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New proposed legislation could be the end of internet porn

SISEA is back.

 

Claire Goforth

IRL

Published May 28, 2021   Updated Jun 1, 2021, 9:57 am CDT

Internet pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry that many rely on to feed their families, supplement their income, and, yes, to get turned on. A proposed bill could be the end of internet porn, critics say.

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The Stopping Internet Sexual Exploitation Act (SISEA) has been filed by a member of Canada’s Parliament. SISEA is a near-mirror image of legislation proposed by a member of Congress earlier this year. The bills even share the same name.

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Just like the United States’ version, Canada’s SISEA claims it has the admirable aim of ending revenge and child porn. Also similar is the fact that both pieces of legislation are written so broadly that they could have the arguably unintended effect of shuttering sites like Pornhub and OnlyFans, and making it difficult to impossible for many sex workers to make a living.

Many say that’s the point, and why a U.S. religious organization is behind it. While the bill is Canadian, it has the potential of affecting sex workers and porn companies the world over.

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SISEA requires companies that host porn for commercial purposes to obtain written affirmation from the person uploading it that all participants were of legal age when the porn was made and consented to being filmed/pictured and have not withdrawn that consent. Those making the porn are required to obtain proof of legal age from all participants, as well as their written consent to be depicted.

To put these requirements in perspective, in its 2019 annual report, Pornhub alone reported that 6.8 million videos were uploaded that year. To comply with this legislation, it would’ve had to obtain and theoretically inspect 6.8 million pieces of paperwork, the costs of which would be significant.

It’s also true that the written consent and ID requirements can reveal the identities of sex workers who may prefer anonymity for legitimate safety reasons or to avoid criminal prosecution.

“Consent matters. If a website is going to profit from making or publishing pornographic content, [SISEA] ensures they must verify the age and consent of every individual in every video,” bill sponsor Member of Parliament Arnold Veirsen, who belongs to the Conservative Party of Canada, said in a release.

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Anyone who violates Canada’s SISEA would be subject to heavy fines and possible incarceration. For failing to obtain written consent to distribute the porn, companies can be fined up to $20,000 (Canadian dollars) for a first offense; $100,000 for the second; and $200,000 for the third. For individuals, the fines are $5,000, $10,000, and $20,000, respectively.

For failing to confirm all participants are adults and obtaining their written consent to be filmed, companies can be fined $10,000, $50,000, and $100,000 for first, second, and third offenses, respectively. Individuals can be fined $1,000; $5,000; and $10,000, respectively.

People who don’t comply with a court order can also be incarcerated for up to two years under this legislation.

The law does allow a relatively narrow defense if the person or company examined government-issued identification demonstrating that the person depicted is an adult, and had a reasonable belief it was authentic. It would be up to the fact finder to determine what exactly constitutes a “reasonable” belief.

While the U.S. version included additional arduous requirements—requiring companies to upload consent forms, which could lead to doxing; and demanding they maintain 24-hour hotlines for complaints—the Canadian bill’s requirements are also broad enough to shutter much of the online porn industry. Although it’s also possible that the porn would simply move to either the dark web or countries with far fewer protections against child and revenge porn, as well as porn depicting violence and rape.

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Currently, the onus for posting revenge or child porn is on the person who uploads it, not the company hosting it, unless it has reason to know that the content is unlawful. By shifting some of the burden to the companies themselves and adding heavy fines and criminal penalties for violations, critics say that SISEA could quickly put companies out of business by adding insurmountable costs to operate and subjecting them to heavy fines.

As evidence that its true aim is to get rid of internet porn, many also point to the fact that one of the bill’s key proponents in both countries is Exodus Cry, a U.S. based religious group. Exodus Cry spokesperson Laila Mickelwait has made no secret of her goal to take down Pornhub specifically. Last year, she started a petition to shut down the pornography giant.

While Mickelwait and those who support SISEA claim that it’s solely targeting bad actors, and that those who obey the rules will have no fear of legal ramifications, others believe their true aim is to get rid of all porn. They point to Exodus Cry’s own statements and those of its founder and CEO Benjamin Nolot as proof.

While much of Exodus Cry’s rhetoric is now focused on non-consensual and otherwise exploitative acts, its website openly states that it seeks to “end the sex industry.”

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From the “Changing Laws” page on Exodus Cry’s website. Exodus Cry

The site also brags that the organization has advised governments and legislators in 13 countries.

Sex workers and others point out that criminalizing and penalizing prostitution and pornography often hurts more than it helps. They argue that, rather than protecting victims, SISEA will simply move the offending content to places online where it’s harder to police. It will also likely make harder for sex workers to make a living, they say, which can have a disproportionate impact on marginalized groups, such as transgender people, for whom online sex work is often a far safer alternative.

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The anti-prostitution and anti-porn stances aren’t the only overtly religious elements of Exodus Cry’s footprint. Last year, actress Melissa McCarthy apologized and then withdrew a donation to the organization after reports surfaced of the founder and CEO Nolot’s anti-LGBTQ and -abortion statements.

E! reports that in a since-deleted 2013 tweet, Nolot called same-sex marriage “an unspeakable offense to God.” That year, he also tweeted that abortion is “the modern-day holocaust.” Nolot has since expressed regret over his anti-LGBTQ statements. The organization has said that he was speaking for himself, not Exodus Cry, regarding abortion, E! reported.

Last year, Motherboard reported that Exodus Cry once required prospective leaders to sign covenants agreeing that “heterosexual sex outside marriage” is sinful and answering questions about whether they’ve ever had homosexual thoughts. Mickelwait reportedly called the allegation “libelous,” then later conceded the document’s authenticity, but said a volunteer had borrowed it from another organization and inadvertently included the purity covenant and anti-homosexuality language. Exodus Cry claims that it is entirely inclusive, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

No one denies that the porn industry has pervasive issues with child porn, rape videos, revenge porn, and human trafficking—all of which are already illegal in most countries. But, as one Twitter user points out, the vast majority of complaints about child porn aren’t about porn sites—they’re about Facebook and Google. Many believe this further calls SISEA’s true aim into question, as it targets those who make and distribute content “for commercial purposes,” i.e. porn sites.

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“The only explanation as to why they would go after [Pornhub parent company] MindGeek with such zeal is because they have bought into the religiously-inspired Exodus Cry campaign, which was ‘secular-washed’ by Nicholas Kristof back in December,” said writer Gustavo Turner.

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*First Published: May 28, 2021, 3:00 pm CDT