Time to vaccinate against porn-fuelled violence against women

I am pleased to welcome guest blogger Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson who speaks about the  threat posed to women by the violent porn which is commonplace on the internet and about the British Government’s failure to address it. This is particularly apposite today because of a vote which will be taken in the House of Lords this afternoon.

 

 

It’s time to vaccinate society against the porn-fuelled pandemic of violence against women

 

We are dealing with another pandemic – one that also spreads in the open air and in the home.  That pandemic is violence by men against women and girls.

We are not as good at sequencing the genome of the causes of this abhorrent behaviour as we have been for the Wuhan, Kent or South African strains of Covid-19, but if we take all a step back,  it is crystal clear that there is a very short list of influences on the behaviour of some men in our society which lead to assault and tragically even murder, and widespread access to extreme, violent pornography is at or near the very top of that list. One grandparent got in touch to tell me about the experience of their young grandchild and how they had been exposed to listening to another child talk about incredibly graphic violent pornography.

We saw on Monday how quickly the Prime Minister promised, rightly, to take action on stalkers, following our vote in the House  of Lords to put them on an offenders’ register.  Again today, peers have the opportunity to urge the Government to be even quicker in making a practical difference by enforcing a law which is already on the statue books, to deal with what is a well-documented driver of the attitudes of some men towards women, girls and sex, and that is extreme pornography.  The government itself published research only a month ago proving that this kind of nasty pornography is associated with domestic violence.

Parliament passed the Digital Economy Act four years ago, to give the British Board of Film Classification the power to block access in the UK to websites which host the sort of extreme pornography the BBFC would never allow to be sold from an adult sex shop, let alone be shown in a cinema with an Unrestricted rating, which is what the internet is.

Two years  ago, the government quietly dropped this plan.  Had Ministers come back to Parliament and asked us to repeal that legislation, and instead to wait for three, four or even five years more for a new law they hope will be a bit more effective by tackling social media as well as porn sites, but which we now know may not even apply to a large proportion of the websites in question because of the way the government plans to draft it, they would have been sent packing.

So the Government did not do that.  It just quietly shelved it, and has now had to come up with arguments for why it did so – but these simply do not stand up to the sort of scrutiny the House of Lords applies.

Ministers have made a technical argument that changes in how we navigate the Internet might make blocking websites harder at some time in the future by encrypting some web traffic.  But women want action now, and those changes are still years away.  Nor do these changes excuse internet service providers from their responsibilities to help block access to violent pornography.   We know that site blocking is possible now and will still be possible in the foreseeable future.  And given we accept that this is only an interim measure, to be applied while we wait for a new Online Safety Bill over the next few years, then that can replace the existing law in plenty of time to deal with technical evolution.

The evidence of how compulsive use of internet pornography can affect the brain and decision-making faculties of a compulsive user over time is something that we have to take seriously. I know there is no single cause of violence towards women but there is a short list of variants of this terrible virus and today we have the opportunity to administer a vaccine which has already been developed in the Digital Economy Act of 2017.  As Baroness Benjamin put it so clearly when she proposed today’s amendment, “we have to stop creating a conveyor belt of sexual predators who commit violence against women and girls.”

In time, we may develop a better vaccine that may be more comprehensive and deal with more variants, as the Government claims its new Online Safety Bill will, but that is not a good reason not to give society a jab now that will help to stop the spread of this deadly disease, be that in the open air in a park or in within a family home.  That’s why We Can’t Consent To This, CEASEUK and Women’s Aid all support this action.

This vaccine is ready to go now, and could be rolled out within a few months simply by re-designating the BBFC as an interim regulator until Ofcom is ready to take over.  It is nothing short of immoral not to use the vaccine we have available today in the hope of a better vaccine which we have yet to even see designed at some point in the future

If the government truly wished to take some action, rather than generate spurious arguments that it will take 27 months to implement an existing law, they could do it within weeks by re-starting where they left off.

Let’s start our vaccination programme against the virus of violence towards women and girls today by restricting access to extreme pornography right away.

About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International, Technical Adviser to the European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online, which is administered by Save the Children Italy and an Advisory Council Member of Beyond Borders (Canada). Amongst other things John is or has been an Adviser to the United Nations, ITU, the European Union, the Council of Europe and European Union Agency for Network and Information Security and is a former Board Member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. He is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John has advised many of the world's largest internet companies on online child safety. In June, 2012, John was appointed a Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. More: http://johncarrcv.blogspot.com
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