With an increasing amount of minors addicted to online pornography, citizens are lining up to support proposed legislation to crack down on underage access to pornographic material.
“We have an entire generation of young kids who are accessing porn—to the point they don’t even think it’s an issue, much less a problem,” said Deborah Berry, a Texas mom who testified in favor of the restrictions.
Two pieces of legislation to protect kids from porn received hearings in the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday. One would require technology manufacturers to activate explicit material filters on devices in Texas, and the other would require age verification for online pornography websites.
Senate Bill 417 by State Sen. Angela Paxton (R–McKinney) “simply puts the onus on the manufacturer to activate the [explicit material] filter upon activation of the device in Texas to protect more minors from explicit material on the internet.”
Paxton highlighted research that shows pornography is addictive and that “exposure to explicit content in childhood is linked to an increase in the demand for child pornography, child exploitation, human trafficking, and prostitution.”
Children who use pornography are more prone to engage in risky sexual behaviors and are at risk of sexual victimization, which is also linked to mental health disorders.
Utah first introduced a law to require device manufacturers to turn on the explicit material filter upon purchase, and eight other states now have similar pieces of legislation pending.
Deasha Wiggins testified in support of SB 417, explaining how childhood exposure to pornography has impacted her:
Everyone has these phones, but not everyone has parents to put filters on them or to limit their use of the devices. My mother adopted me. My adopted mother died when I was 11 years old. After that, I lived with many foster families and group homes where there was no relation. Due to the lack of supervision, I explored hardcore pornography, which created unrealistic ideas. I tried to imitate those scenes, which put me in very dangerous situations.
“Plenty of kids I knew and lived with accessed hardcore pornography at a young age,” said Wiggins. “I have friends who have been choked, slapped, spanked, and raped because that’s what people using pornography think sex is about.”
“The situation could be quickly improved if it was harder to access pornography on our devices automatically, as SB 417 would require,” Wiggins said. “Don’t tell me it is hard for these multibillion-dollar companies to figure it out. That’s a joke. I sincerely hope you vote for the kids in this case, not the Big Tech lobbyists paid to distract you from real people like me.”
“My daughter has been digitally sex trafficked,” said Berry, who also testified in support of SB 417. She said her child began accessing and creating pornography at 10 years old.
“It does not matter how many protections I’ve built around my children. It does not matter what neighborhood my family lived in. It doesn’t matter whether they attended a private or a public school. What matters is that my children have technology in their hands and they’re living in a virtual Wild West,” she said.
I know what it means to have a child on that train, to be overwhelmed, exhausted, and outflanked by the technology that grips her. I know what it means to be a parent desperate for answers and looking for solutions. I know what it means to have dreams shattered for your children, and you’re heartbroken because you can’t recognize the place that you find yourself or your family, and you have no idea what to do about it.
Multiple IT workers testified in support of SB 417, explaining that the process would be within the abilities of the technology industry. However, Servando Esparza, executive director for the southeast region of TechNet—a national bipartisan network of tech companies that promote the growth of the innovation economy nationwide—testified against the bill.
“Completely reliable identification, blocking, and filtering capabilities like the ones that the bill calls for are not feasible,” said Esparza. “And what I mean by that is they’re not always going to be perfect. There’s over 250,000 websites that are created on a daily basis. … And so, the way that the bill is written, it requires that the filter has to be perfect because it places liability on the manufacturer when the filter is not perfect.”
Paxton said the liability is determined by whether or not the tech company turned the filter on, not whether the filter is perfect.
SB 417 was left pending in committee.
Senate Bill 2021, also by Paxton, “requires a publisher or distributor of sexually explicit website content to create an 18+ age verification in order to view the website content.”
Paxton said, “Similar age verifications are already used in the United States and around the world to prevent minors from things like online gambling, online purchase of alcohol, [and] online purchase of cannabis.”
The legislation would hold publishers and distributors liable—meaning parents can sue—if they fail to implement a functional age-verification system.
Jon Schweppe, policy director at American Principles Project, testified in support of SB 2021, stating, “Parents can’t shoulder this responsibility all by themselves. Devices are everywhere. The internet is everywhere.”
Hillary Hickland, who serves on the Texas GOP subcommittee to stop the sexualization of Texas children, also testified in favor of SB 2021.
“The average age at first exposure is around 11 years old. Although some research has shown the average age is 8 years old, either is unacceptable,” said Hickman. “With an estimated $16.9 billion yearly revenue in the United States alone, the pornography industry is both massive and powerful.”
The dangers to children are severe, ranging from mental health issues to potential violence.
“Children exposed to pornography at a young age are statistically more likely to sexually assault their peers and suffer a broad range of maladaptive violent behavior,” said Hickman.
SB 2021 was left pending in committee.