Celebrating my birthday with a party… conference

By Vanessa Morse, CEO 

Growing up in Birmingham, I’ve celebrated more than a few birthdays in and around the city’s haunts. But none like this year’s.

Earlier this month I marked the Big 4-2 back in Brum. But instead of dancing, cake and cheap booze, it was frenzied meetings, navy blue suits and more than a whiff of protest…at the Conservative Party Conference. 

The city centre had been taken over by high security, an army of media outlets, the Westminster bubble, and me! I was there on the job, aiming to get CEASE in front of a host of MPs and sector colleagues. 

This is how it played out…. 

On Monday morning I get up bright and early for a birthday call from my husband and children back home. I watch the breaking news of Kwasi Kwarteng reversing the 45p tax decision while eating my porridge (gulp). It’s surreal to think that what’s unfolding on the news is going to be the subject of intense focus in the conference halls today. I get suited and booted and then at the last minute change my entire outfit. It was very blue. CEASE is non-partisan after all.

Passing through the protesters and the airport-style security, I am in the conference. Away from the televised main sessions, there are fringe events at which organisations can raise awareness of their issues. At my first fringe event about violence against women, I meet the new Minister for Women, Katherine Fletcher MP, just days into her new role. Thankfully she and the rest of the panel at the event are well aware of the harms of pornography. 

Next I head to an event on the Online Safety Bill hosted by Barnardo’s and the NSPCC. At the end of this really interesting discussion, I catch up with Damian Collins MP, Minister for Technology, about the vast quantity of pornography featuring adults made to look like children. Content like this is illegal to distribute in the offline world but it abounds online. We want the Government to take action through the Online Safety Bill to address this. 

The rest of my day is taken up with meetings and talking shop, leaving me no time to buy myself any birthday cake. The day has been an exhausting but exciting start to being 42. 

The following day is full of meetings with MPs and Peers who are keen to take action on the harms being driven by online pornography. One of these meetings is with Miriam Cates MP to discuss how children should be protected from pornography online. We also talk about the sex and relationships education children receive in schools and the need to ensure that they are not being encouraged to think of pornography as ‘just a bit of fun’. We need everyone to see the pornography industry for what it is – an unregulated and exploitative empire which dehumanises those on both sides of the camera. 

On the second day, all my meetings feel more pressing than ever. News of the coroner’s report into the tragic death of Molly Russell finds that legal but harmful content hosted by social media platforms played a part in her death. We have once again been given a stark reminder of the vital importance of CEASE’s work.

What we watch online affects us. People are saying it’s a watershed moment in the internet’s evolution. Let’s hope so, for her brave family’s sake and for the sake of the generations after Molly. 

The conference ends and as I travel back home, I reflect on a recurring theme in all of my meetings with parliamentarians: their desire to do a good job for the country and their constituents is palpable and real. Nobody wants an unregulated pornography industry exerting the power it currently has over individuals, relationships and society as a whole. It gives me hope that CEASE is knocking on an open door in our fight against sexual exploitation.  

To join us in our fight visit https://cease.org.uk/join-us/ or donate to our cause.