Pornhub has been increasingly under the gun as the adult video site was sued this week by 34 women who say they appeared without consent in footage showing rape, sexual abuse, revenge porn or images of them when they were minors.

"This is a case about rape, not pornography," the plaintiffs said in the statement of claim, describing the website as "likely the largest non-regulatory repository of child pornography in North America and well beyond."

Their lawyers accuse MindGeek, the controversial adult entertainment empire that runs Pornhub, of being a "classic criminal enterprise" with a business model based on exploiting non-consensual sexual content.

According to the suit, which was filed in California, MindGeek owns more than 100 pornographic sites, including Pornhub, RedTube, Tube8 and YouPorn, and sees some 3.5 billion visits each month.

"I'm hoping (the lawsuit) will motivate Pornhub, and then also the other companies in this industry, to put in safety measures so that this doesn't happen to anybody else," one of the plaintiffs, who identified herself as Rachel, told AFP on Friday.

The 38-year-old Canadian, who spoke on condition that her real name not be used, recently recounted to AFP her years-long struggle to have removed from the internet a video of her being sexually assaulted by her own husband as she lay unconscious, and later posted to Pornhub without her consent.

Although Pornhub took the video down, it had already spread to countless other sites.

Adult video site Pornhub is being sued this week by 34 women who say they appeared without consent in footage showing rape, sexual abuse, revenge porn or images of them when they were minors Adult video site Pornhub is being sued this week by 34 women who say they appeared without consent in footage showing rape, sexual abuse, revenge porn or images of them when they were minors Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Ethan Miller

"Today is a monumental day," commented Laila Mickelwait of the Traffickinghub campaign to shut down Pornhub and hold its executive accountable, backed by 2.2 million people who signed an online petition.

"This lawsuit makes it clear that Pornhub and its parent company Mindgeek are not just a tech company that makes a (content) moderation mistakes," the sex trafficking expert said in a video message on Twitter.

The porn giant has faced a growing backlash since the New York Times published an article in December 2020 in which Pornhub was accused of posting illegal content online, including child pornography and rape videos -- which it has denied.

"Why does Canada host a company that inflicts rape videos on the world?," said its author Nicholas Kristof, noting that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau self-identifies as a feminist.

The public outcry led Canadian lawmakers in February to grill MindGeek executives about alleged abuses, while Mastercard and Visa suspended payments on Pornhub. The two payments processing companies are also named in the suit, accused of having "knowingly" profiting from trafficking in providing merchant services to MindGeek.

On Thursday, a Canadian parliamentary committee released 14 recommendations for regulating online platforms -- including requiring them to verify the age and consent of all persons depicted in porn videos -- while the Trudeau administration works on a new law that would force sites to swiftly remove illegal content.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is also reviewing a call by victims of sexual exploitation backed by more than 70 Canadian lawmakers for a criminal investigation of Mindgeek.

In recent months, Pornhub has announced a series of measures to combat illegal content, including allowing only users whose identity has been verified to upload content, and using artificial intelligence to help detect illegal videos.

On Thursday, Montreal-based MindGeek described the suit's accusation that it is running a "criminal enterprise" as "utterly absurd, completely reckless and categorically false," according to US media.