Earlier this week, a state Assembly committee held a public hearing on Assembly Bill 730. This bill would require companies that host websites featuring pornographic material to do age verification to help ensure minors are not able to access the site. While the bill does not provide penalties for those who violate this law, it does allow individuals who have been harmed by a minor’s access to harmful material because of this law being violated, to file civil claims seeking damages, court costs, and legal fees.
WFA Legislative & Policy Director Jack Hoogendyk provided a testimony to the committee in support of AB 730. It reads as follows:
“A report from Common Sense Media revealed:
- 75% of teenagers have viewed pornography by age 17
- Average age of first exposure to pornography is age 12
- 41% of teenagers saying they had seen images of nudity or sexual acts online during the school day (bypassing existing Wi-Fi filtering)
- Survey of 1,358 Americans age 13 to 17 found that more than half said they viewed violent porn (rape, choking, someone in pain)
- 5% of teen respondents said they first saw online pornography at age 10 or younger.
Research on the impact of pornography on children has revealed:
- 41% of young people (aged between 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.
- 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 limit First Amendment-protected speech. Here is a quote from that 1996 decision:
the Internet is not as ‘invasive’ as radio or television… [and]… [c]ommunications over the Internet do not ‘invade’ an individual’s home or appear on one’s computer screen unbidden. Users seldom encounter content by accident… [and] odds are slim that a user would come across a sexually explicit sight by accident.
- 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 proved particularly effective at protecting kids from harmful and obscene content online.
On a more fundamental level, the federal government’s historical focus on communications regulation is not addressing the challenges that social media present 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.
Mr. Chairman, AB 730, by requiring reasonable age verification methods to verify the age of individuals attempting to access internet websites or social media that is harmful to minors, we will greatly help to resolve the issue of the purveyors of pornography reaching our children. The bill’s provision for civil claims allows those harmed by those who seek to ensnare children into the darkness of pornography to seek some measure of justice, which is certainly warranted.
I might add, Mr. Chairman, that parents will be grateful for this legislation. They need our help. Even the best parental-control software available for purchase does not offer full protection and given the lack of current requirements for age verification, a child can easily falsify his age to access online material that is harmful.
Mr. Chairman, this is common-sense legislation and it is much needed in this cyber-technology driven society. We urge passage of Assembly Bill 730.”