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How governments worldwide are framing pornography as a public health crisis

Governments worldwide are framing pornography as a public health crisis. Porn Harms Kids has been investigating approaches adopted in other countries. The UK has implemented some fantastic measures to keep kids safe online, and other countries are positioning themselves to take a stand. 

In the United States, Culture Reframed is the first health promotion effort to recognise and address pornography as the public health crisis of the digital age. Culture Reframed responds to the pornography crisis by providing education and support to promote healthy child and youth development, relationships, and sexuality. Culture Reframed, led by Dr Gail Dines, is also a part of the expert advisory panel that informs the work of Porn Harms Kids.

State governments within the US are adopting individual responses to pornography. Utah was the first to declare pornography as a Public Health Crisis in April, 2016, calling for education and policy changes to stop pornography exposure and addiction, which the resolution says leads to the hypersexualisation of teens, prostitution and cheating spouses, among other problems. In March this year, Utah lawmakers signed off on a proposal that if passed, would allow pornography distributors to be sued if a minor exposed to the material says they were hurt by it.

In February 2017, South Dakota also declared pornography as a Public Health Crisis. This was a historic moment in law-making, as this resolution passed the South Dakota House 65-0 after having already passed the South Dakota Senate earlier on a 35-0 vote!

Other activities that are worth following closely, is the rising support for the Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Prevention Act. This Act:

  1. Reduces crime by making prostitution hubs, child pornography, revenge pornography, and obscenity, as defined under the existing obscenity code, more inconvenient to access;
  2. Protects children and families from unhealthy, unprotected, and illegal content;
  3. Creates a legitimate pool of funds to finance programs and groups that are working to offset the secondary harmful effects of easily accessible prostitution hubs, child pornography, revenge pornography, and obscenity;

This Act also adopts several other measures, and basically takes the approach that society can “pay now” or it can “pay later” by continuing to have to address the secondary harmful effects that pornography and prostitution hubs online generate. This Act discourages the consumption of harmful unprotected obscene speech that promotes victimisation and harms the public’s health.

Updated early April, 2017: LouisianaFlorida, Texas, Oklahoma, Indiana, New Jersey, South Carolina, West VirginiaMissouri, and Arkansas have already filed bills and pushed through resolutions. From what we understand, the number of states adopting bills in support of the Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Prevention Act is growing. Other states listed include Tennessee, Nevada, Ohio, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, Alabama, Wyoming, and Maryland and Georgia (pending). Other states have also filed the Human Trafficking Prevention Act for 2018.

In other countries, Government ministers in Israel acted in October 2016. It was reported that Israel has: approved a bill that will force internet service providers operating in the region to censor "offensive" websites – including pornography – by default in an attempt to curb the "damaging influence" of such content to underage web users. Under the current law, internet providers are required to provide content-filtering systems, much like those used by firms in the UK, that customers can turn on without charge. However, the legal changes would flip the switch to require users to instead opt-out of such a system.

Updated mid May, 2017: As reported by SafeSurfer in New Zealand, in Israel, there are two legislative bills being considered at present. One would require ISPs to provide filtering software free of charge and inform customers of its availability by text message or email. The other would also incentivise ISPs by giving them public funds for each customer they sign up to an anti-porn and anti-gambling filter.

Israeli internet consumers already have the right to request filtering software from their ISPs, and neither of the bills under consideration would change the voluntary opt-in nature of the filters. However, privacy concerns have been raised. Critics of the proposed laws say Israeli ISPs could end up tracking people’s internet surfing habits, creating de facto (and easily leaked) ‘black lists’ of people who watch pornography or gamble online.

In February 2017, Parliament of Canada called for submissions to address the Public Health Effects of Online Violent and Degrading Sexually Explicit Material on Children, Women and Men. This matter is currently in progress.

In March, 2017, experts in New Zealand called for a government inquiry into the health effects of pornography.

Ernie Allen – former head of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), spoke with Porn Harms Kids in early March. He indicated that countries such as Finland & Iceland appear to be waiting for confirmation on the success of the UK age-verification process prior to adopting similar measures. They will likely work off the EID, which is an Electronic Identification that is currently being developed by numerous EU countries. This works on accessing public data through a system database to verify if the user is over 18.

A public health lens informs the activities of the 3-pronged PREVENT – EQUIP – RESTORE approach taken by Porn Harms Kids. Given the extensive data available on the harms of pornography on children and young people – particularly related to the rise in mental health issues and preventable diseases such as Sexually Transmitted Infections, work must commence with prevention.

It’s clear that it’s time to call upon the Australian Government to stand by their commitment as signatories to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, and exercise their bipartisan due diligence responsibility to protect children from non-State or out-of-country parties perpetrating harm against them. You can stand with us by adding your name to our pledge.

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I pledge to stand for…

  • A world where children can grow up without being psychologically harmed by accessing graphic, violent pornography online
  • Prevention of children’s access, given that porn is linked to increased risks of STIs and other harmful physical and relational outcomes
  • Higher standards for ISPs, tech and porn companies to implement technology-related child protection buffers to block harmful pornographic content
  • Adults, including the Australian Government, to exercise due diligence to protect children

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