Premier NexGen spoke with Kevin Doran, Premier’s director of Public Affairs about how this legislation has come about
Premier NexGen: What’s the Online Safety Bill?
Kevin Doran: The Online Safety Bill has finally been adopted into law. This new legislation will help protect children and young people from harmful material and images. Premier’s Safety Net campaign called for Age Verification measures to be included in the legislation to require Big Tech and social media companies to use software that can identify the age of the user so that children and young people under 18 are not routinely exposed to pornographic material online. Despite some resistance from government, the Safety Net campaign succeeded in getting Age Verification on the statute books.
The debate around the Online Safety Bill has shown how easy it is for minors to access pornography online and the harmful effects it has on their wellbeing. However, the government has also come to recognise the damaging effects that online porn has on adults too. As a result, the Government has promised a thorough review of online pornography regulation in the UK.
PNG: Why do we need new laws on pornography?
KD: The laws governing pornography are confusing, ineffective and outdated. They have not kept up with the online world where pornography is now pervasive.
The levels of abuse and sexual violence that we expose our children and young people to in this country is truly shocking:
• Four in five 18-21 year olds have seen content involving sexual violence before turning 18.
• The average age that children first see pornography on their phones is 13 years old.
• An astonishing 1.4 million children regularly access pornography every month.
Online pornography has harmful effects on loving and meaningful relationships, it can form destructive addictions and it is proven to be a driver for sexual assaults, coercion and abuse.
The laws governing pornography are confusing and ineffective. And given that the last time the law was changed in any meaningful way was 45 years ago, it is outdated.
PNG: Why aren’t the Online Safety laws enough to protect our kids from pornography?
KD: Following Premier’s Safety Net campaign last year, the Online Safety Bill has been strengthened to hold social media companies and pornography services accountable for ensuring children cannot view pornography, with a new higher standard on the age verification or age estimation tools they must use – a requirement that has been extended to cover mainstream social media platforms and not only dedicated pornography websites.
However, the Online Safety Act doesn’t regulate pornography. Illegal explicit content will continue unchecked which means children will still be at risk of exposure to harmful images. Also, young and vulnerable adults with addictive personalities will continue to be damaged by abusive content.
PNG: Is online pornography really that harmful?
KD: Online pornography is proven to have very damaging effects on the mental health of young people. It can stunt the emotional development of young men and endanger young women with whom they form relationships. It can prevent them from being able to form loving and meaningful relationships.
Pornography teaches boys and young men to objectify women – and also shapes how girls see themselves. Ofsted has reported on growing levels of sexual harassment among children at school.
Counsellors who work with victims of sexual crime often say that pornography is an influential factor for harmful sexual behaviours towards women and girls. There is clear evidence of the harm to adults caused by viewing un-regulated online porn which includes the normalisation of dangerous acts like choking.
It really is time for Government to acknowledge this and act now to close open ended access to pornography.
PNG: What laws already exist - and why do we need new ones?
KD: Our laws on the production and distribution of pornography are outdated and need to be completely overhauled. Little consideration is made in the law of the harms perpetrated by the pornography trade.
The publication and distribution of commercial pornographic material offline, such as videos, is governed by the Obscene Publications Act of England and Wales 1959 (&1964). Similarly, the Video Recordings Act 1984 regulates how explicit material is displayed in shops and other venues. Classification must consider the possible effect of sexual material not only on children but also on other vulnerable people.
Around two-thirds of pornography available online would not be allowed to be sold in shops.
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) classifies adult content as 18 - or R18 for material that should only be available in licensed sex shops. The Government’s amendment to the Communications Act in 2014 Act established Ofcom’s regulation of UK-based on-demand programme services and Ofcom now requires UK-based video-on-demand services must not carry any content that the BBFC would refuse to classify. However, there is no equivalent requirement from Ofcom that the platforms do not carry content that would be refused an R18 classification.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation launched a report earlier this year which called for existing pornography laws to be updated and made consistent. It said that current legislation relating to pornography is piecemeal and does little to prevent and provide for redress for harms perpetuated by the porn trade.
PNG: Do you think there will be public support for new laws?
KD: The public believes the Government should act. A Savanta ComRes opinion poll found that 60% of people were concerned that “pornography is inspiring sexual violence against women and girls” – and 70% wanted the Government to “stop websites publishing extreme pornography that portrays violence or non-consensual sex”. Please add your name to the open letter to be sent to the Secretary of State by going here https://www.safetynet.org.uk/