Pornhub protest draws leader of London Abused Women's Centre

Hundreds of protestors made their way to online pornography site Pornhub's headquarters in Montreal Sunday, including Megan Walker, the executive director of the London Abused Women's Centre. The protest coincided with International Women's Day.

Megan Walker attended a protest in Montreal Sunday, calling for Pornhub to be shut down

Four scantily clad women are seen on a large banner, against the Pornhub logo.
The headquarters for the online porn site PornHub say about 200 protesters gather outside their doors on Sunday, calling for changes to combat sex trafficking. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Hundreds of protestors made their way to online pornography site Pornhub's headquarters in Montreal Sunday, calling for the platform to be shut down and for the company to be held accountable for its alleged role in sex trafficking.

Among those in attendance was Megan Walker, the executive director of the London Abused Women's Centre, who joined about 200 others outside the offices of the website's parent company, MindGeek.

Sunday's demonstration was organized by Lalia Mickelwait, director of abolition at Exodus Cry, a group devoted to the abolition of sex work. The gathering coincided with International Women's Day.

Walker and Mickelwait agree that Pornhub's verification process isn't strong enough.

You only need to supply an email address to upload content, said Mickelwait, and you only have to send in a photo of yourself holding a paper with your username written on it to become a verified account, she added.

"They don't verify the age of consent of millions of people who are featured in hard-core sex acts on their website," she said.

One example Mickelwait highlighted is how a missing 15-year-old Florida girl was found a year after more than 50 videos of her being sexually abused appeared on Pornhub.

"Pornhub actually admitted on their official Twitter account that they had verified that 15-year-old girl," said Mickelwait. "They had later deleted the tweets when they realized they admitted complicity in her trafficking, but they were cached and available for anybody to see."

Mickelwait wants Pornhub to be shut down entirely, and is calling on other porn sites to reliably and effectively verify the age and consent of people in its videos. She also started an online petition against Pornhub that has garnered over 400,000 signatures.

"This is not an anti-pornography campaign, by any means. This is not a campaign to shut down all pornography," she said.

But for Walker, that's a world that she would one day like to see.

Should online pornography be abolished?

"I don't believe there is any woman that would willingly expose herself to today's pornography, which is very brutal," said Walker.

"I want the government to indicate that there's no difference between trafficking, prostitution and pornography. They're all one and the same."

That's an idea that Taylor Kohut, a research associate in the Department of Psychology at Western University, calls "profoundly ridiculous."

Kohut studied how pornography influences the way people feel, think and behave for more than a decade.

"I don't think porn is inherently evil or exploitive or dehumanizing or degrading. I don't think it must contribute to anti-woman attitudes and acts," he explained.

"If the real goal is to reduce trafficking of women and children, I think focusing on pornography is rather naïve and misguided and erotophobic … There are definitely alternative ways to get at the issue."

Though his own research doesn't reveal a connection between porn use and anti-woman outcomes, Kohut said some correlations have been reported by others. 

"The field lacks methodological rigour and there are clear political influences that have likely contributed to a degree of confirmation bias, on all sides," he explained. 

"Putting it all together, there is no clear evidence that pornography causes negative attitudes toward women or sexual violence. And my personal interpretation of the available evidence is that it does not." 

He suggests the solution to outlaw or extremely censor pornography would be unrealistic and a "tremendous loss."

He compares Pornhub's struggle to the one Facebook has with disseminating false information.

"How do you control and regulate that when your customers are essentially building your content? It's a difficult and technical social challenge."

And he agrees it should be addressed.

"I think there's a lot of value in the production, dissemination and consumption of sexual imagery," said Kohut. "The more we censor it, the worse off we are. We're holding ourselves back from one of the most beautiful aspects of being human."