By Jonathon Van Maren
It has taken a near-total takeover of young minds by the digital porn industry to wake legislators up, but the herd is finally beginning to move. In the U.K., Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing pressure from Tory MPs to toughen the long-awaited Online Safety Bill, which will require all porn sites to implement age verification systems within six months of the bill becoming law—new amendments likely to be debated this month will require sites to use the same verification process (uploading ID or credit card) as online gambling.
James Bethell, a Conservative peer in the House of Lords, made no bones about it: “What we need is an emphatic timetable and clear cut commitment to hard-gated mandatory age verification. The current provisions are a kumbaya aspiration that leaves open too many loopholes, no enforcement and no timetable.”
Across the Atlantic, lawmakers are making similar noises. Sixteen U.S. states have declared pornography a public health crisis including Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia.
Louisiana, meanwhile, has actually enacted an age verification bill. HB 142 requires age verification any site containing 33.3% or more of pornographic material, and if sites fail to implement meaningful systems, people could sue the porn company if a child achieved access.
State legislator Laurie Schlegel, who deals with patients who struggle with sex addiction, believes this is a much-needed first step. “Pornography is destroying our children and they’re getting unlimited access to it on the internet and so if the pornography companies aren’t going to be responsible, I thought we need to go ahead and hold them accountable,” she said. “Someone could sue on behalf of their child; they can sue if children are getting access to pornography. So, it would be up to the user to sue the company for not verifying age first. It’s tied to some of the biggest societal ills of human trafficking and sexual assault. And in my own practice, the youngest we’ve ever seen is an 8-year-old.”
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