MPs must seize the opportunity to hold the porn industry to account

The announcement of an official parliamentary inquiry into the harms of pornography is welcome and long overdue. The APPG on Commercial Sexual Exploitation, a cross-party group of MPs, will assess “how the modern-day pornography industry operates, harms associated with the production and consumption of pornography, and the adequacy of existing laws to address these harms”.

Many people are concerned about the effects of porn consumption, particularly in regards to it motivating unhealthy sexual behaviour in the offline world. A poll of UK adults last month found 6 in 10 adults fear porn is directly motivating sexual violence. It’s no surprise. Our news cycles are regularly populated by disturbing reports of harassment and abuse implicating porn-saturated culture.

In June, English schools’ regulator Ofsted warned sexual harassment has become “normalised” among school-aged children. Schoolgirls who spoke to inspectors alleged that boys are replicating sexual behaviour they’ve witnessed online. Around the same time, Everyone’s Invited, a website set up to allow anonymous reporting of harassment, hit the headlines. Scrolling through the thousands upon thousands of testimonies on this site, you regularly come across references to pornography.

Like the testimony of a girl raped at the age of 12 by a neighbour, who stresses that it was porn which “led him to act the way he did”. Or the girl assaulted by a male friend who notes that boys her age “openly discuss violent porn” and “objectify women”. Or the girls forced to watch porn on their school bus by fellow pupils, “pestered for photos or to meet up” and touched inappropriately. There are many, many more. You don’t need a PHD in psychology to wonder if rampant porn use is having some bearing on this odious behaviour.

Porn has also been implicated in the most heinous crimes. In September, it emerged that the police officer who kidnapped, raped, and murdered Sarah Everard was obsessed with “brutal pornography”. In fact, the murderer was so renowned for his interest in vile ‘rape porn’, he was nicknamed “The Rapist”. Other cases in recent years have involved porn-addicted men raping and murdering women, prompting a former Lord Chief Justice to say he has “no doubt” porn is encouraging perverts to turn their dark fantasies into reality.

The testimonies of women and girls, educationalists, members of the judiciary and various professionals working with victims of sexual violence must be at the heart of the forthcoming inquiry. Such evidence is widely-available and hasn’t been treated seriously enough by lawmakers in recent years, as porn use has became endemic.

Importantly, the APPG will also consider harms associated with the “production of pornography”. Leading porn sites are currently under investigation for extreme misconduct. In May, a letter signed by victims of sexual exploitation accused the company behind several of the world’s leading porn sites, MindGeek, of: “corporate indifference regarding harm caused to women and children on its platform” and “facilitating and profiting from criminal acts” including sex trafficking, child abuse, and voyeurism.

Porn industry insiders themselves attest to a poisonous culture behind the scenes. A Reddit thread penned by an employee of several pornographic websites earlier this year revealed a callous industry, indifferent to human suffering and safeguarding concerns. The employee alleged that the age and consent of people appearing in porn videos is of no interest to the industry, so long as a steady cash flow is assured:

“New content would come in (filmed/shot) daily and it needed to be edited/published ASAP. It didn’t matter what the talent looked like. Hot, drugged out of their gords, crying, happy, questionable age, raped, didn’t matter. The company paid for it and it all had to be used. If I objected to questionable material, I was told to ignore it and do my job.”

“…companies are required to keep records of the ages of all the talent they use. In one company…It consisted of images of the model holding their IDs next to their faces. These photos were the first ones before any of the porn photos… Four times out of 10, the model has their thumb over their date of birth.”

“When the stuff is shot, it’s shipped off to the main office to be edited. Like I said, they shoot EVERYTHING. Nothing is tossed…I saw a lot of homemade rape, child porn, borderline stuff, guys injecting their genitals with stuff, drug use, etc. Oh, and actual incest.”

Again, alarming testimonies like that of this employee must be heard by parliamentarians as the inquiry gets underway. If illegal activity is being portrayed for profit on porn sites, there should be consequences. Even if the content does not originate in the UK. It’s about doing the right thing and refusing to be complicit in its dissemination.

MPs on the APPG are tasked with considering “the adequacy of existing laws”. Of course, the societal response is more complicated than regulation alone. It requires education, honest conversations between parents and their children, and challenging a wider culture of objectification, harassment and abuse that exists regardless of online sex. However, regulation surely has a part to play.

There are currently no barriers preventing access to vile pornographic content by children, and this appears to be contributing to a toxic culture in schools. There are no punishments for porn sites that host content glorifying sexual violence, and this appears to be contributing to serious sexual crime. And there is no mechanism requiring porn sites to properly verify the age and consent of people in videos. How can any good society sit idly by whilst such harms are ongoing?

Without robust action, the safety of children, women, and others in society will continue to be dictated by a callous industry that clearly puts profit above people. An industry that has no care about the effects of its product on society, or any desire to curb consumption. MPs must seize this important opportunity to hold the porn industry to account, and forge a new approach for years to come. Such action can be the impetus for a wider reckoning with pornography in society at large.

Jamie Gillies is a campaigner and political commentator. He Tweets at @jmgillies

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