In addition to spawning countless conspiracy theories, Jeffrey Epstein’s untimely death in a New York correctional facility in August 2019 tells us something true: while some people may have not wanted Epstein’s secrets to be revealed, still more did. And for that, we have a Netflix documentary released last month called Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich.

It’s 2020, and it would appear that the stars are aligning for advances against sex trafficking. The evergreen cause of child protection has combined with the #metoo movement’s noblest goals to produce what appears to be the greatest public awareness of and sentiment against sex trafficking in decades. The Netflix documentary shares the stories of Epstein’s young victims with people around the world. Now, there is a growing call for an even bigger trafficker of young women to be held accountable—that is, Mindgeek, the owner of Pornhub.

The world’s oldest exploitation meets the world’s most popular website

In February 2020, Laila Mickelwait started a petition to shut down Pornhub that has now received more than 1 million signers. Mickelwait, director of abolition of the anti-trafficking organization Exodus Cry, targeted Pornhub because of its established ties with trafficking. And with 115 million visits to the site each day, and 42 billion visits per year, Pornhub is a massive enterprise.

To recap my previous reporting on Pornhub’s connections with trafficking:

In June 2019, 22 women sued a group called Girls Do Porn for manipulating them in porn production that produced videos made available on Pornhub. In October 2019, the owners of Girls Do Porn were arrested and charged with counts of federal sex trafficking, and Pornhub removed the Girls Do Porn partner page from its site. The PR trouble for Pornhub was far from over. In the same month, a 15-year-old girl who had been missing for a year was found to have been abused and raped in 58 videos on Pornhub. According to a South Florida Sun-Sentinel report, abuse videos were also found on Pornhub’s sister site Modelhub, Snapchat, and Periscope among other various sites. The next month, PayPal stopped doing business with Pornhub.

“Anyone investigating sex trafficking in the porn industry will end up on Pornhub,” Mickelwait told me in a phone interview recently. “If you’re going into Pornhub with a critical eye, looking at it objectively, you’re going to find out what I found out—that Pornhub is set up for exploitation, and I believe there is a significant amount of trafficking, rape, and abuse on the site for profit.”

Mickelwait wanted to find out what kind of requirements are in place for someone to upload a video to Pornhub, so she did a test upload herself. What she learned was “all you need to upload content is an email address. There is no reliable system in place for verifying the people in the videos are not children being raped or women being trafficked and sexually abused. And what has been uncovered is that in many cases they actually are being exploited. There are numerous examples. The world’s most popular porn website is essentially set up to enable sex trafficking and then profit from it.”

In the United States, sex trafficking is defined as any commercial sex act done with force, fraud, or coercion, or any commercial sex act with a minor.

In an interview with the BBC in February 2020, Rose Kalemba described how at age 14 she was forced into a car at knifepoint and raped by men she knew who lived in her neighborhood. “They drove her to a house on the other side of town and raped her over a period of 12 hours, while a third man filmed parts of the assault,” the BBC reports. Months later classmates teased her upon seeing the video of her on Pornhub.

“The titles of the videos were ‘teen crying and getting slapped around,’ ‘teen getting destroyed,’, ‘passed out teen,’” Kalemba told the BBC. “One had over 400,000 views. The worst videos were the ones where I was passed out. Seeing myself being attacked where I wasn’t even conscious was the worst.”

Kalemba sent pleading emails to Pornhub. “I wrote, ‘Please, I’m a minor, this was assault, please take it down.’” After no reply, Kalemba says, “I felt nothing. Numb. I kept to myself.” It wasn’t until she later sent an email posing as a lawyer that Pornhub removed the videos.

“It feels like the whole world let her down,” Kalemba’s father told the BBC. “Her abuse, it was like it was a big joke to everyone. It changed her life completely, and people let her down every step of the way.”

Rape as entertainment

Dani Pinter, senior legal counsel of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) told me “I think it’s just a matter of time before Pornhub and really Mindgeek have to answer for what’s going on in their site.” Pinter noted that there aren’t even checkboxes attempting to verify the ages of the people in the videos or that it was taken consensually. “The site itself is rampant with child sex abuse material. We have so many women coming forward describing how the video is depicting their assault. I just spoke with a woman who said that her trafficker is posting her abuse on the site.”

“Pornhub is so exploitative I don’t think there is any hope for reform,” Pinter says.

In February, Mickelwait published the much-shared op-ed “Time to Shut Pornhub Down” in the Washington Examiner. Chatting with me, Mickelwait shared how she came to the all-or-nothing approach. “People are sometimes saying, ‘why shut down Pornhub? Why not just have them update their guidelines?’”

“The reality is people like Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein, when they’re trafficking and raping women and children—we put them in prison and shut them down. Anything less than that is a complete injustice to victims.” If Pornhub is not shut down, Mickelwait told me, “it’s saying to victims that the most traumatic moments of their life being exploited for profit and pleasure doesn’t matter that much. Well, it does matter that much, and it should be shut down.”

The Netflix documentary Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich shares the stories of girls as young as 14 who were lured into the billionaire’s residences. When the Palm Beach police department learned of numerous girls’ accounts of being invited to a man’s house and being assaulted, they compiled evidence, but many girls didn’t want to prosecute for fear of Epstein’s influence.

As Dr. Kathryn Stamoulis, an adolescent sexuality psychologist explains in the Netflix documentary, “When you’re pairing a teenage girl with a brilliant, narcissistic billionaire, their adolescent brain [of a victim] was not equipped to understand or react to what was happening.”

Girls were invited to Epstein’s house often by classmates, under the auspices of giving a man a massage for $200. After the doors were closed came the bait and switch. For girls who did not want to partake in the sexual acts Epstein pushed on them, he offered a way to stay in his good graces—by recruiting other girls to come to his house, they too could earn $200 for the recruit, in addition to the $200 their classmate would get for the “massage.”

Calling abuse abuse

When we hear stories like these, often our minds go into “how could this have been avoided” mode, which too often tiptoes into a mode of somewhat blaming the victim for taking whatever steps they did that preceded the abuse. When a bloodied Rose Kalemba walked home, she was blamed by some for taking an evening stroll. Doubtless some of Epstein’s victims were blamed for their naivety in going to his house, or their following his requests to recruit.

“The girls that are recruiting the other girls are definitely victims of Jeffrey Epstein,” Dr. Stamoulis explains in Filthy Rich. “They were manipulated in a unique way; they were made to feel special and they were also offered opportunities that could get them out of their life circumstances; and the added bonus is they didn’t need to do anything sexual with this middle-aged man. This is how Jeffrey Epstein created a sexual pyramid scheme.”

Law enforcement ultimately caught on to what was going on. When a former Epstein employee was interviewed by the West Palm Beach police department, he explained Epstein “has a lot of masseuses. He has a list of favorite female personnel to give him massages . . . so he gets massage in the morning, massage in the afternoon; they were very private, so I didn’t know what went on behind closed doors. But it was my job to keep everything discreet.”

After making their case to the prosecutor in their Southern District of Florida, the West Palm Beach police department and the victims who went on record, waited. Then, with no warning, in a legal maneuver that is still shrouded in secrecy, Epstein’s case was dropped by the state prosecutor, and he ended up being charged with one count of prostitution.

See what they did there?

Epstein’s conviction of one count of prostitution sounds a lot better than serially using force, fraud, or coercion to commit multiple acts of commercial sex with minors. The very charge suggests the women were soliciting Epstein in prostitution—that they were willing or even at-fault for the crime. But that reimagining of the crime, making out Epstein to be a man with a one-time moment of weakness, couldn’t be further from the truth, and Filthy Rich succeeded where it shared survivors’ voices to drown out these false portrayals.

One of Epstein’s victims was Michelle Licata, who was 16 at the time of her abuse.

“I felt so used, like I was just like this dirty person,” Licata shared in Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich. “Before Epstein . . . the way I saw myself a long time ago was like this flower, a flower that was like opening up. And afterwards, it was like somebody just picked up that flower, plucked it from its roots, and stomped on it and smashed it.”

Trafficked women are getting their #metoo moment

“The Epstein doc wasn’t perfect,” Pinter told me, noting that it didn’t blur out images of nude photos from Epstein’s home that could have been photos of minors; “but it did a lot of good things and one of those things was giving victims the opportunity to tell their story. And I think part of that story was kind of how predators operate—this pattern of targeting vulnerable women and then using systematic intimidation, blackmail, extortion, to perpetuate this abuse and keep them silent.”

“I think this model of the power imbalance is very typical of predation, and the one thing that wasn’t highlighted in the documentary is that not all predators are as high profile as Epstein,” Pinter says. “A lot of predators are average; they are neighbors in suburbia, but that same pattern is employed by them—targeting vulnerable people and exploiting their vulnerabilities.”

“I think some good awareness came on shining the light on some of the prosecutor’s mistakes that were made, and investigation on how that was handled, which was very positive. I’d like to see prosecutors be more willing to prosecute even without those guaranteed chances of success.” Pinter hopes this leads to reform.

While no person who has been sexually abused asks for it or likely ever wants to think about it again, more women are finding support in speaking out in numbers. The women who pursued civil suits with private lawyers in the Epstein documentary gave witness to a solidarity with the other women who showed up at the hearing, and their kinship in overcoming unfathomable pains was felt.

While it’s painful to know that Epstein narrowly escaped his day in court, the women who stepped forward to share their stories and prosecute Epstein ultimately led to his arrest and detention, which in a way is encouraging for those experiencing abuse at the hands of people less powerful than billionaires with high-profile connections. Epstein may have evaded earthly sentencing, but he was caught. His reputation has been destroyed, and his accomplices have scattered. A member of the British Royal family is under investigation.

For every high-profile, powerful person committing heinous crimes like Harvey Weinstein or Jeffrey Epstein, there are many more participating in the grassroots-level exploitation that is published on Pornhub. For every video of a woman appearing in pain or passed out, Mindgeek benefits monetarily, making it something of a master pimp benefiting from the exploitation of untold numbers of women.

These women are not alone, and Pinter reassures me these women have legal options. For women who have been exploited in videos published on Pornhub, Pinter advises, they can first try Pornhub’s content removal form. While they’ve shown themselves to be unlikely to remove the content, it’s at least worth a try. “If they’re a minor or if the abuse is depicted of a minor, they should go to law enforcement or to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cyber Tip Line,” Pinter says. “If it’s a revenge porn situation or video taken without their consent, they should contact an attorney—some states have laws now which prohibit the sharing of intimate videos without consent. There’s also civil recourse. They can reach out to us at NCOSE—we have a law center, we can happily help them—we have a network of attorneys that we work with that we can refer them to as well.”

NCOSE hosts a yearly summit with a coalition of experts from around the world to discuss what’s working in combating sexual exploitation in trafficking around the world. This year, the summit has been made available online for free between July 18-28, 2020. Among those speaking are service providers, attorneys, advocates, both local and national, NGOs, all coming together to brainstorm and learn from each other.

Two years ago, at the time of the NCOSE’s Summit in April 2018, Backpage.com was seized by the FBI for facilitating the sale of trafficked women and girls in the United States. Is Pornhub next?

Among the Traffickinghub petition signers are “people who love porn as well as those who hate it,” Micklewait says. It’s an anti-trafficking campaign she told me, not an anti-porn campaign. That’s why even those in the porn industry are supporting it. “It doesn’t matter if you like porn or don’t like porn,” Mickelwait told me. “The way porn is being created, distributed, and monetized by Pornhub is unethical and often outright criminal.”

“Nobody believes that it’s okay to profit from the rape and trafficking of women and children,” Mickelwait told me. “The only people who appear to believe that are those running Pornhub and Mindgeek.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Rose Kalemba was raped by strangers; however, Kalemba knew her attackers from her neighborhood. We regret the error.