The report highlights the scale and nature of contemporary online pornography, finding that the user base of pornography is highly gendered, with significantly more men watching pornography than women. Violence against women is prolific in mainstream pornography, and illegal content – including videos of child sexual exploitation, rape and sex trafficking victims – is freely accessible on mainstream pornography websites.
The report evidences a multiplicity of harms connected with the pornography industry. Pornography is found to fuel sexual violence and social and political harms against women and girls, as well as perpetuating racist stereotypes. Children continue to be exposed to online pornography on an alarming scale, which is an egregious violation of child safeguarding. Meanwhile, sexual coercion is found to be inherent to the commercial production of pornography, with producers commonly adopting exploitative and abusive tactics to coerce women into being filmed for pornography videos.
The inquiry concludes that existing legislation relating to pornography is piecemeal and wholly inadequate with respect to preventing and providing redress for harms perpetuated as part of the trade.
As a result of its inquiry, the APPG on Commercial Sexual Exploitation has made the following recommendations to Government:
- Make the regulation of pornography consistent across different online platforms, and between the online and offline spheres.
- Criminalise the supply of pornography online to children, and legally require age verification for accessing pornography online.
- Address pornography as commercial sexual exploitation, and a form of violence against women, in legislation and policy.
- Legally require online platforms to verify that every individual featured in pornographic content on their platform is an adult and gave permission for the content to be published there.
- Give individuals who feature in pornographic material the legal right to withdraw their consent to material in which they feature being published and/or distributed.
- Hold exploiters to account by making it a criminal offence to enable or profit from the commercial sexual exploitation of others.
- Conduct a comprehensive review of laws on pornography and obscenity.
Dame Diana Johnson MP, Chair of the APPG on Commercial Sexual Exploitation, said:
“The APPG’s landmark inquiry lays bare the scale of harms being wreaked by the online pornography industry. Vulnerable women in the trade are sexually exploited by predatory pornographers, girls and women suffer extensive social harms as a result of its normalisation, and a generation of boys are being raised on a sexual viewing diet of violence and abuse.
“The results are in and the evidence is clear. Pornography fuels sexual violence. In a society in which male violence against women and girls is rampant, combatting the harms of pornography should be front and centre of policy and strategy against sexual violence. Yet successive governments have mostly ignored the pornography trade, allowing the online industry to operate largely unregulated. It’s no coincidence then, and no surprise, that some of the most popular pornography websites – visited by millions of, mostly, men – have been found hosting and profiting from outright illegal content, including child sexual abuse, footage of rapes and trafficking victims.
“It’s now high time that Government acted and recognised the damage caused by the pornography industry to the lives and the safety of women. What does that mean? As a basic first step, it means ending the age of self-regulation for the online pornography industry; it means requiring all pornography websites to verify the age and consent of everyone featured in content on their sites before it is published; and it means criminalising the supply of online pornography to children. But more than that, it requires a comprehensive overhaul of our outdated laws on the production and distribution of pornography. At present, legislation pays scant regard to the harms perpetrated by the pornography trade, particularly against women; whereas the goal of preventing these harms should at the heart of our legal framework.
“I hope this report, along with other recently published reports on this issue, mark a turning point in how politicians respond to the pornography trade. For too long, governments have failed to treat is as the serious political issue that it is. Combatting the commercial sexual exploitation embodied by the porn industry, and the multifarious harms it causes, is one of the biggest challenges of our age. If society is remotely serious about ending male violence against women, then it is a challenge that governments can no longer hide from.”