A federal judge in California has denied Visa‘s motion to dismiss a lawsuit by a woman who says the credit card firm profited from a video of her being sexually abused as a 13-year-old in 2014.
U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney wrote Friday in his ruling that Serena Fleites “adequately pled” the credit card company “conspired” to profit from her abuse by processing advertising purchases on the adult website Pornhub.
That means Visa could bear financial liability “regardless of whether Visa knew of or interacted with Plaintiff or her primary traffickers,” Judge Carney wrote.
As proof of the company’s liability, the judge cited a December 2020 New York Times report on child pornography at Pornhub that led Visa and other finance companies to briefly cut ties with parent company MindGeek.
“Plaintiff adequately alleges that Visa knew that MindGeek’s websites were teeming with monetized child porn from its own due diligence and discussions and negotiations with MindGeek, PayPal’s decision to cease doing business with MindGeek, communications from advocates with which Visa interacted, and from the New York Times article,” Judge Carney wrote.
MindGeek did not respond to a request for comment.
In a statement emailed to The Washington Times on Wednesday, a Visa spokesman challenged the judge’s ruling.
“This pre-trial ruling is disappointing and mischaracterizes Visa‘s role and its policies and practices. Visa will not tolerate the use of our network for illegal activity. We continue to believe that Visa is an improper defendant in this case,” the statement read.
Ms. Fleites alleges in legal documents that her then-boyfriend posted the video of her — titled “13-Year Old Brunette Shows Off For the Camera” — without her knowledge or consent.
She says the video had 400,000 views by the time she discovered it, leading her to drop out of school and attempt suicide several times after peers “harassed and bullied” her.
Although MindGeek “seems to have acknowledged” the video as child pornography when Ms. Fleites contacted the company to remove it, the complaint says it took them “a few weeks” to do so.
By that point, the lawsuit says, the video had been “downloaded by users and reuploaded several times,” including one re-posting that got 2.7 million views.
When Ms. Fleites contacted MindGeek to remove the reposted video, the company told her to provide “photographic proof” that she was the child in it.
She is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.