Join us in asking the leading pornography sites used in the UK to:
1) Prevent children from accessing their sites so easily by implementing age verification as soon as possible
2) Remove illegal and harmful content from their platforms
We estimate that children could access pornography over 50 million times in the next three years.1
Meanwhile Barnardo’s is now supporting children as young as 7 who have accessed pornography sites. This includes rape, incest, domestic abuse and child sexual abuse. We see first-hand that watching this content harms children’s mental health and can normalise aggressive and harmful sexual activity.
Commercial pornography sites could do so much more to prevent children from accessing their sites. We need them to take action before more children are harmed. Please add your name to our letter.
Read our open letter
To the owners of the most-viewed pornography websites in the UK,
We are writing to you as representatives of UK based children’s, human rights and violence against women and girls organisations as well as concerned individuals, about the disturbing prevalence of harmful and violent content on your pornography websites. Research from leading academics has found that many commercial pornography sites have ‘depictions of practices that meet criminal standards of sexual violence, including rape, incest and [image-based sexual abuse, known as] so-called ‘revenge porn’, (and) are labelled in ways that not only minimise or remove their criminality, but often mock or belittle the possibility of harm’.1
In 2015/16 pornography was accessed 1.4 million times by UK children every month. That number is likely to be higher now due to the increase in time spent online during and post pandemic. Therefore, at the very minimum over the next three years children could access pornography over 50 million times.
Evidence from the British Board of Film Classification shows that children are stumbling onto your sites accidently from as young as seven. As you will know, following representations from Barnardo’s and the many other organisations who have signed this letter, the UK Government has introduced legislation (the Online Safety Bill), placing a legal requirement on commercial pornography sites to implement age verification. This is an important step forward but it could take up to three years for the legislation to be implemented. We are calling on you to work together to introduce vital age verification measures as soon as possible to prioritise the safety of children.
Barnardo’s frontline services say children they support are watching pornography depicting illegal acts, violence and child sexual abuse. We see first-hand that watching this content harms children’s mental health and can normalise aggressive, coercive and harmful sexual activity.
Despite pornography websites stating that harmful, violent and illegal content is prohibited, it remains visible, including to children. We also have concerns about the way content is categorised, with some sites including terms that reference children, incest, abuse and harassment.
Last year the Everyone’s Invited website detailed thousands of accounts of abuse, rape, harassment, assault and misogyny from children as young as nine in the UK. The subsequent review by the education regulator Ofsted identified the viewing of harmful pornography online as a driver of these behaviours, and school leaders ‘highlighted the problems that easy access to pornography had created and how pornography had set unhealthy expectations of sexual relationships and shaped children and young people’s perceptions of women and girls’.2
Police and practitioners are also becoming concerned about the increasing number of young men who have developed an interest in child sexual abuse material via mainstream online pornography. Experts agree that people watching abuse-themed pornography, increasingly widespread on the most watched sites, is making it easier for them to take the next step of watching real abuse of real children.3
We do acknowledge that steps have been taken to protect children, such as Mindgeek’s recent deterrence collaboration with The Lucy Faithfull Foundation. However, with children easily accessing pornography every day and viewing content that is extremely harmful, so much more needs to be done to keep them safe.
We are calling on you as leaders of the industry to come together and implement measures that will prevent harmful, abusive and illegal content being viewed by children across the country. Please begin the process of implementing robust age verification on your sites at the earliest possible opportunity and take active steps to ensure the content on your sites meets the British Board of Film Classification standards for permissible pornographic material which can be purchased on DVD in the UK.
Children cannot afford to wait any longer for these changes to be made.
Barnardo's and signatories.
1 Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography , Fiona Vera-Gray, Clare McGlynn, Ibad Kureshi, Kate Butterby - 2021
Lynn Perry MBE, Chief Executive, Barnardo’s
Geoff Barton, General Secretary, The Association of School and College Leaders
Baroness Benjamin DBE OBE
Carolyn Bunting MBE, CEO, Internet Matters
Jayne Butler, CEO Rape Crisis England & Wales
Rosie Caldwell, CEO, Plan International UK
John Carr, Secretary, UK Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety
Sarah Champion MP
Stella Creasy MP
Deborah Dennis, Chief Executive, The Lucy Faithfull Foundation
Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England
Gillian Finch, Manager, CIS'ters
Will Gardner, Chief Executive, Childnet
Dr Elly Hanson, Clinical Psychologist & Research Director of Fully Human, an initiative of the PSHE Association
Emma Hardy, Communications Director, IWF
Ben Lake MP
Tim Loughton MP
Nick Martlew, Executive Director, 5Rights
Laila Mickelwait, Founder/CEO, Justice Defense Fund
Vanessa Morse, Chief Executive, CEASE (Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation)
Farah Nazeer, CEO, Women’s Aid Federation of England
Dr Charlotte Proudman, Barrister
Lord Russell of Liverpool
Mark Russell, CEO, The Children’s Society
Liz Saville-Roberts MP
Lauren Seager-Smith FRSA, CEO, Kidscape
Andrea Simon, Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition
Dr Nadia Wager, Acting Director of the None in Three Research Centre for the Global Prevention of Gender-Based Violence, University of Huddersfield
Peter Wanless, Chief Executive, NSPCC
Kate Wareham, Director of Young People and Families, Catch 22
Hywel Williams MP
Tania Woodgate, Chief Executive Officer, Male Survivors Partnership
1 According to Government statistics, in 2016 pornography was accessed 1.4 million times by UK children every month. That number is likely to be higher now due to the increase in time spent online during and post pandemic.
Imagery by Popla Media