Kennedy School Students Pen Dueling Letters to Visa on Payment Policies to Adult Websites | News

More than 500 Harvard affiliates have signed an open letter to Visa CEO Alfred F. Kelly, Jr., urging the company to adopt policies they believe will curb the spread of illegal pornography, such as child pornography and those resulting from sex trafficking. .

Harvard Kennedy School students Pallavi Khare, Ethan Lyle ’13 and Christopher A. Musser wrote the letter and sent it on the anniversary of a New York Times report documenting the content release illegal on the Pornhub website.

The letter calls on Visa to implement a preventive policy similar to that of Mastercard, which requires sellers to obtain “clear, documented and unambiguous consent” for all persons depicted in adult content, as well as to establish a “content review process prior to publication.” “

Following a New York Times article, Visa halted payments to Pornhub. The letter argues, however, that such policies fail to address the extent of the problem.

“The problem is systemic,” the letter reads. “Criminal sexual abuse is facilitated by many user-generated porn sites because they do not systematically or credibly verify the age or consent of people in the videos they distribute and enjoy.”

Musser wrote in an email that he was inspired to write the letter by a class assignment encouraging students to “ask” their peers based on their personal values. After circulating the letter in his classroom section, he decided to try and collect more signatures.

In an interview, Khare and Musser said they spent hours collecting signatures around Smith Campus Center, Harvard Business School and other places on campus before hanging flyers with a QR code that allowed people to passage to see and sign the letter.

Although Khare and Musser said they received a lot of support for their efforts, the letter did not receive unanimous approval at Harvard.

After seeing a flyer highlighting the letter in a bathroom cubicle, PhD student Jessica EK Van Meir. public policy student at HKS – voiced concerns to Khare, Lyle and Musser that their recommended policy would amount to “financial discrimination” against female sex workers and force the shutdown of traditional pornographic websites, making sex trafficking and child pornography more difficult to “identify and fight.”

Van Meir said in an interview that much of the online child sexual abuse material is transmitted through social media and messaging apps, not just pornographic websites. She added that she offered to provide Khare, Lyle and Musser with her arguments and supporting data for their claim.

Before she could provide them with the information, she said, the group sent the letter to honor the anniversary of the New York Times article.

Van Meir said she was “disappointed” with their decision to send the letter because of its exclusion of “stakeholders involved”, such as anti-trafficking experts and sex worker advocates.

Lyle wrote that the letter was sent with Van Meir’s input in mind, as well as expert perspectives.

“We have evaluated many of the arguments and sources provided by Van Meir, and we also sought additional perspectives from a variety of subject matter experts at HKS, [Harvard Law School], and beyond Harvard, ”Lyle wrote. “Ultimately, we remain convinced that requiring age and consent verification is a common sense standard that would do far more good than harm for those affected by sex trafficking, rape and abuse. “

“We have decided to send the letter as planned, in accordance with our promise to the more than 500 signatories,” he added.

In response to the original letter, Van Meir decided to draft a counter letter to Visa outlining his concerns, focusing on the potential harm the proposed policy would have on sex workers.

“Many survivors of sex trafficking, who are excluded from many economic and social supports due to trauma, criminal records, marginalization and discrimination, rely on these platforms to stay out of their trafficking situations” , wrote Van Meir. “When sex workers lose the platforms they rely on for survival, they are unable to support themselves and their families. “

“This economic vulnerability can force them into riskier situations such as street sex work and put them at greater risk of exploitation and trafficking,” she continued.

The feminist task force, which is part of the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers, said on Friday it would sign Van Meir’s letter, joining 78 other signatories on Sunday evening.

Following Van Meir’s counter-letter, Khare, Lyle and Musser published a series of responses challenging Van Meir’s claims, noting that “as with many complex questions, not all experts agree” .

“We believe that if a website cannot implement security protocols to avoid hosting illegal non-consensual content and operate profitably and pay its workers / contractors, it needs a new model. commercial, ”they wrote.

Lyle underscored the support the original letter has received so far and reiterated the complexity of the matter.

“We have received inspiring messages of support, including from survivors. We appreciate Van Meir’s commitment and look forward to working with her and other stakeholders on this complex issue in the future, ”he wrote.

Visa did not respond to a request for comment on either letter.

– Editor-in-Chief Joshua S. Cai can be contacted at [email protected]

– Editor-in-Chief Eric Yan can be contacted at [email protected]

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