Government upheaval gets in the way again
The Online Safety Bill is suffering yet more delay. A debate scheduled in the parliamentary agenda was cancelled during the hectic fortnight in which Boris Johnson’s government collapsed. Is Conservative party chaos being a drag on the crucial work of Parliament?
It is hoped to reschedule it in the autumn, but its passage may be influenced by a new Prime Minister. Cabinet changes may result in yet another Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). There have already been six DCMS ministers since 2017, each averaging ten months in post. If a seventh one replaces Nadine Dorries, they could add new perspectives. There is already disagreement in different sections of the Tory party about the Bill.
Dangers to children
East Anglia Bylines has written before about the dangers to children from the commercial online porn industry. Some of it is hardcore, violent and illegal, and is often accessed by young people under 18. Videos of rape, child sexual abuse and sex trafficking have been found on these sites.
This issue is central to the problem of violence against women and girls. A study has found that 88% of hardcore porn contains scenes of physical aggression, usually by men towards women. Two years ago in Parliament, Diana Johnson MP said that “contemporary pornography is overwhelmingly violent and misogynistic, and feeds and fuels that toxic attitude that we see, particularly towards women and girls.”
Slow progress of online safety bill
Six and a half years ago, a DCMS study, “Age Verification for Pornography”, reported how widespread children viewing porn was, and how upset it made them. It found exposure affected young people’s sexual beliefs, normalised the behaviours depicted, and was linked to engagement in risky conduct. 78% of women believed that it encouraged society “to see women as sex objects”.
In this 2016 report, the DCMS stated its commitment to delivering the Government’s manifesto pledge on age verification, to stop access for under-18s. Legislation for this started life way back in 2017, in the Digital Economy Act, before being included in the Online Safety Bill.
Yet here we still are; another two years has passed, and still we don’t have compulsory age checks to stop children stumbling onto these sites. Nor are the commercial online porn companies yet being required to prevent illegal images, like filmed rape, from showing on their platforms. Nor are they yet held accountable for material which is illegal in the offline world.
Action to protect children is long overdue
The risks to children continue seemingly endlessly, due to the sluggish advance of this law. Some campaign groups are even anxious that the legislation might be scrapped altogether. In the new parliamentary session, the DCMS Minister must get to grips with this for the sake of our young people, and for women and girls at risk of violent or degrading behaviour in relationships.