I read an article today called “The Siren Song of Exodus Cry“. It is really scary just how easy it is to pretend to care about a cause when all the while you’re the real evil.
When it comes to tactics used by activists, appeals to emotion are nothing new — and neither is outright deception. At a glance, the anti-Pornhub campaign known as Trafficking Hub seems like a bona fide humanitarian project. You’ll find the campaign site features their latest viral video, as well as numerous accounts of child victims and other sexual assault survivors who also endured having videos of their assault uploaded to Pornhub.
Obviously, no one with an ounce of human decency would be against survivors getting the justice and help they need, nor would they condone child porn, revenge porn, or any of the nefarious acts mentioned in Traffickinghub’s media blitz. However, blink and you might scroll past some vital information buried in the sensationalism: Traffickinghub is no stand-alone work of altruism to help the vulnerable; it is a calculated creation with an agenda that goes beyond the push to shut down Pornhub.
The Traffickinghub campaign itself was founded by Laila Mickelwait of Exodus Cry; Mickelwait has worked with Exodus Cry since 2012, and is a longtime vocal opponent of the sex industry in any capacity. Indeed, on the Exodus Cry website, you’ll find the following statement: “We fight sex trafficking, but we don’t stop there.
Trafficking is one component of a much larger system of violence, exploitation, and gender inequality known as the commercial sex industry. Our strategies are designed to assist, empower, and help bring freedom to those who have been victimized, while also fighting to uproot the larger system of injustice and exploitation that made it possible.” In other words: Exodus Cry makes absolutely no distinction between victims of non-consensual assault and trafficking vs. legal adult performers and sex workers who choose their work of their own free will. Additionally, per their “Abolitionist Pledge,” Exodus Cry asserts that eradicating porn is fundamental to ending sex trafficking — so even if you do not personally partake of Pornhub, but do enjoy other forms of legal adult entertainment, too bad.
Exodus Cry’s ultra-conservative stance definitely goes against the understanding of the sex industry expressed by other prominent anti-trafficking groups. For instance, as the Polaris Project states on their site: it is a myth that “all commercial sex is human trafficking.” More accurately, “All commercial sex involving a minor is legally considered human trafficking. Commercial sex involving an adult is human trafficking if the person providing commercial sex is doing so against his or her will as a result of force, fraud or coercion.”
By contrast, Exodus Cry insists repeatedly throughout the Traffickinghub campaign and beyond that anyone involved in sex work is a victim — and they keep repeating this ad nauseum regardless of what any actual sex workers have to say about their lives and experiences. Even more disturbing, Exodus Cry ignores survivors who do not fall in line with their views — especially their views on sexual purity.
As Kelly Lawrence points out in her piece linked above, Exodus Cry stands to cause more harm than good by pushing the so-called “Nordic Model” to criminalize sex for purchase — by criminalizing sex work. Amnesty International, The World Health Organization, and the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women have ALL denounced the Nordic Model.
Notwithstanding the increased dangers of violence, imprisonment, or deportation facing sex workers under the Nordic Model, it’s just common sense: an advocacy group who does not actually listen to the people they claim to advocate for is absolutely not capable of helping them. So then what is the real agenda of Exodus Cry?
Without a doubt, Exodus Cry excels at exploiting the pain of real victims in their million dollar Traffickinghub campaign, while Mickelwait, Nolot, and their evangelical cohorts are on Twitter 24/7 churning out increasingly sensationalist messages and outright falsehoods to make it appear as though Pornhub is intentionally acting in bad faith, and/or is encouraging people to abuse their own platform terms of service by uploading illegal content.
To be clear, Pornhub has gone on the record multiple times, and maintains in its community guidelines that content depicting violence, minors, or non-consent is absolutely prohibited.
Meanwhile, Exodus Cry recently furnished a new statement of inclusion on their site, claiming that they had to do so in response to “lies” from Pornhub. Who’s really lying though? The evidence of Exodus Cry’s carefully cloaked Sexual Purity movement remains archived online — and it’s impossible ignore. Consider the following the screenshots that Gemma of PlasticDollHeads was able to take before the Exodus Cry pages mysteriously vanished from the Wayback Machine:
Exodus Cry’s site has mysteriously has disappeared from the Internet Archive.
If there’s no hidden agenda, then why all the cloak and dagger? Even before the Traffickinghub campaign, it is deeply concerning that Exodus Cry Founder & CEO, Benjamin “Benji” Nolot, was careful to keep any mention of his work with Exodus Cry far away from his recent film, Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution. Nolot promotes Liberated and his other films openly on the Exodus Cry website, but opted to keep college campuses and event organizers in the dark about his work with Exodus Cry, as well as the deep ties between Exodus Cry and a charismatic evangelical group known as the International House of Prayer, Kansas City (IHOPKC).
Here is where the plot thickens even more. Mike Bickle (more on him below) founded IHOPKC in 1999; Nolot is a friend and collaborator of Bickle’s, and also a leader in IHOPKC. As Claire Provost and Lara Whyte have mentioned, Nolot has been involved with IHOPKC for well over a decade. Exodus Cry began in 2008 as one of IHOPKC’s on-going ministries, on the heels of Nolot’s documentary film, Nefarious, about global sex trafficking.
Curiously enough, you won’t find any mention of IHOPKC or Bickle on Exodus Cry’s website these days — and again, Exodus Cry’s entire site is mysteriously excluded from the Internet Archive. The IHOPKC site does not mention Nolot overtly either — however — if you run a quick search, you’ll still find plenty of videos of Nolot speaking, and also notes from his talk about seeking “purity in a pornified world.” The language makes plain that the Founder of Exodus Cry sees ALL sex outside of marriage as impure and sinful, regardless of whether someone has consented.
Ps. In case any skeptics might point out that the Purity Talk was in 2013, you can also find “Benji Nolot” is listed for an 8pm prayer vigil shift in March of 2019 — so his ties to IHOPKC and Bickle likely remain alive and well.
At present, only a buried mention of Exodus Cry exists in the IHOPKC site’s ‘About’ section. Previous versions of the IHOPKC site retrieved via Internet Archive show Exodus Cry listed prominently among their many ministries.
Why would Nolot want to minimize his on-going allegiance to IHOPKC? Well, for starters, many critics have noted Mike Bickle’s anti-Semitism, sexism, homophobia, and other hateful sentiments over the years. Besides Bickle’s claim that:
“homosexuality opens the door to the demonic,” Bickle has also stated that: Oprah Winfrey is a “forerunner to the Anti-Christ,” and that the legalization of gay marriage is “a sign of the end times.” In fact, a considerable portion of Bickle’s charismatic ministry centers on Biblical eschatology.
For his part, Nolot has also chimed in:
By the way, if you happen to care about “inclusivity,” as Exodus Cry claims to, it’s worth noting that you won’t find any mention of male trafficking victims, or male abuse survivors on their site — perhaps because per their religious viewpoint, they probably cannot possibly envision any other kind of sex besides heterosexual sex; and women are always the victims of male desire, and men are never victims, just perpetrators.
And sorry, trans folks: you’re completely invisible to Exodus Cry, even though actual reputable anti-trafficking groups recognize trans vulnerability.
In any case, the dangers of Bickle’s radical preaching have no doubt manifested in several heartbreaking ways over the last few decades, as some “survivors” of IHOPKC have come forward. The most infamous example though is the tragic death of Bethany Deaton. Her friend, Boze Herrington, wrote an account of his harrowing experiences with IHOPKC in which it becomes obvious that the fusion of an extreme sexual purity movement with deep-seated homophobia and delusional beliefs about “the end times” can lead all too easily to tragedy — which IHOPKC was uniquely complicit in.
Obviously, conservative evangelical groups have made numerous attempts over the years to lobby against porn and shut down the legal adult industry. With the use of religious arguments alone though, there’s a good chance many people are not going to pay attention, and might even roll their eyes. But this is where the careful branding of Exodus Cry sets them apart — because their anti-porn sexual purity movement is able to conceal itself amidst a seemingly righteous cause against human trafficking. Genius, right?
This allows Exodus Cry to reach a whole other audience, because who can resist appeals to emotion and calls for social justice — especially in our present moment? Consequently, Nolot and Exodus Cry can also collect vast sums in donations from well-meaning people who do not know the truth about the connection between Exodus Cry and IHOPKC — and their regressive, radical underlying principles.
Now, as for Exodus Cry’s campaign against Pornhub, let’s get some facts straight. Contrary to whatever Exodus Cry is currently tweeting, Pornhub does NOT allow illegal content — period. Pornhub has a robust system in place to moderate content using both cutting-edge technology and human moderators. Here’s a recent statement to that end:
Pornhub has a steadfast commitment to eradicating and fighting any and all illegal content on the internet, including non-consensual content and under-age material. Any suggestion otherwise is categorically and factually inaccurate. Our content moderation goes above and beyond the recently announced, internationally recognized Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.
Pornhub has actively worked to put in place state-of-the-art, comprehensive safeguards across its platform to combat and remove all unauthorized content that breaches the platform’s policies. This includes employing an extensive team of human moderators dedicated to manually reviewing every single upload. This allows us to take proactive action against illegal content. In addition, we have a robust system for flagging, reviewing and removing all illegal material, and age-verification tools.
The platform utilizes a variety of automated detection technologies such as CSAI Match, YouTube’s proprietary technology for combating Child Sexual Abuse Imagery content online; PhotoDNA, Microsoft’s technology that aids in finding and removing known images of child exploitation; and Vobile, a state-of-the-art fingerprinting software that scans any new uploads for potential matches to unauthorized materials to protect against any banned video being re-uploaded to the platform.
You can also see Pornhub’s community policy that specifically prohibits illegal, non-consensual, hateful, or violent content. See the preview below, and read the whole page here.
It’s also worth noting that as a user-driven platform, Pornhub faces the exact same issues as mainstream social media platforms, such as Facebook, Periscope, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, etc, in that there will always be users who utilize the platform to post illegal content. Yet, you don’t see Exodus Cry going after the founders of those other platforms, or chasing the pedophiles that exploit those channels to groom children, nor do you see Exodus Cry attacking actual child porn sites on the dark web, or even commenting on the completely unregulated existence tube/adult sites from Eastern Europe. Fancy that!
As the largest adult user-driven platform though, Pornhub represents the ultimate low-hanging fruit for the anti-porn movement — and at the end of the day, taking down “big porn” is the real motivation for Exodus Cry.
Why should you care though? Maybe you don’t watch porn, or enjoy Pornhub in particular — but if you do enjoy having a free and open Internet, or you don’t want to be sued personally someday for posting something “objectionable” to Facebook, etc., then you should worry about any group or politician out to equate a platform with a publisher.
Thanks to the vital Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Mark Zuckerberg does not get sued, for instance, when someone films an assault on Facebook Live. This obviously does not mean that the content is legal — and as with Pornhub, content on other platforms is subject to moderation. At the same time though, CDA 230 means that free speech can flourish online — and, if you’ll pardon the Batman metaphor, porn is basically the “Dark Knight,” of free speech. In other words, there will always be people who find adult content objectionable and offensive; but too often, the legal existence of it is what stands between you and groups like IHOPKC who want to impose their narrow worldviews on everyone. And let’s be real: the legal adult industry definitely has a vested interest in keeping minors out and avoiding legal trouble. However, trying to shut down legal venues and punishing sex workers will only drive the sex industry underground and ultimately put more people at risk. Additionally, the promotion of so-called “Purity Culture” often only stigmatizes and harms survivors even more.
We know Exodus Cry will never listen to the reasoned responses from Pornhub, or the voices of those working in the legal adult industry, because it is ultimately more in their interest to propagate lies and pander to their echo chamber. Nevertheless, it’s worth asking why does Exodus Cry repeatedly decline to hear the voices of survivors, victim’s advocates, global anti-trafficking charities, and sex workers who have spoken up repeatedly about what is and is not helpful?
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, alert your local authorities, or call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1–888–373–7888.
If you want to help victims of sex trafficking or abuse, please consider donating to Safe Horizons, Not For Sale, or the Polaris Project.
In addition, if you want to learn more about resources for sex workers, please check out SWOP USA, the Red Umbrella Fund, or Amnesty International.