. It’s a felony!

LAILA: And not only that, like you said, it’s so important for them to understand the personal implications it can have on the person that’s victimized. That this is not a light thing, this can affect them for the rest of their lives. It can cause depression--debilitating, crippling trauma and depression for these victims. And that is SO serious. So there needs to be more education and conversation around the implications of doing this. 

The impact of Traffickinghub

KRISTEN: What has been the effect of this petition that you started--the Traffickinghub petition? What has been the effect and the fallout and the success of it?

LAILA: Like I said, after I wrote that op-ed I copied and pasted it into a petition that went viral. So now we have 2.2 million signatures from 192 countries. And we’ve had over 300 organizations endorse this effort, but over 600 organizations have joined together at various times for joint efforts

For example

  • Calling on the Canadian government to pursue criminal investigations and prosecutions of Pornhub and Mindgeek, as well as the same kind of letter going out here in the U.S. 
  • Protests on an ongoing basis outside the Mindgeek headquarters in different places around the world--Montreal, LA, and London especially. 
  • Videos. There’s a short, animated video that was released last summer that ended up getting 33 million views within one week after it was released.

KRISTEN: Wow!


LAILA: There’s definitely a viral nature to this. I think people are shocked and horrified to find out the truth about Pornhub, who has spent so much effort presenting themselves to the world as some mainstream, kind of cute porn company. They do things like save the bees and they save the pandas and they save the oceans and they donate masks for coronavirus to hospitals and they try to get all this press. 

But right beneath the surface they’re infested with videos of real, criminal content that they are profiting from. 

So I think that was shocking and horrifying to people. 

All of this ended up clearly getting the attention of the New York Times and Nicolas Kristoff, who’s a two time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, who did his own investigation. And he published The Children of Pornhub. If you haven’t read The Children of Pornhub, go read it and read these stories of children who have been caught up in this.

And then shortly after that the pressure was on. There were 4000 media articles that followed his article and then Visa, Mastercard, and Discover all cut ties with Pornhub and its parent company, Mindgeek and now they can only take cryptocurrency. Then Grant Thornton and Comcast and Xfinity and Heinz and Unilever and Paypal have all cut ties with the site. 

They are now under investigation in Canada. There was a preliminary investigation. The secret shareholders of the company have been exposed, who were hiding for years. Nobody even knew who they were. Imagine that! It would be like Mark Zuckerberg running Facebook and nobody even knew who he was.

So they’re being fully exposed. They’re being held accountable. There’s  been 6 lawsuits filed against them on behalf of 97 women. Three of them are class actions on behalf of trafficked children. So they are under fire. And they are in trouble. 

Why Traffickinghub wants to shut it down

LAILA: But the job is not done yet.

KRISTEN: Shut.it.down!

LAILA: Shut it down is the motto of Traffickinghub--we’re trying to shut it down. We’re trying to shut down the site because really, any other action is an injustice to victims. 

A slap on the wrist for Pornhub is a slap in the face to the victims whose lives have been destroyed by this predatory company. Laila Mickelwait

So we need to see the real, full weight of justice--that means 

  • Criminal prosecutions
  • Restitution for victims and 
  • Laws implemented that would stop this from happening in the future. 

And I think that’s what justice looks like.

KRISTEN: Yes. Well I can’t even imagine what it would feel like if my daughter or my son were victimized like this. And I am just so grateful for the work that you’ve done and the bold voice that you’ve been to get this going. It was high time for this and it was the moment and you really have changed the world, Laila! And I know it was a lot of people, but you were the spark, I think, in so many ways.

LAILA: I appreciate that and I just recognize fully that I am standing on the shoulders of so many who have been pioneering in this area for so long trying to protect children--in front of the screen and behind it. Like you and others in the movement. And so I’m just so grateful for the work that you’ve steadily been doing for so long and I encourage people to keep supporting that work because it’s so important.

KRISTEN: Well we need to do it on all sides. We try to provide tools and resources for parents to help install that internal filter for children, but there has to be these movements to hold these companies accountable.

How you can be a part of the Traffickinghub movement

KRISTEN: What can parents do to help your movement? Where can they find more information about what you’re doing and updates? How can they stay in touch?

LAILA: First of all, if you haven’t signed this petition, go to traffickhubpetition.com, sign the petition, share it in your social networks and with your friends and community. And just the petition itself is a really good awareness tool, because many people don’t realize what’s going on.

Also share the media article I mentioned, the video I mentioned as well. And if you want to contribute financially to my work it's at justicedefensefund.org. You can go there and donate if you want to.

But really, calling up your politicians and raising the alarm about this to them--because they work for you and one of the most important things that we can do is change the laws and just stop this! We need to hold this company accountable--we need to do that because they are the biggest and when we hold the biggest accountable it has repercussions on everyone else. 

5 things you can do to support the Traffickinghub movement

  1. Sign and share the petition
  2. Read and share The Children of Pornhub
  3. Watch and share the video Pornhub Exposed as Traffickinghub
  4. Contribute to Justice Defense Fund
  5. Contact your representatives to sound the alarm.

We need to set a precedent, but we also need to implement laws on a government level and policies on the corporate level to stop the abuse from going forward

I want to see mandatory regulations that would require age and consent verification for every person in every single video that’s uploaded to a porn site. That would go a long way to stop this abuse from continuing in the future.

Related: Help Shut Down Pornhub with 3 Easy Actions

KRISTEN: Yes. We need to really watch out and defend our children from people who really just want to make money and they don’t care about the lives that they’re destroying. Thank you so much, LAILA, for being here with me and for being such a hero and really moving this work forward.


Laila Mickelwait is the Founder and CEO of the Justice Defense Fund and the Founder of the global Traffickinghub movement supported by millions around the world. She has been combating the injustice of sex trafficking for over a decade and is a leading expert in the field.

In addition, Laila is guiding the development of a safe home and women’s empowerment program for vulnerable young women aging out of the orphanage system in Haiti through New Reality International, an organization she founded in 2007 that holds special consultative status with the United Nations.

The #Traffickinghub movement that Laila continues to lead, is a decentralized global effort to hold Pornhub, the 10th most visited website in the world, and the largest pornography website in the world, accountable for enabling and profiting from the sex trafficking and criminal sexual exploitation of countless victims. The Traffickinghub petition has been signed by over 2.2 million people from 192 countries. The effort is endorsed by over 300 organizations and the impact of the movement has been covered in thousands of media pieces globally.

Laila received her Master of Public Diplomacy degree from the Annenberg School of Communications and the Dornsife School of International Relations at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State.

During her previous roles with the organization Exodus Cry, Laila has presented at conferences, universities, corporate events and has advocated for legislative reform at the United Nations, and to lawmakers in numerous countries, including Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, France, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Her work has been featured in hundreds of news articles around the globe, in outlets such as The New York Times, The New York Post, BBC News, CNN, Bloomberg, Reuters, AP, CNBC, Fox News, The Washington Post, The Washington Examiner, The Guardian, and many others.



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