Serena K. Fleites

Serena K. Fleites / Facebook

$45,000 crowdfunded for Pornhub child trafficking victim whose tragic story went viral (updated)

At only 14, Serena Fleites' life changed. Now, readers are doing something about it.

 

Samira Sadeque

IRL

Published Dec 8, 2020   Updated Dec 9, 2020, 11:37 am CST

A 19-year-old woman, whose story as a victim of Pornhub’s child sex trafficking problem was recently published, has received tens of thousands in funds from well-wishers to help her with her education and living situation.

In a New York Times column, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof told Serena Fleites’ story: At the age of 14, some videos she’d sent to a crush ended up on Pornhub. It plunged her into a downward spiral—she left her school out of shame only for the trauma to follow her to the next school. She made two suicide attempts and battled an opioid addiction. Eventually, she suffered from homelessness and has been living with her dogs in her car, marring her dreams of becoming a vet technician.

Despite repeated attempts to have her videos and photos removed from Pornhub, the videos would resurface even after they’d been taken down. She isn’t alone in this trauma: Many victims end up in this loop because of a feature on Pornhub that allows abusers to keep putting up that content. Users can download videos from the site which means even after a video has been removed from the platform someone else can always re-upload it. There is also the question of moderators looking into the content that gets approved. According to the report, Pornhub has only 80 moderators around the world, a former employee has said. For context, Facebook has 15,000 moderators around the world—and even that often fails to filter misinformation.

Kristof painted a grim picture of the current crisis on the porn site with many preteens or young teens having their photos and/or videos published, either after being trafficked or by boyfriends or ex-boyfriends. The effects are long-lasting, with many resorting to self-harm behavior, and often attempting suicide or, in one case, getting murdered by a partner. As survivors told Kristof in the report: “An assault eventually ends, but Pornhub renders the suffering interminable.”

“With Pornhub, we have Jeffrey Epstein times 1,000,” Kristof concluded in the piece. 

The report sums up how Pornhub gets to skirt liabilities of having trafficked children on its website while being one of the most visited websites in the world. The harrowing accounts of survivors, as Pornhub continues with impunity, has angered many since the report was published on Friday. Credit card companies such as Mastercard and Visa have said they are re-evaluating their partnership with Pornhub.  

A day after the report was published, a fundraiser was set up for Fleites by Laila Mickelwait that has since raised almost $47,000 of its targeted $50,000. 

On Monday, Kristof shared a photo of Fleites on his Facebook, announcing that she is “no longer homeless” and that had found a hotel to check into with the funds from the GoFundMe fundraiser. 

I’m thrilled to report that, thanks to readers, Serena Fleites, the young woman in my Pornhub piece, is no longer…

Posted by Nicholas Kristof on Sunday, December 6, 2020

“Readers also offered her housing and jobs, and generally enveloped her in love,” he wrote. “She is so glad to be safe and off the street and looking forward to studying again.”

According to the description of the fundraiser, it’s not for Fleites alone but for others like her “who have been exploited for profit as children on Pornhub and are now struggling with the fallout.” The beneficiary is listed as the Elevate Academy, an organization that works with survivors of sex trafficking. It’s not clear how much of the $47,000 fund has been directed to Fleites. The Daily Dot has reached out to Mickelwait and the Elevate Academy and will update the report if they respond. 

Bill Ackman, a hedge fund manager, and billionaire tweeted on Saturday that he has “reached out and offered to pay” for her education; the Daily Dot could not independently verify this claim.

Meanwhile, people are celebrating the change in Fleites’ life.

“Wow you can see the relief in her face and what a nice smile. I can’t believe how terribly our culture can treat young women. I wish her all the best and thanks for posting,” wrote one user under Kristof’s photo.

“Thank goodness. I hope this is a turning point and she can get her life moving forward to a positive future,” wrote another.

Update 11:26am CT, Dec. 9: Following Nicolas Kristof’s New York Times article exposing issues with content featuring minors, Pornhub announced major changes to its policies.

In its safety guidelines, Pornhub now says it will only allow verified users to upload videos, will ban users from downloading videos, and is expanding its moderation process.

Pornhub also announced the launch of a “Trusted Flagger Program” that will partner with nonprofits that can notify the site of content violating Pornhub’s rules.

Beginning next year, a new verification process will allow uploads only from users who have completed an identification process.

The new changes, while extensive, don’t mention specifics such as how many moderators will be employed on top of the estimated 80 existing moderators. The Daily Dot has reached out to Pornhub.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Nicolas Kristof welcomed the changes and said there is more work to be done.

“We need to make sure that only adults are verified, and that past rape videos aren’t allowed to stay on the site,” Kristof wrote. “The same scrutiny and pressure must be applied to rival companies like XVideos, which have shown even fewer scruples.”


Today’s Top Stories

‘If I saw this at a local Subway, I would not be bothered’: Subway worker makes sandwiches with baby strapped to chest in viral TikTok
Viral TikTok of flyers left in apartment doors sparks theories
Female soldier calls out military’s double standards for weight, sparking debate in viral TikTok
Sign up to receive the Daily Dot’s Internet Insider newsletter for urgent news from the frontline of online.
Share this article
*First Published: Dec 8, 2020, 6:45 am CST