Photo credit: Nicholas Kristof
I have followed the journalist Nicholas Kristof for years. As someone working to eradicate gender-based violence and exploitation, his writing has always spoken to me.
His coverage of wartime sexual violence, human trafficking and other forms of gender-based violence inspired me to research these issues in different ways. In 2012, a good friend of mine (hi Katerina) put the book “Half the Sky” in my hands. This book, which Nicholas co-authored with his wife Cheryl WuDunn, became one of the most important reads of my life.
The pages of that book are still soaked with my tears and notes.
Half the Sky assisted me in my own grassroots research of gender-based violence and human trafficking, and even acted as a ‘map’ of sorts. I even traced Nicholas and Sheryl’s steps to Calcutta, India to find the alleyways that they were describing. These alleyways are where I met the amazing Urmi Basu and her team at New Light who work to end exploitation in the red light district of Kalighat.
That book was, in a way, a guiding light during my field work and study of violence against women from the frontline. From Italy, to Kenya, to India, to Nepal and back home to Canada, I sat and listened to the sobering stories of women, survivors and frontline workers working to end gender-based violence. And throughout many of those years, I carried the book Half the Sky with me wherever I went.
I am now saving the book for my daughter.
In 2013, I founded Aura Freedom International. Based in my hometown of Toronto, Aura Freedom works to end gender-based violence and exploitation through education, research, advocacy and survivor support. We are an intersectional, feminist organization and collaborate with many different grassroots organizations here in Toronto and beyond.
I cannot say enough about Nicholas’s work that not only uncovers injustice, but educates others on what they can do to be part of the change. As an investigative journalist, Nicholas is the real deal. And not because he’s won Pulitzer Prizes, but because I have been on the frontlines and I know what he writes to be true. To you Nicholas, I say thank you for the constant inspiration.
Last week, Nicholas did us all a great service.
Last week, Nicholas used his huge platform (the New York Times) to publish a story about rape videos and child exploitation being monetized on Pornhub. In my work, I have supported survivors who have had their images on Pornhub (among other sites) and I know how life shattering that experience was for them. One of the survivors I support ended up admitting herself to a mental health facility because her abuser still had images and video of her and was threatening to post them. Pornhub gets 3.5 billion visits a month, which is even more than Amazon. In Nicholas’s article, he calls upon Canadian leadership to look into this issue since Pornhub is Canadian-owned, calling on Justin Trudeau himself for action.
Here’s an excerpt of the article, which is also linked below.
Yet there’s another side of the company: Its site is infested with rape videos. It monetizes child rapes, revenge pornography, spy cam videos of women showering, racist and misogynist content, and footage of women being asphyxiated in plastic bags. A search for “girls under18” (no space) or “14yo” leads in each case to more than 100,000 videos. Most aren’t of children being assaulted, but too many are.
After a 15-year-old girl went missing in Florida, her mother found her on Pornhub — in 58 sex videos. Sexual assaults on a 14-year-old California girl were posted on Pornhub and were reported to the authorities not by the company but by a classmate who saw the videos. In each case, offenders were arrested for the assaults, but Pornhub escaped responsibility for sharing the videos and profiting from them.
Those working with Aura Freedom know that we are an organization that supports all women, including sex workers and those working in the pornography industry.
But, as Nicholas states in his article, this is not about pornography – this is about rape.
Rape videos of kids are being shown on Pornhub.
Unconscious women are being raped on Pornhub.
Revenge videos from abusers are being uploaded to Pornhub.
Folks are watching these videos and becoming desensitized to violence and rape. Moreover, youth are consuming this content and forming skewed perceptions of what consensual sex looks like. Anyone working to dismantle the patriarchal structures in place that allow gender-based violence to thrive knows that these videos directly contribute to violence, misogyny, rape culture and slut shaming.
Silencing the survivors who have been exploited on Pornhub does a disservice to all survivors.
Much like Aura Freedom, Nicholas Kristof has spoken out against the QAnon theories and other misperceptions of human trafficking circulating on social media and the damaging effect they have to survivors and those working with them. He is by no means a journalist who perpetuates moral panics and this is why his article has been received so well by so many.
So Nicholas, from so many of us working in the GBV sector, we thank you. Thank you for your courage, your honesty, and your humanity. We are so grateful.
Executive Director, Aura Freedom International
Link to Nicholas Kristof’s article – The Children of Pornhub:
Link to Globe & Mail article on the subject with comments by Aura Freedom: