Why Age Verification needs fighting for!

The news cycle has been dominated by Brexit for what seems like time immemorial, so it’s understandable that when a landmark Bill was abandoned a few days ago, it slipped under the radar for many people. But last week the Government simply announced that they were dropping the implementation of the Age Verification (AV) law after nearly three years’ of delays and postponements. There was no explanation other than the implementation would be pursued under the Government’s future Online Harms Bill, which aims to keep children safe online.

Yes – this specific version of the AV legislation was seemingly beset with technical issues, but it is imperative that the Government does not use this as an opportunity to quietly do away with the idea of placing barriers between young children, and their ability to access hardcore pornography. But, while the loudest voices in the media present skewed facts, there is a real danger this will happen.

Vocal critics such as “obscenity lawyer” Myles Jackman have been afforded plenty of media coverage to object to what has been increasingly, and wrongly, called a “porn ban”, little airtime has been given to why preventing children from accessing pornography is a crucial issue.

Jackman and other “free speech advocates” misrepresent the issue to charities, activists and the Government as an attempt to “ban porn”, and not what it actually is: a prevention measure to stem the horrific effects porn is having on the social, emotional and physical development of young children.

Pornography has been shown time and again to have damaging physical and mental health effects on users. Children are not exempt from these. There is a growing body of showing that kids as young as eleven have developmental issues as a result of accessing pornography.

Whatever the Government decides to do with AV in future, it is vital that it is not misled by arguments about an adult’s “right to watch pornography”. As a human rights charity that educates the public about sexual exploitation, we unashamedly shine light on extensive negative impact of the pornography industry. However, this should not be confused with the entirely separate reasons as to why it’s important to place barriers between hardcore pornography and young children aiming to access it (although clearly the exploitation within pornography is something that should be acknowledged at age-appropriate junctures).

The negative health effects of pornography on children should not be ignored any longer, especially given its ever-increasing accessibility. This is a public health crisis the government must get to grips with, and quickly. Otherwise a whole generation – and beyond – will have been failed.