More than 30 women sued Pornhub on Thursday, accusing it of violating federal sex trafficking laws, distributing child pornography, racketeering and other crimes.
The suit alleges that Pornhub's parent company, MindGeek — and its constellation of porn brands — is a criminal enterprise that purchases, launders and uploads illegal content often obtained through human trafficking and sexual assault.
The women say in their suit that MindGeek used nonconsensual content to "become the dominant online pornography company in the world."
The women were victims of sexual exploitation, rape and trafficking, and they were "victimized first by their original abuser, and then repeatedly by the defendants in this case," the suit alleges.
Serena Fleites and more than 30 Jane Does allege in the suit that they were victimized by unauthorized videos uploaded and disseminated by Pornhub.
Pornhub denied the allegations, calling them absurd and reckless.
"Pornhub has zero tolerance for illegal content and investigates any complaint or allegation made about content on our platforms," it said in a statement. "The allegations in today's complaint that Pornhub is a criminal enterprise that traffics women and is run like 'The Sopranos' are utterly absurd, completely reckless and categorically false."
It said its website has "the most comprehensive safeguards in user-generated platform history, which include the banning of uploads from unverified users, expanding our moderation processes, and cooperating with dozens of non-profit organizations around the world."
Fleites testified before Canada's House of Commons this year about her experience.
"I'm one of the people who ended up homeless, ended up dropping out of school, ended up on drugs, completely detached from my family. I ended up trying to kill myself many times. I ended up in mental hospitals," she said then.
Pornhub, facing bans by Visa and Mastercard, suspended all videos from nonverified users on the website in December, saying its requirement that all content be uploaded by verified users was a step "that platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter have yet to institute."
Mastercard's investigation resulted in a ban on processing payments for MindGeek. Visa, which is named as a defendant and is accused of knowingly profiting from the trafficking alleged in Thursday's suit, resumed processing some transactions.
A spokesperson for Visa said the company's suspension "of acceptance privileges for Pornhub and other MindGeek content sharing platforms" remains in effect pending the outcome of its investigation.
Visa said it would not comment on pending litigation.
"Visa does not tolerate the use of our network and products for illegal activity, and Visa rules explicitly and unequivocally prohibit content depicting non-consensual sexual behavior and child sexual abuse materials. We are vigilant in our efforts to deter illegal activity on our network, and we require banks who are members of the Visa network to review their merchants’ compliance with our standards," the company wrote.