Australian children cannot wait years for protection
“There is imminent danger facing Australian children who lack sufficient protection from exposure to pornography, including increased risks of mental health problems, sexual development, and even child on-child sexual abuse, including rape and other harmful sexual behaviors. We implore the minister to expedite the rollout of a trial and pilot program to safeguard the nation's youth.”
A large group of global allies fighting the sexual exploitation of children, including sex industry survivors, have signed a joint letter calling on the Australian Federal Government to reconsider its position on age verification and roll out a pilot program urgently, to help protect children from exposure to pornography. The letter from 41 signatories representing 15 countries is welcomed by Collective Shout. We are part of a line-up of Australian experts, academics, women’s safety organisations, child safeguarding agencies and prominent Australians who have joined in also calling on the Government to reverse its recent dismissal and implement a pilot program as soon as possible. See here.
The Hon Michelle Rowland MP
Minister for Communications
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Canberra ACT 2600
September 12, 2023
We write to you today as a united front of international survivors and experts from 15 countries deeply concerned about the welfare and safety of children in Australia. It is with an urgent sense of responsibility that we implore you to reconsider your current stance on age verification and instead swiftly roll out a trial and pilot program to protect children. Australian children are presently exposed to grave harm and vulnerability without adequate protection from exposure to violent, racist, and incest-themed pornography, and we cannot afford to delay action any longer.
International Consensus Is Embracing Age Verification—Australia Is Falling Behind
The technology and best-practices are well-established for verifying age to prevent childhood exposure to pornography. For example, the Age Verification Providers Association is a “global trade body for independent providers of privacy-protecting, standards-based, age assurance technology” which promotes best-practices for privacy and socially responsible practices in the industry.i
The commonsense measure to apply this existing, effective, and secure mechanism to online pornography is being embraced around the world. Germany, France, and several states within the United States of America have passed or are pursuing age verification requirements in order to protect children.
A 2021 survey from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) recommended “implementing age verification technologies with a view to limiting the access of children to pornographic websites as well as the uploading of exploitative material featuring children.”ii The OSCE— which works over 57 participating States in North America, Europe and Asia –affirmed this recommendation in a 2022 policy paper.iii
In the European Union, the euCONSENT program successfully proved age verification systems could operate while preserving user privacy/anonymity "through three pilots by over 2,000 children, adults and parents from 5 European States.”iv
A wealth of public opinion surveys conducted in democratic countries across the globe underpins our collective belief that the majority of adults stand firmly behind the implementation of age verification protocols. For instance, a comprehensive study conducted in the United Kingdom in 2019 revealed that an overwhelming 83% of parents endorsed the necessity of robust age verification controls.v
Similarly, as you know, a more recent study from 2021, carried out in Australia, illuminated that a substantial 78% of Australian adults lent their support to the cause of age verification, recognizing its pivotal role in preventing childhood exposure to explicit material.vi
Age Verification is Urgent — Australian Children Cannot Wait Years for Protection from Known Harms
The Australian government is knowingly allowing harm to befall children if it fails to swiftly pursue age verification trials and pilots.
It is well established that pornography has been linked to a variety of mental, social, and sexual harms to adolescents.
Several studies have shown pornography consumption to be associated with both verbal and physical sexual aggression and actual and anticipated sexual violence among adolescents, including during dating.vii One of countless examples, is the case of a teenage boy repeatedly raping his niece who was under 11 years old in order to act out pornography he viewed. In this case the judge said the impact of the boy’s exposure to pornography was clear. The judge said: “This is an alarm call to society in general as to the dangers of a child accessing pornography.”viii
It has also been linked to more sexist attitudesix and gender-stereotypical sexual beliefs.x Pornography consumption can lead to the sexualization and objectification of children and adolescents, girls in particular, and all of its associated psychological and emotional harms. Also to the development of sexual dysfunctions such as erectile dysfunction, difficulty orgasming, low libido for partnered sex, and more.xi
With respect to mental health, adolescent pornography consumption is associated with poor self-image, increased insecurity,xii lower life satisfaction, psychosomatic symptoms, depressive symptoms,xiii suicidal ideation, suicide attempts,xiv and more. Internet pornography may also negatively impact academic performance. For example, research has shown that the more adolescent boys viewed pornography, the poorer their grades were after six months.xv
Pornography does not depict safe sex practices and research has found that adolescent pornography consumption is associated with having unprotected sex, among other risky sexual behaviours.xvi
Bear in mind that this is only a very small sampling of the vast research demonstrating pornography’s harms to children.
Further, age verification is particularly important to protect vulnerable children such as those without the privilege of involved, tech-savvy, caretakers. Due to the vast and serious harm of pornography to adolescent development, it is vital for responsibility to shift to larger entities, especially in the private sector, to prevent childhood pornography exposure instead of relying on overburdened caretakers.
In conclusion, we are calling on the Australian Minister of Communications to urgently reconsider the government's current stance on age verification measures.
The global community is embracing age verification, the technology and industry is robust and takes online privacy into account.
There is imminent danger facing Australian children who lack sufficient protection from exposure to pornography, including increased risks of mental health problems, sexual development, and even child on-child sexual abuse, including rape and other harmful sexual behaviors.
We implore the minister to expedite the rollout of a trial and pilot program to safeguard the nation's youth.
Wendy Lowe, Defend Dignity, Canada
Brenna Wallace, A Lady with Lilies Society, Canada
Penny Rankin, National Council of Women of Canada, Canada
Brandi Lucas, Salvation Army, Canada
Destiny Roy, Canada
Renee L, Canada
Habib Majid, Burnt Oasis, Ghana
Ndonwie Peter, Pan African Organisation for Research and Protection of Violence on Women and Children, Ghana
Rachel Moran, International Centre on Sexual Exploitation, Ireland
Hazel Larkin, Ireland
Alice Wainaina, Kenya Christian Professionals Forum, Kenya
Tobias Nauruki, Empowered Youth Coalition-EYC, Kenya
Timothy Njoroge, Kenya
Foday M.Kawah, Defence for Children International-Liberia, Liberia
Thomas Brown, Disabled Children and Female Empowerment Network, Liberia
Robin Mata, Mexico
Tulasha Khadka, ChildSafe Net, Nepal
Sarah Scott Webb, SIM For Freedom, New Zealand
Chill Ekwurumadu, Nigeria
Adora Mann, Portugal
Sylvie Chaussve, Réunion
Mameh Kargbo, World Hope International (WHI), Sierra Leone
Resh Mehta, International Labour Organization, South Africa
Kate Farina, Be in Touch, South Africa
Claude Cunningham, South Africa
Marx-Lenin Nagan, South Africa
Emma van der Walt, Brave to Love, South Africa
Desiree Hoppenstein, South Africa
Colin Masurik, South Africa Elsje Schoombee, South Africa
Dhano Letchman, South Africa
Gemma Kelly, CEASE UK, United Kingdom
Darryl Mead, The Reward Foundation, United Kingdom
Erin Walker, Project STAND, United States
Sharon Slater, Family Watch International, United States
Russ Tuttle, The Stop Trafficking, United States
Elizabeth Omale, Benue State University, United States
Haley McNamara, National Center on Sexual Exploitation, United States
KP LoveJoy, Porn Free Colorado, United States
Jill Langhus, United States
Katharine Bennett, United States
Maxwell Matewere, United States
i See: https://avpassociation.com/
ii Office of the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (CTHB) “Survey Report of Efforts to Implement OSCE Commitments and Recommended Actions to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings” OSCE, 2021 https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/6/1/522934_1.pdf
iii Office of the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings (CTHB) “Policy responses to technology-facilitated trafficking in human beings: Analysis of current approaches and considerations for moving forward” OSCE, 54, February 2022 https://www.osce.org/cthb/511786 iv See: https://euconsent.eu/
v New research commissioned by the BBFC into the impact of pornography on children demonstrates significant support for age-verification, British Board of Film Classification (United Kingdom: 2019), https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-us/news/children-see-pornography-as-young-as-seven-new-report-finds. vi Australian eSafety Commissioner, Public perceptions of age verification for limiting access to pornography, 2021. https://www.esafety.gov.au/research/public-perceptions-age-verification-for-limiting-access-pornography (accessed January 22, 2022).
vii Paul J. Wright, Robert S. Tokunaga, and Ashley Kraus, “A Meta-Analysis of Pornography Consumption and Actual Acts of Sexual Aggression in General Population Studies,” Journal of Communication 66, (2016): 183-205, doi:10.1111/jcom.12201; Jochen Peter and Patti M. Valkenburg, “Adolescents and Pornography: A Review of 20 Years of Research,” The Journal of Sex Research 53, no. 4-5 (2016): 1-23, doi:10.1080/00224499.2016.1143441. viii Liam Heylin, “Judge calls for action on access to porn as she sentences Cork teen for rape of niece.” Echo Live, October 2021 https://www.echolive.ie/corknews/arid-40718415.html
ix Chelly Maes et al., “#(Me)Too Much? The Role of Sexualizing Online Media in Adolescents’ Resistance Towards the MeToo-Movement and Acceptance of Rape Myths,” Journal of Adolescence 77, (2019): 59-69, doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2019.10.005.
x Peter and Valkenburg, ibid.
xi Tim Jacobs, et al., “Associations Between Online Pornography Consumption and Sexual Dysfunction in Young Men: Multivariate Analysis Based on an International Web-Based Survey,” JMIR Publications 7, no. 10 (2021): doi:10.2196/32542; Brian Park, et al., “Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports,” Behav Sci 6, no. 3 (2016): 17, doi:10.3390/bs6030017.
xii Eric W. Owens, Richard J. Behun, Jill C. Manning, and Rory C. Reid, “The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research,” Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 19 (2012): 99–122, doi: 10.1080/10720162.2012/660431.
xiii Magdalena Mattebo et al., ”Pornography Consumption and Psychosomatic and Depressive Symptoms Among Swedish Adolescents: A Longitudinal Study,” Upsala Journal of Medical Sciences 123, no. 4 (2018): 237-246, doi:10.1080/03009734.2018.1534907; Cecilia M. S. Ma, “Relationships between Exposure to Online Pornography, Psychological Well-being and Sexual Permissiveness among Hong Kong Chinese Adolescents: a Three-Wave Longitudinal Study,” Applied Research in Quality of Life 14, (2019): 423-439, doi:10.1007/s11482-018-9604-5 xiv Christina Camilleri, Justin T. Perry, and Stephen Sammut, “Compulsive Internet Pornography Use and Mental Health: A Cross-Sectional Study in a Sample of University Students in the United States,” Frontiers in Psychology 11, (2021): 613244, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.613244.
xv Ine Beyens, Laura Vandenbosch, and Steven Eggermont, “Early Adolescent Boys’ Exposure to Internet Pornography: Relationships to Pubertal Timing, Sensation Seeking, and Academic Performance,” The Journal of Early Adolescence 35, no. 8 (2015): 1045-1068, doi:10.1177/0272431614548069
xvi Meghan Donevan and Magdalena Mattebo, “The Relationship Between Frequent Pornography Consumption, Behaviours, and Sexual Preoccupancy Among Male Adolescents in Sweden,” Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare 12, (2017): 82-87, doi:10.1016/j.srhc.2017.03.002; Wen-Hsu Lin, Chia-Hua Liu, and Chin-Chun Yi, “Exposure to Sexually Explicit Media in Early Adolescence is Related to Risky Sexual Behavior in Emerging Adulthood,” PLoS ONE 15, no. 4 (2020): e0230242, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0230242.
For a PDF version of the letter click here