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Pornography linked to domestic violence, warn Peers

Marriage and Family
5 January 2021
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The Domestic Abuse Bill (DAB) received further scrutiny in the House of Lords this week as it continues its journey to becoming law.

Peers were supportive of the legislation, with powerful contributions coming from across the chamber.

The DAB aims to tackle the scourge of domestic abuse across England and Wales by introducing new offences and creating the first ever statutory definition of domestic abuse in law.

According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), an estimated 2 million adults aged 16 to 59 years experienced domestic abuse in the last year ending March 2018. This amounts to a rate of 6 in 100 adults experiencing domestic abuse in a single year, a rate that has not fluctuated substantially from recent years.

The ongoing covid lockdown has only made the situation worse. Victims have been trapped in their own homes with their abusers. Incidents of domestic abuse increased 7% in April to June in 2020 compared with the previous year.

Abor­tion not mentioned

When the bill went through the commons, some MPs tried to use extreme abortion amendments to change abortion law in England and Wales. However, these amendments failed to pass.

One was deemed out of scope and the other amendment was withdrawn after the Government promised to consult on whether home abortions should become permanent.

During the House of Lords debate, abortion was not mentioned. However, the risk remains that abortion amendments could be tabled again at Committee Stage.

Link between rough sex and pornography

One positive change was the Government accepted the need, through clause 65, to remove the rough sex defence from law.

In the past, this defence allowed men to claim a defence of consent in situations where women had been killed or injured as a result of sexual violence.

A number of Peers, supported by CARE, raised the connection between the accessibility of pornography and domestic violence/rough sex.

The widespread availability of pornography has helped normalise rough sex, especially among children and young people.

In 2018, the Women and Equalities Committee Inquiry said there is "significant research suggesting a link between consumption of pornography and sexist attitudes and sexually aggressive behaviours” and the Committee urged the Government should take an evidence-based approach to addressing the harms of pornography.

In its reply in July 2019, the Government said it had commissioned research “exploring legal pornography use and its influence on harmful behaviours and attitudes towards women and girls”. When the domestic abuse bill was debated in the Commons, Fiona Bruce MP raised the issue of pornography consumption and its links with violence against women.

At that time, the Government said it would be publishing research ‘soon’. Lord Alton pointed out that six months on, that research has still not be published.

Govt cri­ti­cised over age veri­fic­a­tion failure

In light of the need to address the causes of rough sex, one of which is porn and the need to protect young people, Baroness Benjamin criticised the Government’s decision to abandon age verification on commercial, online porn.

This U-turn took place on October 16, 2019 and at the time, the Government said it would introduce something better through a new online harms bill.

In December last year, the Government’s official response to its online harms white paper was published and mention of age verification was nowhere to be found.

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