Here’s Why the UK Porn Block will not Protect Children

People in the UK will soon have to prove their age to watch porn online. The new legislation, which was due to be implemented in July but has recently been delayed, will require all adult internet users to prove they are over 18 in order to watch porn.

The UK will be the first country in the world to bring in this kind of age-verification system. To confirm their age, users will have to upload official identity documents such as a passport, credit card or driving license.

The government claims the change in the law will protect children from being harmed by “unsuitable content.” According to Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, Margot James: “adult content is currently far too easy for children to access online.” Internet Matters CEO Carolyn Bunting adds, “children seeing content they’re not emotionally ready for can be very damaging.”

I agree that there’s a need to restrict some forms of pornographic content, but here’s why I think the UK porn block is a bad idea:

1. It shames sex

Any ban induces stigmatisation. Even if the purpose is to protect children from misrepresented forms of sex, the main message conveyed is that sex is wrong. As a result, if a young person has illegally consumed porn or has natural curiosity around their sexuality, they will be much less likely to reach out for support for fear of being punished or shamed.

There are many, many issues with the mainstream porn industry – from workers’ conditions to misogynistic and violent depictions of sex. The concept of sexual content itself isn’t the problem, however. The porn ban lumps all sexual content together, stigmatising everything sex-related. If the aim is to avoid emotional damage from unethical forms of porn, such as hardcore or violent porn, we need to single out those types of content.

2. Sex education is still very poor

Porn displays a distorted image of sexual encounters. At the same time, it’s often the only source of young people’s sex education. The lack of an all-embracing sex education programme, along with taboos around sexuality, lead young people to ease their natural curiosities online. Teens learning about sex from porn is alarming, but banning it won’t improve the situation. Instead, we need to focus on providing quality comprehensive sex education (CSE) for all young people.

Education on sex and digital literacy is an urgent need. Children should learn that porn is fiction – an entertainment film genre – just as they learn that actors don’t actually die when an on-screen character is killed. There’s an imperative need for a comprehensive, sex-positive, and inclusive sex education curriculum that takes over porn as the main source of sex knowledge for youth.

3. Elsewhere, porn still exists

In today’s digital culture, everyone who’s halfway tech-savvy will know how to ditch the age verification system. Examples are potentially dangerous and illegal activities like fake IDs or the dark web. There are also simpler and legal ways to avoid the age verification, such as VPN services. These mask browsing locations, making it look like viewers are in other countries – ones without verification systems.

Ironically, the new ban on porn doesn’t restrict social media platforms such as Reddit or Twitter. This will, inevitably, result in increased traffic of porn on social media, where most young people spend vast amounts of their time. The new law won’t apply to pop-up ads either, proving just how flawed it is.

4. It’s a privacy breach 

Watching porn isn’t (or shouldn’t be) an embarrassing or shameful activity. Porn viewers should be able to enjoy online privacy as other internet users do.

Asking people to provide their real identity details will automatically create a massive database of porn users and their tastes. Despite the government’s claims of security, a data leak of these records would have tremendous and humiliating consequences.

The need to protect children and young people from misogynistic and harmful sexual imagery is obvious. But introducing an age block? I don’t think it’s the solution.

Rather than imposing a block without explaining why porn is deceitful, efforts should be put into creating a safe environment for teenagers and adults alike to have open and honest dialogues. Talking about sex and pleasure can ensure healthy and happy sexual lives, away from porn’s misteachings.

The Importance of Menstrual Health Education

Lack of education about menstruation is one of the many barriers to achieving adequate menstrual hygiene worldwide.

Earlier this year, England’s Department of Education released new guidelines for sex and health education in the school curriculum.

The guidelines include adding menstrual health education for girls and boys in primary schools. This is the first change in the sex and relationship education guidelines since 2000, after recognition by the government that the curriculum was “outdated.”

The new guidelines also include important information on female genital mutilation (FGM) – with focus on the illegality of the practice and support networks available for those affected. This information will be taught in secondary schools, where sex education is mandatory in England.

For all ages, the new guidelines include education on mental health – such as teaching students how to identify symptoms of anxiety in their peers. Students will also explore the risks associated with sexting.

A 2018 report by Plan International UK highlighted the experience of British girls with menstruation, including their existing knowledge of periods. Girls interviewed in focus groups used several negative words to describe their periods, such as “painful,” “uncomfortable” and “inconvenient.” To describe their first periods, girls also used negative expressions like “scarred,” “embarrassed,” “unprepared” and “I thought I was going to die.”

Each country in the UK – England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales – has its own guidelines for menstrual health education. This meant that not all girls and young women featured in the report had the same experience with learning about menstruation in school.

A 2017 survey found that 1 in 7 girls and young women in the UK didn’t know what was happening when they got their first period. 1 in 4 stated that they felt unprepared for the beginning of menstruation.

Even girls who reported having learned about periods in school mentioned that their education focused solely only on the biology of the menstrual cycle. Lessons left out important information about their bodies’ anatomy and the use of sanitary products.

This lack of menstrual education and support doesn’t even take into consideration the added information needed on menstruation as it relates to people who are transgender, intersex, or non-binary.

Both the Plan International UK report and the annual Menstrual Hygiene Day initiative highlight the fact that most conversations about menstruation are heavily gendered. Current education assumes that all who menstruate identify as women and have typically ‘female’ experiences of their periods.

One way to be more inclusive in conversations about periods is to include non-gendered language. For example, we can say “menstrual products” instead of “feminine hygiene products.”

Providing young people with comprehensive menstrual and sexual education will not solve all the problems related to menstruation in the world.

It won’t, for example, address issues such as lack of access to sanitary products due to financial difficulties. It is, however, a good place to begin. Education is needed so that no young person feels scared of dying when they have their first period.

?Read more menstruation posts on girlsglobe.org?

Stop Calling it Revenge Porn. It’s Abuse.

‘Revenge porn’ describes the action of one individual sharing another’s private or intimate photos or videos publicly without first obtaining their consent.

The term came into prominence in the UK around 2014/15. Activists such as Charlotte Laws started to lobby for appropriate ‘revenge porn’ laws to be put in place.

‘Revenge porn’ is outdated

While this advocacy started as recently as 5 years ago, the term ‘revenge porn’ has already become outdated. It implicitly suggests two things, both of which are false. Firstly, the word ‘revenge’ suggests that the target of the crime has done something wrong and is therefore deserving of some form of retaliation. Secondly, the word ‘porn’ has consent inherent within it. Pornography is, and should only be, created by consenting adults.

‘Revenge porn’ is a crime

Activists, campaigners and researchers in the field say the correct term should be ‘image-based sexual abuse’. We need an all-encompassing term that removes all blame from the target of the abuse and highlights the devastating, abusive nature of the crime.

The term ‘revenge porn’ first appeared in UK legislation in 2015. An amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 made it a crime to distribute a private sexual image of someone without their consent and with the intention of causing them distress.

The law is not fit for purpose

Unfortunately, the law as it stands misses the mark. Instead, we need to start using the term ‘image-based sexual abuse’. This would reframe the issue as a crime that does not blame the survivor.

The treatment of perpetrators needs to be updated as well. Currently, the law mandates that perpetrators who have been found guilty can be punished with up to two years in prison. But, under the same law, it’s difficult to prove the perpetrator is guilty without causing further distress to the survivor.

For one, survivors are currently not granted any anonymity. In their attempts to keep their private videos and images out of the spotlight, survivors currently have no choice but to consent to their case being made public. A simple change in the law granting survivors anonymity could be invaluable in encouraging them to come forward and seek justice.

What can I do if this happens to me?

If you’ve had your private photos or images shared without your consent, you might find it helpful to speak to the Revenge Porn Helpline. They are set up to support survivors, and can help to have photos or videos taken down from sites like Facebook.

It’s also possible to ask Google to remove images from search results. You might also want to contact the police or seek legal advice or counselling. You can specify whether you’d like to be seen by a male or female police officer, lawyer or counsellor, who can advise you on next steps.

Whatever you decide to do, know that the fault lies solely with the perpetrator. The crime has been committed by the individual who wilfully shared your images or videos without your consent.

All Teachers Need Mandatory Training on FGM

Written by Katrina Lambert (18) and Caitlin Moore (18) – Youth For Change UK members

Ever felt like decision makers aren’t listening to young people? That our voices are ignored and belittled in society? We certainly do sometimes. And we’ve decided to make some noise about it.

We are members of Youth for Change, a global network of youth activists who aim to tackle gender-based violence.

The best way to create positive change is through young people working together to make a difference. We are the ones affected – we should be the ones influencing policy.

Over the last few years we have been tackling the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). FGM is a form of violence against girls. It can result in a lifetime of pain, psychological problems and difficulty in childbirth.

Around 125 million girls have been cut worldwide. An estimated 137,000 girls and women live with FGM in the UK.

In 2017, our research found that 90% of young people surveyed said that learning about FGM as part of Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) would help to protect and empower them and their peers. This was the focus of our campaign to get FGM in the RSE curriculum.

Therefore, we were incredibly excited when it was announced that Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) would be compulsory in every school in England as of 2020. Education plays an absolutely crucial role in young people’s lives (as two school students, we can verify this 100%).

Having FGM taught in schools is our chance to take a step forward in ending this harmful practice.

At Youth for Change, when the Department for Education released the online curriculum consultations, we engaged with our networks and communities to strengthen the voice advocating for FGM to be included.

We fed this back to the Department for Education when a group of us met with senior civil servants last year. We also met with Carolyn Harris MP, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, to discuss the importance of empowering young people through educating them on FGM.

As a result, questions about FGM being a priority area of the new curriculum were raised in Parliamentary Questions, to the then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd MP.

In February 2019, it was celebrations all round. We heard that FGM was to be included as a topic in the curriculum. However, as tempting as it may be, we can’t stop now and pat ourselves on the back.

Yes, we have taken a monumental step in the direction towards eradicating FGM. However, in order to ensure that the new curriculum can appropriately educate and empower young people on the issue, teachers must feel equipped.

This is why Youth for Change is calling for mandatory training for all teachers on FGM.

Our research shows that 94% of young people feel school staff don’t know enough about FGM. If there is any chance of the the new curriculum guidance achieving its fullest positive impact, teachers must be trained.

When students are aware of the issue and feel confident that their teachers understand it, then they will naturally feel more protected and comfortable in opening up conversations. This is essential in increasing reporting and saving the lives of thousands of young women and girls across the UK.

Mandatory training for teachers will ensure that every pupil in the UK gets equal access to the FGM education they deserve, regardless of what part of the country they happen to be educated in.

The benefits of training teachers in FGM are not limited to students. It will also empower teachers to feel equipped to take on their role.

In fully understanding their legal responsibilities, including mandatory reporting, teachers will able to confidently safeguard their students and signpost the correct support. Training is absolutely essential. Without it, the huge changes to the curriculum will not be able to support and educate young people.

What can you do?

Get involved with us as we continue to press for standardised, mandatory training for teachers on FGM! Find us on twitter @YouthForChange. And while you’re here, support all of the other amazing activists in our network, such as IKWRO, who are calling for FGM to be tackled earlier on in education.

We’re not going to stop making noise. We need to ensure that the education young people receive reflects what they want and need to learn. We very much hope that the Government will listen to our calls to introduce mandatory training. Together, we can move even closer to eradicating FGM in the UK once and for all.

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