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Credit card companies cut ties with porn company in wake of lawsuit

Visa, MasterCard make changes after Visa is accused of helping to monetize child pornography

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FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2009 file picture stickers on a window show which credit cards are valid in a shop in Frankfurt, central Germany. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

Michael Probst, AP

Visa and MasterCard announced Thursday that they will no longer allow their cards to be used to pay for ads on pornography websites hosted by MindGeek, which includes Pornhub. 

This decision comes after a federal judge said last week that a case could continue against Visa and Pornhub for their profiting off videos portraying child pornography, rejecting a motion for dismissal

Serena Fleites, the plaintiff in the case, sued MindGeek and Visa after her attempts to get Pornhub to remove an explicit video made of her when she was 13 years old, which her ex-boyfriend then uploaded to the website. Fleites said MindGeek was slow to remove the video even after she contacted them with proof that it contained child pornography. In that time, the video proliferated. 

Fleites later attempted suicide and developed a drug addiction, according to her complaint

In his decision, Judge Cormac Carney said the case was “simple.” 

“Visa made the decision to continue to recognize MindGeek as a merchant, despite its alleged knowledge that MindGeek monetized child porn,” he wrote

Despite the good news, Dawn Hawkins, CEO of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, said Visa and MasterCard still have work to do before her group will claim victory. 

“The reality is that both of them are still processing payments for other sites where users can upload content,” she said. 

The larger problem is that there are still no laws on the books requiring companies like Pornhub to get meaningful consent from potential victims before a video is posted, or a way for victims to hold businesses accountable if they are exploited, Hawkins said. 

MindGeek told The Washington Post it had “zero tolerance for the posting of illegal content on its platforms.”

Visa released a statement Thursday saying that it disagreed with the judge’s decision to allow the case to continue, but that it also condemns “sex trafficking, sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse.”

“It is illegal, and Visa does not permit the use of our network for illegal activity,” the statement continues. “Our rules explicitly and unequivocally prohibit the use of our products to pay for content that depicts nonconsensual sexual behavior or child sexual abuse.” 

In a statement to the Deseret News, a MasterCard spokesman said the company has “zero tolerance for illegal activity on our network.”

“We work closely with law enforcement and organizations like the National and International Center for Missing and Exploited Children to monitor, detect and prevent illegal transactions,” he said. “Beyond our own monitoring, when we receive referrals or allegations, we investigate the claims. If the claims are substantiated, we take immediate action.” 

Hawkins said Visa and other credit card companies have not yet successfully stopped the use of their cards on pornography websites alleged to contain nonconsensual content. In a statement, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation called on Visa to cut ties with Pornhub’s competitors, who face allegations that they also allow users to upload videos of child sexual abuse and of individuals who have been filmed without their consent. 

Visa, MasterCard and other financial services firms may continue to make decisions to cut ties with businesses like MindGeek voluntarily, especially as the spotlight on their involvement with the porn industry grows. 

Fleites’ case against Visa was highlighted last weekend by billionaire Bill Ackman, who said on CNBC that he was willing to fund lawsuits against Visa, saying his interest in the case comes from “having four daughters.” 

Victims of sex trafficking have also filed lawsuits against technology companies like Twitter, who they say haven’t done enough to rid their platforms of images depicting child sexual abuse and nonconsenual pornography. 

Hawkins said her group will continue to file lawsuits to try to protect children who have been exploited online. 

“The pornography industry, child sexual abuse, sex trafficking, all merged online. They aren’t separate industries,” she said. “Many people think pornography is harmless, but this shows it is not harmless.”