Ontario woman initiates class action against Pornhub over video of alleged rape at age 12

An Ontario woman has initiated a $600 million class-action lawsuit against Mindgeek, the parent company of Pornhub, saying she was raped at about 12 years old and video of the rape was posted on the Montreal-based website.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Quebec court and is at the first stage -- seeking certification -- alleges the company has profited from child sexual abuse material and non-consensual sexual content since 2007.

The lead plaintiff remains anonymous, but her lawyer said it's been more than 10 years since her video was first uploaded to Pornhub. Court documents said she was sexually abused as a child.

She's ready now to be a catalyst for change, said lawyer Louis Sokolov, who is lead counsel on the potential class action.

"She wants to ensure that other people who have been hurt by this company, the way that she has, get compensated," he said.

"And she wants to help ensure that this doesn't happen to anyone else."

While the woman lives in Ontario, the class action would be open to anyone around the world, Sokolov said.

There was a good reason to file the case in Quebec, he said.

"This is a problem that was created in Montreal and continues to largely be carried out in Montreal," said Sokolov.

"We say the Quebec Court is the appropriate venue for all people who have been hurt by this conduct to seek redress."

The suit alleges that MindGeek illegally disseminated videos and pictures that included depictions of child sexual abuse, the sexual assault of adults, and intimate images of adults who did not consent to having them published.

It's the second class action launched within a month against Pornhub: on Dec. 16, a group of 40 women in California also launched an action over a partnership the company had with a video maker, alleging Pornhub should have known the video maker used fraud and coercion to get young women to appear on camera.

Both lawsuits come in the wake of a damning New York Times investigation that has already led to huge changes in how Pornhub operates. Among other things, it has stopped accepting videos by unverified, unidentified users, and it has also removed the bulk of its previous content from its site.

Pornhub hasn't responded to CTV's request for comment and it hasn't yet filed a defence in court. But in a statement from December, it said that the company has "zero tolerance for CSAM [Child Sexual Abuse Material]."

It said it "has instituted an industry-leading trust and safety policy to identify and eradicate illegal material from our community."

According to the claim filed in Quebec, Pornhub is one of the most-visited websites in the world, attracting $3.5 billion visits per month. Mindgeek employs as many as 1,000 people, it says.

Advocates have been calling for the site to be shut down for many years.

"I'm in contact with victims on pretty much a daily basis -- from child rape and trafficking victims, to women who've been drugged and are passed out and raped and assaulted," said Laila Mickelwait, the founder of Traffickinghub.com. 

"You know, these are crime scenes that this company is profiting from."

While the company has made serious changes in the last month, Sokolov claims it didn't take adequate steps to keep this material off its websites.

Filing for certification means requesting permission to launch the class action. Sokolov said he expects a decision by the end of this year.

Canadian leaders have also vowed to look at whether new legislation is needed for Pornhub and similar companies. The parliamentary ethics committee in Ottawa voted in December to call two of its executives to testify, a request that is legally binding if they're on Canadian soil.

The committee said at the time that the testimony should happen in late January or early February.

--With files from The Canadian Press

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