A petition launched in aid of Mia Khalifa, a 27-year-old who worked as an adult film actress for three months when she was 21, calling for the removal of pornographic videos she appeared in, has garnered over 1.5 million signatures.
In the petition on Change.org, the Lebanese-American sports and social media personality demands justice from production companies such as PornHub and BangBros who continue to generate millions of dollars from her videos, despite the fact that she only ever received $12,000.
The page explains: “Mia and her team have provided countless financial offers to the current owners of her domain name and pornographic videos to no avail. Big corporations are not giving Mia Khalifa a fair chance to demand her content in court due to financial advantage.
“We are demanding her domain names be returned, her videos be removed and fairly discussed in court without putting Mia Khalifa into deep financial ruin. Mia has stated her regret for her decisions in the porn industry multiple times”.
Khalifa worked in the adult entertainment industry six years ago and while she no longer receives royalties from these companies, they continue to publish these videos against her will.
“Those 11 videos will haunt me until I die, and I don’t want another girl to go through that – because no one should” said Khalifa on an Instagram story.
A particularly controversial video that Khalifa has expressed regret over, sees her wearing a hijab during a performance; this consequently invited social media outrage from Muslim communities, and even multiple death threats from ISIS.
In a 2019 BBC HARDtalk interview with Stephen Sackur, Khalifa outlines the coercion that underpinned the hijab video: “I verbatim told them you guys are going to get me killed […] they just laughed” she says.
When asked why she didn’t speak up at this moment and decline to continue, Khalifa explained that she was ‘scared’, ‘intimidated’ and ‘nervous’ .
Khalifa continues to be defined by these 3 months, with interviewers still citing her as an adult film actress to this day, despite the fact that she has a ‘more prolific sports career’.
In a video on her TikTok page, she addressed this perpetual label, writing: “That hourly dissociative attack from remembering hundreds of millions of people’s only impression of you is solely based on the lowest, most toxic, most uncharacteristic three months of your life when you were 21”.
In response to Khalifa’s campaign and petition, #JusticeForMia began trending across most social media platforms including Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram, with thousands of people voicing their support.
The campaign also encouraged activists and victims of pornography to shine light on some of PornHub’s other alleged transgressions . Megan, @meganjrenee, responded to Khalifa’s viral thread calling the production company ‘far from a standup company’ and shared an example of alleged rape and child pornography that has been uploaded to the site.
Some Twitter users even called for a boycott of PornHub, @crossingsessa went one step further, encouraging her followers to seek out ‘ethical sources of adult entertainment’.
Khalifa’s most prominent criticism stems from Muslim communities, particularly from men, but she has spoken about the hypocrisy that “the men yelling at me are the same men clicking on me” – a line that she delivered during a cameo appearance on season 2 of the Hulu television show, Ramy.
In a 2016 Year in Review, PornHub found that the countries who most frequently searched the term ‘Arab’ on the site were predominantly from North African and some Middle Eastern countries. This finding was also consistent in the 2017, 2018, and 2019 reviews.
In the 2018 review, Khalifa was the second most searched for actress, with 288,580,789 searches worldwide. The videos she so desperately wants removed from the web aren’t just existing online, they are being consumed en masse by the global population, creating personal and reputation damage for Khalifa that even this petition cannot undo.
Khalifa is not alone in the fight, she is a microcosm of wider issues within the industry; in September 2019, San Diego based adult film producers GirlsDoPorn were sued by a group of women who were told that the films they starred in would only be released on DVD overseas.
The films were uploaded online after the women signed contracts stating that the work could be ‘used anywhere, anyhow, for any purpose’. However, the judge ruled in favour of the women and ordered the company to pay them $12.7 million, but some of these former actresses had been irreparably affected by their time in the industry.
Complicated or vague contracts and coercive environments leave former actresses in a legal bind, unable to have videos taken down or receive fair payment for the continued use of these films that negatively impact their mental health, reputation, and wellbeing.
Of course there are instances where women enter into the adult film industry with full consent and autonomy but we cannot deny that there are also vulnerable women who are coerced into doing these films and do not have the same platform as Khalifa to advocate their own rights. For these women – Khalifa could set the precedent.