Women’s Safety, Child Protection groups call on Federal Gov to roll out age verification p*rn protection for children
Australian experts, academics, women’s safety organisations, child protection advocates and prominent Australians have called on the Federal Government to reverse its recent decision against implementing an age verification system to help protect children from exposure to p*rnography.
In their letter to Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, the 43 signatories urge the Government to roll out a pilot program as soon as possible.
Signatories include Robert Fitzgerald AM, Commissioner and Member of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, well-known authors and anti-violence campaigners Jess Hill, Chanel Contos and Grace Tame, leading child sexual exploitation investigator Jon Rouse, White Ribbon CEO Allan Ball, Professor Michael Salter, Katherine Berney, Executive Director of the National Women's Safety Alliance, Madonna King, author 'Saving Our Kids', internationally renowned author and psychologist Steve Biddulph and community leader Tim Costello.
The letter reads:
We the undersigned are writing to request a re-think of the Federal Government’s decision not to proceed with an age verification system to help protect children from exposure to p*rnography, as recently announced by yourself on behalf of the Government.
Early porn exposure harms developing s*xual templates, contributes to damaging stereotypes, the development of sexist ideas, the normalisation of violence against women and a rise in child-on-child s*xual abuse. These harms were placed on the record by academics, educators, child safeguarding NGOs, and experts in child development and welfare in submissions to the Inquiry into Age Verification for Online Wagering and Online P*rnography conducted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs.
In its final report, Protecting the Age of Innocence (February 2020), the bipartisan committee recommended adoption of an age verification system as one obstacle in the way of children being able to access p*rnography. The Committee concluded:
that age verification can create a significant barrier to prevent young people - and particularly young children - from exposure to harmful online content. The Committee’s recommendations therefore seek to support the implementation of online age verification in Australia.
The Committee recommended that the eSafety Commissioner lead the development of a roadmap for implementation of a mandatory Age Verification system for online p*rnography as part of a broader approach. The previous Government accepted this recommendation and eSafety provided its report in March.
In its response, your Government stated it would not implement an age verification system, preferring industry self-regulation. It deferred to the development of industry codes which are likely years away from finalisation. In the meantime, millions more children will be exposed to p*rnography which frequently depicts and eroticises extreme violence against women.
Online p*rnography is recognised as a threat to children in General Comment 25 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ('On children's rights in relation to the digital environment'). The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also recommended “implementing age verification technologies with a view to limiting the access of children to p*rnographic websites.”
The Federal Government acknowledges the role p*rnography plays in violence against women, in its National Plan to Address Violence Against Women and Children (2022-2023).
With p*rnography now overwhelmingly consumed online and via mobile devices, it is both prevalent and pervasive, perpetuating sexist, misogynistic and degrading views about women. This is a serious concern in addressing the drivers of violence against women and children. (p.49)
Our Watch - the lead national organisation for the primary prevention of VAW - also identified the role of p*rnography in contributing to violence in its 2020 report P*rnography, young people and preventing violence against women.
The influence of p*rnography is of concern to those working to prevent violence against women and promote respectful relationships and gender equality, because the bulk of evidence identifies both frequent depictions of violence and typically stereotypical representations of men and women in p*rnography. For example, studies have highlighted the high frequency of specific violent behaviours, largely directed at women, including gagging and verbally abusive language, and the more generally prevalent portrayal of male dominance and female submission. (p.4)
…content analyses have revealed frequent aggression, non-consensual behaviour and multiple forms of violence towards women in p*rnography. These include physical aggression (eg. hitting, slapping, gagging) and verbal aggression (eg. name-calling). The frequency and eroticisation of such depictions may normalise and condone violence against women, in sexual relationships and more generally. P*rnography may encourage these views and/or reinforce them where they already exist. (p.12)
It is our strong view that the Government has allowed itself to be swayed by industry resistance to an age verification system. Vested interests should not have been put before the wellbeing of children.
The Government’s initiatives regarding respectful relationships and consent education, while welcome, cannot compete with the world’s largest department of education – the global p*rnography industry.
The Government claims that age verification technologies are immature. However, age verification providers are already successfully utilised in many parts of the world. Age verification systems can be independently assessed by a formally accredited third-party certifier. We note that the Age Check Certification Scheme has robust criteria, including criteria approved by the UK’s Information Commissioner's Office, for independent assessment and certification of age verification providers.
In regard to privacy concerns, providing age verification does not require a record of the purpose for which an age check is carried out. A double-blind approach is applied to age checks, where the age-restricted website is not given any information about the identity of the user, and the age verification provider records no data about the identity of the website seeking to confirm a user's age.
According to eSafety research, more than three in four Australian adults support government implementation of age assurance for online p*rnography. In its report, eSafety recommended (p.8): “Trial a pilot before seeking to prescribe and mandate age assurance technology.”
We request that at minimum, this recommendation be adopted.
In its response to eSafety’s roadmap report, the Government concluded: “The first duty of any Government is to protect its citizens from harm.” Actioning eSafety’s recommendation regarding a pilot program would demonstrate your Government is sincere in its stated concerns about the protection and safeguarding of our most vulnerable citizens.
We urge the Government to re-evaluate its decision and proceed with a pilot program.
September 19, 2023
Contact: Melinda Tankard Reist: [email protected];