It's high time Parliament takes on the predatory pornography industry
Recent headlines on the topic of porn have been about a Member of Parliament watching it – rather than legislating on it – which is both damning and unsurprising.
The online pornography industry is almost completely unregulated. Today, it remains completely legal for pornography websites to allow children in the United Kingdom, of any age, to access porn videos on their platforms. In just a few clicks, violent and illegal pornography depicting rape, sexual assault, child abuse and physical aggression is easily accessible. It will surprise nobody that 97 per cent of the targets of aggression in these scenes are women.
Internet porn platforms have been left free to chase profits largely unencumbered by even the most basic regulation or oversight
Throughout the last year, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation’s inquiry into pornography heard evidence, testimony and analysis that revealed how the content of online pornography, and the platforms hosting them, is having a pervasive and significant impact.
For years, internet porn platforms have been left free to chase profits largely unencumbered by even the most basic regulation or oversight. The lawlessness of online pornography allows users of the most popular websites to publish videos on their platforms without verifying the age or consent of those in the video. Illegal content is freely accessible, and violence against women is a widespread and central feature of most videos.
With pornography more prolific than ever before, the attitudes of an entire generation of young adults are being influenced by routine exposure to violent, misogynistic content. We no longer need to question whether pornography has an influence on violence on women and girls. The jury is in.
Dr Jackson Katz, a leading campaigner against male violence against women, told us: “The porn widely available today…has normalised and sexualised men choking and strangling women during sex, verbally degrading them and spitting in their faces, among countless other acts of callousness and cruelty.” Platforms are awash with racist and ethnic stereotypes, hate speech and racialised dehumanisation.
Likewise, the contemporary commercial production of pornography is built upon the continued exploitation of women and girls. Evidence to our inquiry found sexual coercion and abuse were inherent to the industry, with performers regularly assaulted and abused, forced to engage in extreme acts of violence against themselves without their consent or face legal or financial repercussions. We heard moving testimony from women who were exposed to physical trauma on set, extortion by their managers and assault by their agents. This is an industry out of control.
Our inquiry lays bare how inaction from governments on combatting the harms being wreaked by the pornography industry is having a severe and lasting effect. Unregulated porn platforms are directly contributing to the epidemic of violence against women and girls, warping young adults understanding and expectations of sex and exposing vulnerable women to industry abuses.
So how should Parliament finally confront the vast harms of the pornography industry? To start, we need to end the age of self-regulation for online porn purveyors by making them abide by the same regulations as those distributing pornography in the offline world. We need government to urgently impose rock-bottom safeguarding rules on porn websites, including the basic requirement to verify the age and agreement of everyone who features in pornographic content before it is published online, and criminalise the supply of online pornography to children. The Scottish government already recognises pornography as a form of commercial sexual exploitation in its strategy to end violence against women – the UK government must do the same.
Parliament’s long-standing silence on the predatory porn industry, and its dusty old laws, represent nothing short of a fundamental failure by the state to confront the violence against women and girls embodied and fuelled by pornography. It’s time for change.
Diana Johnson MP, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation.
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