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UK News

Christian campaigners welcome High Court bid to tighten young people's access to porn

by Chantalle Edmunds

Christian campaigners are welcoming a move by a father-of-four and a student campaigner to hold the government to account for its failure to implement a proof of age for access to pornography policy.

Ioannis Dekas and Ava Vakil are seeking a High Court hearing and hope, if successful, it will lead to the government putting in place the age verification requirements set out in part three of the 2017 Digital Economy Act. The duo have set up a CrowdJustice page to fundraise for their case.

Despite the passing of the act, in 2019, the then Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan said the measures would no longer go ahead, with efforts instead focused on the government's wider Online Harms Bill, which is yet to be brought before parliament.

Speaking to Premier, James Mildred, Chief Communications officer for CARE welcomed the High Court bid: "On the 16th of October 2019, for inexplicable reasons yet to be fully explained, the government just dropped it, abandoned it completely. And all they've said since then, is that they're going to come up with something better through their new Online Harms Bill, which is yet to be published. And by the time that's been debated, and it's going to be a huge debate because of issues around free speech, it's going to be probably at least three to four years from now. So the government is failing children, it's failing women, it's failing to protect people online properly. So I very much hope that this judicial review goes ahead."

New research from City University of London has found that among 1,000 teenagers aged 16 and 17, 63 percent said they had come across porn on social media, while 47 percent said they had visited porn websites. 

Mildred told Premier the pandemic has exacerbated the situation: "The fundamental issue here is that for the last 12 months during the pandemic, children have been even more exposed online because they've been using the internet far more for understandable reasons because of successive lockdowns. All this time, we could have had age checks to stop children stumbling across porn accidentally, and we could have had an independent regulator with the powers to crack down on the most violent and illegal forms of pornography. We know that porn influences how children understand consent, how children understand healthy sexual relationships. We protect children offline by making it illegal for them to buy pornographic magazines or explicit content in corner shops and supermarkets. Why are we not doing the same online?"

Ian Henderson, Founder and CEO of the Naked Truth Project, a charitable imitative which runs education and recovery programmes to tackle the issue of pornography and deal with addiction said it's highly damaging for youngsters to see porn:

"One MP said it like this: 'The content that is illegal to sell from a kind of sex shop, is served up free every day on a laptop.' And that's part of the issue. It's not just that young people are having access to a porn site. But it's the nature of that material that is there. And that has a huge implication on how young people view themselves, how they view relationships, and what is normal in terms of sex and relationships.

"So another report that was released last week, which was done by a Think Tank working with university students, it said a 1/3 of those university students said that they gained more education from pornography than they did from their high schools, and their formal education. And so that's why we were concerned because if young people see porn as sex ed, if that's where they're learning about what relationships are, what sex is like, then obviously, they've got a very distorted, often a very violent perspective," Henderson said.

Ioannis Dekas, the father who is mounting the judicial review, said on the CrowdJustice page that as a married father of four boys ages 9 to 20 years old he was concerned that his three youngest sons "are vulnerable to online pornographic material, despite taking every effort as a parent to prevent this."

Student campaigner Ava Vakil, a 20-year-old studying at the University of Oxford, has recently been campaigning against rape culture and violence against women, particularly in the context of school students.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said it would not be appropriate to comment on legal proceedings.
 

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