Pornhub’s Parent Company Admits to Profiting From Sex Trafficking

The company that operates Pornhub and other adult websites acknowledged in federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday that it had profited for years from pornographic content that depicted sex trafficking victims, according to federal prosecutors.

Aylo Holdings S.A.R.L., Pornhub’s parent company, pleaded not guilty to a charge of engaging in unlawful monetary transactions involving sex trafficking proceeds. But through an agreement with prosecutors, the company agreed to pay damages to women who said they were forced to appear in pornographic videos that were then posted to the company’s websites without their consent.

The deal, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, requires the company to pay a fine of over $1.8 million and be assigned a monitor who will assess Aylo’s protocols for screening content and addressing reports of illegal content on its platforms. In return, it would allow the charge against Aylo to be dropped after three years.

Aylo, which was previously called MindGeek, operates several websites that allow third parties to post and distribute adult content, according to prosecutors. In 2009, Aylo began hosting pornographic videos created by the production companies GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys.

Between 2016 and 2019, prosecutors said, Aylo received numerous messages from women who said that they had been tricked into filming videos for GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys and that the videos had been published on without their consent.

Aylo was also aware of a 2017 lawsuit filed by victims of the companies, prosecutors said, and knew that a GirlsDoPorn videographer had testified that he lied to women to persuade them to appear in the videos. Nevertheless, the company continued to host the videos and profit from its partnership with the production companies, according to prosecutors.

In 2019, several of the operators of GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys were charged in California with sex trafficking and other offenses related to “deceiving and coercing” young women to appear in pornographic videos that were then posted online without their consent.

Aylo did not completely remove the videos from its platforms until late 2020, prosecutors said.

In a statement, Aylo said it “deeply regrets” having ever hosted any content produced by GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys.

“While the production company provided the platforms with written documentation that purported to be consent forms signed by women who were featured,” the statement said, the company now understands that those forms were obtained “through fraud and coercion.”

Solomon Friedman, a partner at Ethical Capital Partners, the Canadian private equity firm that acquired Aylo earlier this year, emphasized that Aylo had not admitted to any illegal activity and that his company was “committed to just outcomes” for anyone wronged by GirlsDoPorn’s actions.

“While we did not know that our partner at the time, GirlsDoPorn, was involved in unlawful activity, we later learned that they were and we regret that deeply,” he said on Thursday.

James Smith, the assistant director in charge of the F.B.I.’s New York field office, said in a statement that Aylo was “motivated by profit” when it “enriched itself by turning a blind eye to the concerns of victims who communicated to the company that they were deceived and coerced into participating in illicit sexual activity.”

Hundreds of people have been identified as victims of GirlsDoPorn’s sex trafficking operation, prosecutors said.

The agreement with prosecutors “holds the parent company of accountable for its role in hosting videos and accepting payments from criminal actors,” Breon Peace, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement. “This resolution will not only provide oversight over one of the largest online content distributors in the world and ensure the company’s lawful behavior, but it will also develop industrywide standards for safety and compliance.”

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