A recent Netflix documentary is shining a spotlight on the dark underside of the biggest porn site in the world – Porn Hub’. ‘Money Shot’ explores the site’s alleged history with sex trafficking and child exploitation which have long been associated with the porn industry.
Unfortunately, Porn Hub is only one of the many gateways for accessing explicit sexual content online, often involving children, women and other vulnerable people where issues of consent are deeply problematic.
The other concerning issue in relation to online pornography is the lack of age restrictions to view and access this content. A 2016 study commissioned by the Federal Government found that nearly half of Australian children between the ages of 9-16 experience regular exposure to sexual images and a 2020 study by the e-Safety Commissioner found that over 80% of young men aged 14-17 had been exposed to online pornography.
What is illegal in the physical world should be illegal in the online world. We need social media companies to do more to STOP sexual violence, trafficking and allowing child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on their sites. We also need the Federal Government to implement age.
What is the research telling us?
In 2019/20 a Federal parliamentary committee conducted an inquiry into age verification for online wagering and pornography. The Protecting the Age of Innocence
inquiry led to a report which was handed down in early 2020. Amongst a number of recommendations the inquiry recommended that the Digital Transformation Agency, in consultation with the Australian Cyber Security Centre, develop standards for online age verification for age-restricted products and services. Some work has been done on this, but we really need age of verification safeguards in place now.
The e-Safety Commissioner found that over 80% of young men aged 14-17 in Australia had been exposed to online pornography and that around one in three young men had viewed pornography. We know from research that exposure to pornography is linked to a range of negative outcomes, including lower self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, and greater acceptance of sexual aggression.
In 2021 the Online Safety Act was enacted – a new law to ensure individuals' online safety and security. This was designed to hold social media companies accountable for the safety and security of their users. It provides a comprehensive framework for addressing online harms, including cyberbullying, revenge porn, and other forms of online abuse. It is designed to create a safer online environment for all Australians, particularly children and vulnerable individuals.
You can review the Online Safety Act 2021 here
. With some key provisions detailed below:
- Establishing an Online Safety Commissioner with the power to investigate, report on, and take action against online harms
- Creating a set of basic online safety expectations for social media companies and other online service providers
- Introducing a new Online Safety Charter, which outlines the principles that online service providers must adhere to in order to ensure the safety and security of their users
- Providing enhanced powers to the eSafety Commissioner to require the removal of harmful online content, and the ability to issue take-down notices and fines to social media platforms.
- Introducing new criminal offences for the distribution of intimate images without consent.
While the Online Safety Act 2021 is a step forward in protecting individuals from online harm, there are some gaps in the legislation. One of the main criticisms is that it does not do enough to address online harassment and abuse beyond intimate image-based abuse. Another gap is that it does not cover all forms of online communication, such as messaging apps or gaming platforms.
One of the key ways in which the Act seeks to hold social media companies accountable is requiring them to take responsibility for the content posted on their platforms. This means that social media companies must have mechanisms in place to quickly remove harmful content, such as cyberbullying or hate speech, and ensure that it does not reappear. But are they doing this?
In December 2021 the 7th National Survey of Australian Secondary students and sexual health was released and 85% of respondents reported viewing pornography at least once in their lifetime and over half used social media for sexual reasons. Alarmingly 39% of sexually active young people head experienced unwanted sex. The survey found that “Close to 70% of young people in this study reported that they go online to learn about sex and sexual health.”
In 2021 by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, found that around one in five young men aged 15-19 reported viewing pornography every day or most days. The study also found that exposure to pornography was associated with greater acceptance of non-consensual sex, and that those who reported higher levels of exposure to pornography were more likely to report having engaged in sexually coercive behaviour.
There are some positive developments in the attempt to hold tech companies responsible for their role in this issue. In February 2023 Australia’s eSafety Commissioner served legal notices on Google, TikTok, Twitter, Discord and Twitch demanding them to detail how they are tackling online child sexual abuse, sexual extortion as well as the role their algorithms might play in amplifying seriously harmful content. These companies now face significant penalties of up to $700,000 a day if they fail to respond. Unfortunately, at the same time Twitter axed their team responsible for moderating online sexual content.
We know that pornography promotes unrealistic expectations and some videos promote violence towards women. We know that we have a problem with men’s violence against women in Australia and on March 16 2023 the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest Personal Safety Survey which canvassed 12,000 Australian women and men throughout 2021 on their experiences of violence. This survey showed that an estimated 8 million Australians, or 41% aged 18 years and over, have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15. Children and early teenagers are being exposed to sexual information that they lack the emotional maturity and aptitude to understand. According to the Australian Psychological Society, viewing pornographic material as a child or teenager increases the likelihood of engaging in sexual harassment and violence where the pornography depicts violent sexual encounters. It can also lead to the sexualization and objectification of women, unreasonable sexual expectations, and the normalisation of extreme sexual acts like choking. The Australian Institute of Family Studies has found that Adolescent pornography use is associated with stronger beliefs in gender stereotypes, particularly for Australian teenagers. There is a strong potential when Australian teenagers who view pornography frequently are more likely to view women as sex objects and to hold sexist attitudes such as women "leading men on". Also Australian teens who consumed violent pornography were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive compared to those who viewed non-violent pornography or no pornography.
On March 16 2023 the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest Personal Safety Survey which canvassed 12,000 Australian women and men throughout 2021 on their experiences of violence. This survey showed that an estimated 8 million Australians, or 41% aged 18 years and over, have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15.
Enough is enough. We need social media companies to put the safety of women and children before profits and the Government to fast track age verification laws.
What needs to change?
We need the Australian Government to hasten age-verification laws for pornography sites ensuring online pornography remains accessible to adults only and we need social media companies to implement measures to stop profiting from practice that dehumanise, devalue and abuse women.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Learn more about the links between pornography and violence towards women.
- Send this letter to your local Member of Parliament, best contact details are here.
How can I learn more about this issue?
Find out ways you can keep yourself and your mates safe online by visiting the E-Safety Commissioners Resource Dashboard
For Parents & Adults:
Find out ways you can support young people by visiting the E-Safety Commissioner.
To dig deeper and get behind the campaign further there is a dedicated and focused movement in Australia run by Collective Shout.
If your life if immediate danger, please call 000
If this content has raised any concerns please call.
Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14
Mens referral service 1300 766 491
Mensline Australia: 1300 789 978
1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
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