A coalition of charities, organisations and experts has responded with frustration to the Government’s Online Safety Bill claiming it will not protect children from exposure to online pornography.
Led by the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE), the coalition has also released new survey results today which show that 80% of the UK public think it’s damaging for a child to view online porn and the same percentage want to see age verification laws introduced to prevent children from viewing explicit material online.
The problem is of particular concern for parents, with almost three-quarters (72%) surveyed saying they are worried about the impact on their children of porn being easily accessible.
The coalition, which formed in 2022 in response to findings that children as young as seven or eight are stumbling across porn sites1 https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-us/news/children-see-pornography-as-young-as-seven-new-report-finds, argues that strict age verification is a vital child protection measure and, just as we prevent children from buying porn magazines from newsagents, we should also prevent them from accessing increasingly extreme online pornography which normalises and legitimises misogyny, coercion and violence against women and girls.
The Online Safety Bill includes mandatory age verification on porn sites – a move which is welcomed by the coalition – but proposes that Ofcom take each and every website to court that fails to comply before being able to block access. The coalition is deeply concerned that, as a result, the regulator will not have the capacity or means to tackle the enormous scale of this problem.
Vanessa Morse, CEO of CEASE, said:
“The Government has been making promises for years to protect our children from accessing online pornography but we have seen zero progress.
“We have a moral duty to keep kids off porn and, currently, we’re failing. Violent pornography is ubiquitous online and it is being viewed every day by thousands of children across the country. This not only causes untold damage to the child viewers but fuels a culture and acceptance of violence, particularly against women and girls, which has spread into real life, driving “rape culture”, normalising harmful attitudes and inspiring sexual harassment and abuse in all areas of society.
“We have repeatedly raised concerns that porn sites are targeting children with advertising and content designed to keep them on the sites for longer and returning more frequently, resulting in them viewing increasingly violating and harmful material.
“The enforcement proposals to hold these hugely wealthy and powerful porn sites to account are impossible to deliver. We need urgent action from the Government to give Ofcom greater power to block porn websites which fail to comply with age verification measures before more children are exposed to irreparable harm. Otherwise, it is toothless.”
Seven years ago the Government promised to protect children from pornography and five years ago, it passed a law mandating age verification for porn sites. But the Government chose to not implement this law and in the intervening years its own statistics show that millions more children in the UK have been exposed to porn for the first time.2‘In May 2015, 1.4m unique visitors under 18 years old accessed online sites classified as containing pornographic content from their desktop’: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/538426/2016-06-06_Age_verification_impact_assessment__1_.pdf
An additional survey conducted by CEASE in July 2021 showed that the vast majority of the public think it is damaging for a child to view online pornography and that watching pornography can contribute to damaging attitudes towards relationships and intimacy.3 77% of UK public think it is damaging for a child to view online pornography. 86% would support strict laws to stop children viewing pornographic content online. https://cease.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/210607_CEASE_Expose_Big_Porn_Report.pdf This was backed up by today’s findings in which 70% of respondents said the ease of access to porn has affected society for the worse and and 77% are concerned about ‘damaging attitudes towards relationships and intimacy’ of watching porn.
Jack from Manchester, now aged 23, first saw pornography at age 11. By the time he was 18 he felt addicted and said that “Having started watching pornography at such a young age it was ingrained as a learnt behaviour.”
“Pornography had become a coping mechanism that I needed to function when I felt low but would just make those feelings worse. Worst of all, I realised that my attitude to women had changed. I felt that it was my right to touch women, and initiate ‘touching’ even non-consensually. This made me reach a real low where I discovered that this wasn’t what girls wanted, but it was the only way I knew how to ‘talk’ to girls.”
John Carr, Secretary to the Children’s Charities Coalition on Internet Safety, said:
“Immeasurable harm has been done to untold numbers of children. We must draw a line under it now. It is shameful that it has taken us so long to get to this point.”
The Online Safety Bill will be debated in Parliament on 19 April.