The Online Safety Bill: A Victory for Future Generations

By Gemma Kelly, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, CEASE

I have a difficult job, we all do at CEASE. We have to dig into some of the most horrific and depraved areas of humanity. We hear harrowing stories of human trafficking and abuse, our Expose the Harm website chronicles the devastating impact of pornography on people’s lives, and we raise awareness of the realities of prostitution, sexual objectification, and violence against women and girls.

And we do all of this, against the heavy, almost insurmountable tide of the commercial sex industry. A multi-billion dollar industry that has seeped into our everyday consciousness, is in our media and entertainment, our movies and music, our children’s phones and our own. The fight is so big, and we are so few, and it can seem too much, too formidable an opponent.

BUT – every now and then we get a glimpse of what could be, of what can happen when concerned people come together, when individually and collectively we decide to say no more. No more free, unfettered access to pornography for our children, no more self-regulation of Big Porn and Big Tech, no more evading consequences and hiding in the shadows.

We have that glimpse right now, in fact we have more than a glimpse. 

In February this year, after what has been a long and arduous process over many years, the Online Safety Bill finally came to the House of Lords for its Second Reading. Here, 27 members of the House of Lords, from four corners of the House, stood up and called on the government to bring in robust age verification for online pornography, to stop children’s easy access to this hardcore, violent content.

The peers spoke of the harm to children’s emotional, social, physical and mental health as a result of consuming pornography from ages as young as nine. They spoke about the unspeakable trauma of increased child-on-child sexual abuse because of childhood exposure to pornography. They spoke about increasing sexual aggression in schools, playgrounds and homes. All due to children consuming violent, hardcore, racist and misogynistic pornography at just the click of a button. They spoke about how this needed to stop. How it must stop. They spoke about it again at Committee Stage of the Bill and at every opportunity in between.

It wasn’t just these peers either, the Children’s Commissioner for England produced two damning reports on the harmful impact of pornography on children; journalists wrote about it, national newspapers called for action, the public tweeted about it, organisations from different sectors and ideologies came together, all in the name of protecting our children from an industry bent on making money no matter the consequences.  

And it worked.

The UK government, already committed to making the UK the safest place in the world to be online, heard our collective pleas. We are delighted that they have now added amendments to the Online Safety Bill that will ensure:

  • Pornography websites, social media sites and other services will be required to use the most stringent form of age verification to explicitly ensure children cannot access pornography.
  • Websites and social media platforms must therefore prevent children from accessing pornography or face the consequences of non-compliance. 
  • Pornography sites will be required to produce a public written record outlining how they are preventing children from accessing their content, thus providing an extra layer of accountability. 

This, my friends, is the glimpse of what can be done, of what can happen when we stand together, when we refuse to allow our children’s futures to be destroyed, when our elected officials listen, and when we refuse to give up fighting for safety and freedom, even in the face of huge opposition.

And this is just the beginning.

For a full timeline of how the OSB has come into being, click here.