It’s not hyperbole to say we are in the midst of a crisis regarding minors and pornography. Consider a report from Common Sense Media: 75% of teenagers have viewed pornography by age 17. The average age of first exposure to pornography is age twelve. A survey of 1,358 Americans ages 13 to 17 found that more than half said they have viewed violent porn. Five percent of teen respondents said they first saw online pornography at age 10 or younger.
Research on the impact of pornography on children has revealed that 41% of young people between ages 11 and 17 who knew about pornography agreed that watching pornography made people less respectful of the opposite sex. Only 13% disagreed. The exposure of children to internet pornography is having impact on the development of harmful sexual behaviors. The average age of first perpetration of sexual violence is 15 -16 and is associated with exposure to pornography. A 2016 meta-analysis of pornography research reveals adolescent pornography consumption is significantly associated with stronger gender-stereotypical sexual beliefs, earlier sexual debut, increased casual sex behavior, and increased sexual aggression both as perpetrators and victims. And, hardly surprising, teens are at a great risk of developing a pornography addiction as their brains are still developing.
Attempts by Congress to regulate or prevent access to pornography by minors have proven unsuccessful.
In the 1996 Communications Decency Act, Congress prohibited the “knowing transmission of obscene or indecent messages to any recipient under 18 years of age,” or the “knowing, sending or displaying of patently offensive messages in a manner that is available to a person under 18 years of age.” However, the Supreme Court struck down this provision, finding its prohibitions so vague that they would, in the court’s opinion, limit First Amendment-protected speech.
Then, in 1998, Congress tried again to protect children from harmful content online with the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). It required age-verification for minors visiting sites with material “harmful to children.” The Supreme Court struck down this statute on the grounds that “filters are more effective than age-verification requirements” and would place a lesser burden on First Amendment rights. However, filters have since not proven particularly effective at protecting kids from harmful and obscene content online.
The federal government’s historical focus on communications regulation is not addressing the challenges that the internet presents to society today, especially with regard to content that appeals to prurient interests and that lacks any literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.
While federal efforts have largely failed, some states are beginning to step in to make it harder for minors to access websites where pornography is a major part of what is offered. Wisconsin is now among those states with Assembly Bill 730 which requires reasonable age verification methods to verify the age of individuals attempting to access internet websites with materials that are harmful to minors. The bill should help resolve the issue of the purveyors of pornography reaching our children.
Unfortunately, the bill lacks “teeth,” meaning there is no fine or punishment of any kind for those who violate the law. Louisiana enacted a similar law earlier this year and then followed that law with another one that allows the attorney general to investigate and fine pornographic websites up to $5,000 per day for not complying with the age verification law. That’s putting teeth into a law; without such “teeth,” it may well be that online porn purveyors in Wisconsin will think violating the law is worth it.
Our Wisconsin bill does provide for civil claims for those harmed by those who seek to ensnare children into the darkness of pornography to seek some measure of justice.
Any efforts to protect children from online pornography need to be at a minimum seriously explored if we are serious about addressing this crisis. Let’s hope our legislature and the governor will take this opportunity to do something positive in this regard.
This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you that God, through the Prophet Hosea, said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
Peter J, Valkenburg P M. “Adolescents and pornography: a review of 20 years of research.” J of Sex Research. 2016; 53(4-5), 509-531.
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