Opinion

SCHILLING: Time To Regulate Porn? Yes, To Protect Our Kids

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Terry Schilling American Principles Project
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Earlier this month, four GOP members of Congress sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr urging the Department of Justice to crack down on the porn industry by enforcing already existing laws against obscenity.

The move set off a firestorm on Twitter, especially among conservatives, with some calling for greater regulation of pornography while others, most of whom were libertarian-leaning, emphatically denounced any attempt to regulate the industry as a violation of what they argued was constitutionally protected free speech. (For the record, the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that obscenity is not protected under the First Amendment.)

While political leaders have wrestled with the issue of pornography for decades, the explosion of online pornography in recent years — and in increasingly deviant forms — has finally brought the issue to the forefront. Despite the cries of free-speech absolutists, more Americans are coming around again to the idea that it’s time to regulate porn.

Since 2016, 15 states have declared pornography to be a public health crisis. This comes largely in response to studies that have shown that most children are now encountering pornography during their adolescent years — with one report placing the average first age of encounter at 11. This is absolutely outrageous, and it’s clear that we need to do something to protect these children. But what can be done?

An obvious place to start would be curtailing the porn industry’s ability to reach young children. With the advent of the smartphone, children now have access to their own personal library of the most horrific and violent sexual content the seedy underbelly of the internet has to offer. Furthermore, children are being encouraged by the industry to use pornography as a resource for learning about sex.

Shocking as that may seem, however, we should not be surprised. The porn industry, like any industry, is committed to customer acquisition. It’s part of their long-term business model. And getting customers in the door is incredibly easy with a wide open Internet. There are no closed doors online, let alone locked doors. At any given moment, a user is no more than three clicks and a keyword away from accessing the most obscene pornographic content imaginable, regardless of how old they are.

That needs to change. We require convenience stores to verify the age of their customers to avoid selling beer to high-schoolers. We make casinos card their patrons to prevent people under the age of 21 from gambling. Given the well-documented negative effects of pornography—particularly in its most degrading forms, and especially with regard to children— why should this industry be treated any differently?

Fortunately, taking action on this would not necessarily require new legislation. Federal law already prohibits the knowing transfer of “obscene matter” to persons under the age of 16, a statute which would seem to require online pornography websites to implement an age verification system in order to adequately adhere to the law. Of course, these websites are only likely to do this if they think the law will be enforced.

That is why Friday’s letter from the four members of Congress is so important, and why it’s crucial that more join in this fight. We need to know where Attorney General Barr and the Department of Justice stand on this issue. Will they step up and once again start enforcing existing obscenity laws to limit the porn industry’s ability to access our children? If not, then Congress has no choice but to act legislatively to spur them on.

With technological advances making even the worst kinds of pornography ever more accessible, parents have become woefully under-equipped to shield their children from its onslaught. Concerned Americans must demand that our political leaders find the courage to take on the exploitative porn industry and implement reasonable restrictions. We cannot tolerate the psychological corruption of our nation’s children as if it were some sort of new normal.

Terry Schilling (@Schilling1776) is the executive director at American Principles Project, a conservative nonprofit dedicated to putting human dignity at the heart of public policy.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.