A global multi-sectoral public health response is emerging as a framework for exploration as we work together across the disciplines of medicine, neuroscience, sociology, psychology, social work, education, technology, and legal settings, recognizing and applying the experiences of front-line professionals to protect children from and build resilience to harmful pornographic content on the internet.
Among the first to investigate adequate responses to children accessing pornography, the UK provides us with a useful model in terms of pursuing this issue using age verification solutions and mandatory relationships and sexuality education. Other progressive approaches have emerged in Australia with the formation of an eSafety Commissioner; and the public health focussed charity, eChildhood. eChildhood championed government intervention by contributing to a 2019 Federal Committee Parliamentary Inquiry. Robust recommendations in support of Age Verification were published in February 2020 via the Protecting the Age of Innocence Report and was support was shown by the government in June 2021.
In 2017, Canada implemented Private Members Bill M-47. Focused efforts were renewed in October 2020 with Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne tabling Bill S-203 to promote a new regulatory framework to tackle online harms: Protecting Young Persons from Exposure to Pornography Act. Bill S-203 was passed in the Senate on June 28, 2021, to now be debated in the fall parliament. Additionally, the Standing Committee on the Status of Women (FEWO) [pursuant to standing order 108(2)] raised a motion in December 2020 to investigate the electronic commerce of companies distributing pornography and the resulting harms on children and women. In December 2020, the Standing Committee on Access to Information Privacy and Ethics (ETHI) invited two representatives of Pornhub / MindGeek, namely Feras Antoon and David Tassillo, to explain the company’s failure to prohibit rape videos and other illegal content from its site, and what steps it has taken and plans to take to protect the reputation and privacy of young people and other individuals who have never provided their consent.
It is clear various countries are progressing forward to protect children from internet pornography by limiting access through introducing Age Verification Solutions. In June 2020, a global Age Verification Virtual Conference was hosted by The Reward Foundation with the leadership of John Carr OBE, Secretary of the Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety. The resulting report provides an update on Age Verification Solutions, education initiatives and how countries such as Poland, France, South Africa, the Netherlands, New Zealand and others are responding. Since this time, more progress has been made. Though vital, age verification is only one component of a public health response and not enough on its own.