Mastercard’s porn curbs are a step in the right direction – Christian Today

Global payment network Mastercard won wide approval last week for introducing new measures designed to punish unethical practices in the porn industry. Updated rules for banks mandate that before payments to porn websites are made, the provider must demonstrate that “clear, unambiguous and documented consent” was given for the scenes depicted. Sites will also be required to prove that people depicted in videos are of a legal age to have sex.

The move is a direct response to allegations of criminality in the porn industry. In December, the New York Times reported that Pornhub, the world’s largest pornography website, is a platform for child sexual abuse. The site was also accused of compounding sex trafficking and modern slavery. After the New York Times’ report was published, MindGeek, the company behind Pornhub, removed 10 million videos from the site – as close to an admission of guilt as you are likely to see.

The curbs on porn providers by Mastercard are a welcome step. Consent is, of course, a vitally important principle if individuals choose to participate in pornography. US campaigner Laila Mickelwait, founder of Trafficking Hub, stressed the importance of the move: “Today every pornography website in the world is [now] cut off from Mastercard credit card processing if they do not verify the age and the meaningful consent of EVERY person in every sex video they publish. Today is history in the making for Big Porn victims.”

Let’s be clear, though. While this latest move by Mastercard is at least a step in the right direction, it does not go nearly far enough to address the profound dangers of a rampant and practically unregulated global porn industry. Porn sites are often a cesspit of violent and degrading content, whether it is consensual or not. Porn videos demean women, propagate racist stereotypes, and corrupt the minds of those who consume them, leaving them with warped ideas about sex.

Fight the New Drug, a US organization that seeks to increase awareness of porn’s harms, points to evidence that it is highly addictive, results in negative health outcomes, and poisons relationships: “Studies have found that frequency of porn consumption correlates with depression, anxiety, stress, and social problems … Among the effects of the consumption of pornography are an increased negative attitude toward women, decreased empathy for victims of sexual violence … and an increase in dominating and sexually imposing behavior.”

Given all these risks, the level of regulation for porn sites is deeply alarming, both at home and abroad. Pornography is free and easily accessible, including by the most vulnerable and impressionable in society, children. It’s fuelling a rise in ‘sexting’ among teens and even sexual assaults.

This week, a young woman who was sexually abused and raped as a child waived her anonymity to speak out about the harmful effects of easily accessible porn. Dandy Doherty was sexually abused at the age of 11 and raped four years later at the age of 15.

Doherty told Sky News: “It’s not inappropriate to talk to a 10-year-old about sex, it’s inappropriate for a 10-year-old to be watching fake sex online and thinking that that’s what’s normal. I was sexually assaulted, for the first time at 11,12, 13 by boys aged 11, and 12 and 13. I didn’t say anything about that at the time, I didn’t have the words for it. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know that sexual assault was a thing – after I was raped, I looked it up.”

Where else would Doherty’s assailants have learnt to commit rape, except for online porn?

In the UK, Boris Johnson’s Government is coming under pressure to introduce a system of age verification that would require proof of ID before a person accesses pornography online. Age verification checks would make it more difficult for children to stumble upon pornography online. And it could help prevent awful cases such as Dandy Doherty from being seen in the years ahead.

The days of top shelf magazines are far behind us. Porn is everywhere, accessible at the click of a button, and legislators are lagging behind.

A move towards this sort of regulation must come soon. Part 3 of The Digital Economy Act could have paved the way for credit card checks or special ‘porn passes’, purchased at a newsagent to enable access to all commercial porn sites.

However, in October 2019, ministers announced that this aspect of the legislation was to be ditched citing ‘difficulties’ with administration. This despite several businesses already having invested time and money developing verification products. In fact, age controls were good to go.

An independent regulator to crack down on illegal pornography on any website accessed in the UK was also ready to get to work. Instead, the Government gave up.https://af217481878d90e371c6d87366ef279c.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

There is another chance for age verification to be introduced, three years on, in the UK Government’s Online Harms Bill. MPs must take this vital step.

And as a society, we must discuss ways to address the harms of pornography through education, awareness-raising and the encouraging of open dialogue on the issue. We can no longer ignore this wolf at the door.

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