Courtroom events mark promising week for survivors of sex trafficking and non-consensual videos/images posted on the web
The results of the civil case against Visa and the criminal lawsuit against the operators of the GirlsDoPorn site shed hopeful light on liability and third-party liability.
—Carissa Phelps, Lawyer, Levin Papantonio Rafferty
PENSACOLA, FL, USA, August 5, 2022 /EINPresswire.com/ — The week culminating in World Anti-Trafficking in Persons Day began with two court victories, one in a civil case against Visa and the other in a criminal case against the operators of the GirlsDoPorn website. Both wins signal accountability for sex trafficking allegations, including allegations based on non-consensual internet video and imagery.
A federal judge ruled it was reasonable to conclude that the visa facilitated criminal activity
On Friday, July 29, Visa suffered a major setback as a defendant in a case (Fleites v. MindGeek) where the company is allegedly responsible for the distribution of child pornography by Pornhub. U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California denied Visa’s motion to dismiss the allegation that by processing payments for child pornography, the company violated California competition law unfair.
“In all areas, we are slowly lifting the veil of impunity,” said Carissa Phelps, attorney at Levin Papantonio Rafferty, a national law firm that represents survivors of human trafficking, including those who have suffered injuries as a result of Pornhub’s distribution of child pornography (CSAM). “Courts and prosecutors apply the law alike, finding that liability for sex trafficking and CSAM extends to third parties who support and benefit from these harmful acts,” Phelps said.
Phelps pointed out that for some businesses, their role in sex trafficking can be more than a passive third-party beneficiary, adding that intent to participate in or support a trafficking business for any reason can result in criminal liability.
“Profit,” Phelps said, “is one of the reasons we see companies and individuals looking the other way. The driving force behind companies and individuals that exploit human beings or re-exploit videos and images is usually one thing: money.
Trafficking does not exist in a vacuum. Traffickers need other businesses for help, such as payment networks. It was in this vein that Justice Carney wrote the following words:
“When MindGeek decides to monetize child pornography and Visa decides to continue to allow its payment network to be used for this purpose despite MindGeek’s knowledge of child pornography monetization, it is entirely foreseeable that victims of child pornography like the plaintiff will suffer the harms alleged by the plaintiff”.
Prosecutors accuse GirlsDoPorn operators of lies, fraud and coercion
On July 26, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California announced that adult website operator Matthew Isaac Wolfe pleaded guilty to conspiring to fraudulently coerce young women into appearing in sex videos on the GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys websites. Specifically, Wolfe, the fourth defendant to plead guilty in the case, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion, contrary to 18 USC § 1594.
Phelps believes these guilty pleas carry an important message for survivors of this and other sex trafficking cases seeking damages from these types of websites.
“Coercion and fraud is what’s important for future civil and criminal cases,” Phelps said. “The fact that they criminally prosecuted this case when they didn’t have women chained up and held in cages is significant because it shows that you might have chains in your mind that force you to do things with your body,” Phelps said. .
“Severe form of human trafficking” is the US legal term used to describe the criminal offense of a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or when the victim is a minor. According to Phelps, evidence is readily available when there is physical force or the victims are minors, whereas fraud and coercion can be difficult to demonstrate, as the means are less visible, but often more corrupt.
Yet in the GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys cases, Wolfe and the other defendants were prosecuted for lies, fraud, and coercion.
“Criminal prosecutions for fraud and coercion are important for civil cases because they illustrate that chains in a victim’s mind can coerce them into sexual acts. There are lies and threats that create trust with real fear. When this happens, victims are pressured to conform and will sadly suffer devastating consequences such as substance abuse, PTSD, other trauma, and even untimely death. said Phelps.
According to the Department of Justice (DOJ) press release, Wolfe filmed and uploaded videos, oversaw the company’s financial books, and handled the promotional aspects of the company. “Wolfe lied and preyed on vulnerable young women, subjecting them to years of relentless harassment, fear and mental anguish,” said Stacey Moy, special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Diego field office. , in the press release.
Wolfe told the women featured in the GirlsDoPorn videos that they would not be posted online or released in the United States, and that no one who knew the women would know about the videos, although they knew the videos were exclusively marketed and distributed on the Internet. He also knew that some women’s personal identifying information and social media accounts were posted on pornwikileaks.com, a site controlled by GirlsDoPorn owner Michael Pratt. The victims suffered severe harassment.
Phelps explained the consequences of videos appearing on adult websites of companies known to use threats, fraud, coercion or written fraudulent contracts when people are lied to and/or drunk. If the companies profiting from the businesses and schemes knew or should have known that the videos were created by force, fraud or coercion, or that the victims were minors, then they are liable to the victims and survivors who have been harmed in the process,” Phelps said. .
About Carissa Phelps
Carissa Phelps, author of Runaway Girl: Escaping Life On the Streets and survivor of sex trafficking is now an attorney at Levin Papantonio Rafferty and works with a lawsuit team The MindGeek-Pornhub (Case 7: 21-cv-00220-LSC) and other cases to eliminate all forms of human trafficking.