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BBC documentary strengthens case against freely available porn

Online Safety
25 November 2021
Zara Mc Dermott

A BBC documentary fronted by a victim of sexual violence has strengthened the case for barring underage access to pornography.

In 'Uncovering Rape Culture', Zara McDermott, who was attacked by a 17-year-old boy in 2017, explores rape culture in schools. The programme focuses heavily on how male behaviour is influenced by pornography.

At present, children can freely access porn sites and explicit content on social media. Plans to enforce mandatory age checks on porn sites and curb explicit content were scrapped by the UK Government in 2019.

The documentary features interviews with teenage boys who were shocked that girls did not welcome sexualised comments. And it highlighted instances of boys celebrating violent sexual behaviour.

A Times review of the programme noted that “it didn’t take long to identify the culprit behind sexual harassment in schools. Step forward hardcore porn; freely available 24/7 to young boys with no one seeming that bothered to stop it.”

“How boys and men see and treat women really matters, as the tragic case of a raped 12-year-old girl who took her own life proved. Whoever thought that limitless free pornography was a good idea?”

This week, health experts in Wales also warned of the impact of freely accessible porn, noting that children as young as 11 are viewing it.

Research by the British Board of Film Classification shows more than 60% of children aged 11 to 13 have stumbled on porn unintentionally.

In an interview with BBC Wales, two doctors said that consumption of pornographic content is causing children to think sex should be violent.

CARE campaigned for Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017, which would have ushered in mandatory age checks to prevent children accessing all commercial porn sites.

The legislation, agreed by parliament in 2017 but later scrapped by the UK Government, would also have established a regulator to punish sites that host ‘extreme’ content.

The government is seeking to include aspects of Part 3 in its online safety plans, currently being scrutinised by a committee of MPs. CARE has warned that the proposals don’t include appropriate protections.

On Tuesday, James Mildred, Chief Communications Officer at CARE, commented: “There is currently no requirement to block sites that host extreme pornographic content, and it is not clear which sites, if any, will be subject to age verification safeguards.

“It will also be some time before the online safety regime is in place — if it is agreed at all. We urge the government to implement Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act now, at least as an interim measure, rather than wait for its Online Safety Bill to clear all the parliamentary hurdles.”

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