There is nothing ethical about profiting from sexual exploitation

The only way of fixing the porn industry is to divest from it.

As a front-line worker at a rape crisis centre, I frequently speak to women who have been harmed by pornography’s ubiquity and infringement into their lives, writes McBride [Ethan Miller/Getty Images via AFP]

On March 16, Ethical Capital Partners (ECP), a Canadian private equity firm, announced that it purchased MindGeek, the company that owns a number of pornography websites, including PornHub. Their press release stated that Ethical Capital Partners was formed in 2022 and that the terms of its acquisition of MindGeek are “private and are not being publicly disclosed”.

So, who are ECP and what do they want with MindGeek?

ECP boasts an advisory board of all women, whose subject matter expertise ranges from legal and financial compliance to sexuality, and women’s wellbeing. They describe MindGeek as a “dynamic tech company” and innovator that holds the values of community and freedom of expression, with a track record as a “world-class leader in trust and safety”.

This is the same MindGeek that has been embroiled in multiple lawsuits regarding their decision to host and profit from sexually explicit videos of children in the case of Serena Fleites or content that was produced using coercive tactics as in the case of the victims in GirlsDoPorn.

Solomon Friedman, ECP partner and vice president of Compliance, told Reuters, “We realised that an opportunity to correct misconceptions is really at the heart of what this business needs.”

If one is interested in correcting misconceptions, consider the misconception that pornography is a value-adding industry that celebrates creative and sexual expression.

As a front-line worker at a rape crisis centre, I frequently speak to women who have been harmed by pornography’s ubiquity and infringement into their lives.

Women call us seeking support and advice after experiencing pornography-related male violence which, much like rape, battery or sexual harassment, leaves them feeling betrayed and alone.

Most commonly, their male partner films their consensual sexual encounter, sometimes surreptitiously. He then posts (or threatens to post) it online to platforms such as PornHub, to coerce the woman into staying in the relationship or conversely, to punish her for leaving. Such a video being posted on the internet (and often remaining there permanently) can have a devastating impact on the lives, livelihoods and social relationships of the targeted women.

Other times, women are pressured into sexual acts by a male partner that she feels are degrading but because he has seen it in pornography, he wants to try it out on her. Such unwanted sexual acts, performed with little regard for the woman’s bodily integrity, can leave her with physical injuries.

While ECP and MindGeek assure us that their state-of-the-art technology will prevent videos of children and content that is non-consensual in nature from being hosted on their platform, Pornhub, the industry itself is premised on power imbalances and sexual gratification derived from individual and structural inequities.

Reviewing the categories of videos that are available to consume on PornHub at this moment, users are presented with choices such as “Babysitter” and “School” (while declaring that they are 18+, performers act as proxies for children), as well as “Step fantasy” (a semi-sanitised stand in for incest). Videos promoting sexual encounters with youthful-looking women and bearing titles that describe a familial relationship are featured heavily among the most watched titles.

It is difficult to square the actual content hosted on PornHub with ECP’s declarations on the importance of their platform being a place of safety, inclusion and sex positivity.

This brings us to Friedman’s assertion to CBC that “this industry is too important. It is too important to the livelihood of many people.” At once, the rhetoric is stripped back and the motivating factor is revealed. The industry is certainly a lucrative one. In 2018, Pornhub’s revenue was approximately $460m. This of course was prior to major credit card companies withdrawing payment processing services in light of the claims outlined in the aforementioned legal actions.

So, what’s an embattled pornography empire to do? Enter reputation rehabilitation and Ethical Capital Partners.

ECP declared that they will speak with victim advocacy groups. Well, ECP, as someone who supports those victimised by pornography, I urge you to reconsider your investment in MindGeek, a company that reaps its profits from reinforcing the degradation of women and perpetuating racist tropes. If you truly wish to be ethical partners, you will divest yourself from profiting off the sexual exploitation of women and girls.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.