The Online Safety Bill becomes the Online Safety Act

By Gemma Kelly, Head of Policy and Public Affairs  

The Online Safety Bill has received Royal Assent.   

This Act is a once in a generation opportunity to regulate the pornography industry and protect children from the devastating harms of pornography.   

Big Porn has been profiting from the subjugation and objectification of women for decades. It has been normalising violence against women and children with no accountability or remorse. But today the UK government has said ‘no more.’  

The Act enshrines in law that pornography sites and social media sites that host pornography, must implement the highest standard of age verification (age gating) to ensure that no child under the age of 18 can access pornography online.   

The impact of pornography on children is at a crisis point in the UK. Research by the Children’s Commissioner for England found that young people are frequently exposed to violent pornography, depicting coercive, degrading or pain-inducing sex acts with 79% of young people encountering violent pornography before the age of 18. That same research found that children as young as nine are accessing pornography online.   

A wide range of studies show that children’s viewing of pornography can profoundly impact their psychological, social, emotional, neurological and sexual wellbeing and impede their ability to form healthy intimate relationships. Pornography is shaping children’s understanding of sex and relationships and teaching them that violence in sex is normal and expected.   

This is why CEASE and others campaigned so strongly for age verification for pornography to be included in the Online Safety Act and we are beyond pleased and relieved that the UK government listened.   

However, now that the Act is in place, the hard work begins. Legislation is only as good as its implementation. And so, CEASE is committed to supporting the swift and robust implementation of the Act to ensure that children are protected from pornography. We will be engaging with the regulator Ofcom and closely monitoring the implementation of this Act.   

We are also eagerly awaiting more information on the government’s review into the regulation of pornography announced in July 2023.  

We know that in other countries where age verification has been mandated, the pornography industry has fought back. So we are also preparing for this fight. The pornography industry will tell us that age verification is an attack on privacy and free speech. But the Online Safety Act is clear: pornography is harmful, and children must be – and will be – protected from it.   

The days of Big Porn operating without accountability or liability are over. Age verification is just the beginning.