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Guildford Diocese Propose Motion Mandating Age Verification for Online Pornography

Published on: 8 Jul, 2022
Updated on: 9 Jul, 2022

A motion, which emerged from the Guildford Diocesan Synod, on the mandatory age verification systems for all pornographic websites, is to be debated at the General Synod, the Church of England’s Parliament, next week (Monday, July 11).

It is being proposed by the Revd Jo Winn-Smith of Assistant Curate at St Mary’s Church, Thorpe Surrey.

It will urge the Government to pass legislation requiring pornographic websites to have age verification systems preventing access by people under the age of 18.

Revd Jo Winn-Smith

Revd Winn-Smith said: “Pornography is increasingly extreme and violent, normalising the lack of consent, violence against and objectifying women.

“Direct causal links between watching pornography and potential harm to young people may be hard to establish,” she says, “But studies link it with unrealistic attitudes towards sex and body image, as well as to misogyny. Exposure to sexualised material is more likely to lead to young people engaging in more sexualised behaviour and to feel pressure to have sex.”

The General Synod motion calls for the age-verification process and for more social and educational programmes aimed at increasing awareness of the harm to young people from unfettered access to porn.

Currently, the Online Safety Bill is making legislative progress in Parliament. “It needs to happen,” said Revd Winn-Smith. “It’s unacceptable that children can access pornography. It’s giving young people a distorted view of what adult sexual relationships can and should be.

She hopes that passing the Guildford Diocesan Synod’s motion in York will give the bishops sitting in the House of Lords increased authority to push for age verification.

Angela Richardson

Guildford’s MP, Angela Richardson (Con) supports the principle of increasing the protection of children from harmful internet content. She said: “It is vital that children are protected from accessing inappropriate and harmful content on the internet, including online pornography.

“The significantly strengthened Online Safety Bill will be able to go further than the Digital Economy Act in 2019, which originally focused on online pornography only on commercial adult sites.

“The government has now bolstered the legislation by adding new standalone provisions which will prevent children from accessing content produced by commercial providers as well as the sites that allow user-generated content.

“Under the proposals, all pornography sites, social media providers, and video-sharing platforms will have a legal duty to verify that those accessing pornographic material are over 18 years old. If they fail to act, Ofcom the independent regulator can fine or even block access to them in the UK. Bosses of these websites could also be held criminally liable.

“Parents deserve peace of mind that their children are protected online from seeing things no child should see, and I am in full support of the revised measures in delivering this.”

Limiting access to pornographic websites was first proposed by David Cameron’s government in 2013. “So it’s been a long time coming,” said Revd Winn-Smith.

“The need to protect children and young people is something to unite around,” but she recognises that age-verification isn’t a “silver bullet” and that parents and communities have a big part to play.

“If we are silent and inactive regarding sex education and even just avoiding talking to our children about sex and relationships, young people are at much greater risk. By engaging with them and modelling healthy adult relationships, backed up by social structures like age-appropriate safeguards, we can help them develop, grow and flourish, as they mature,’” she says.

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