Traffickers and predators use pornography as a grooming tactic to desensitize children, an expert informed Texas lawmakers this week. This testimony was delivered during a hearing on legislation to require and enforce age restrictions to access pornographic materials online.

During a House committee hearing on House Bill 3570, filed by State Rep. Nate Schatzline (R–Fort Worth), lawmakers heard testimony on the dangers of children accessing pornography.

HB 3570 defines pornography as “sexual material harmful to minors.” Age restrictions would be added to social media platforms and internet websites to prevent minors from accessing porn.

Schatzline’s legislation would require age verification using state-issued identification to access “adult websites,” where pornographic content is available, and allows parents to sue if their child is exposed to pornography online.

“Over 62 percent of 11- to 13-year-olds who had seen pornography reported that their first exposure to it was unintentional,” said Schatzline, referencing a 2019 study.

“Research shows that children are more susceptible than adults to addictions and to developmental effects on the brain, and preventing this first exposure to harmful content is just as important as preventing future exposure to more mainstream websites,” Schatzline said.

Terry Schilling, the president of the American Principles Project, testified in favor of the legislation and refuted common objections to HB 3570 and similar legislation.

“We have lots of adult entertainment and lots of adult activities and products that require age verification,” said Schilling. “We have had zero problems or complications when it comes to verifying the age of people for online sports betting, online alcohol sales, [and] even online marijuana sales in some states, like California. We have had no issues with privacy problems.”

Schilling argued the Supreme Court “gave us a blueprint for how to protect children online from pornography” in Reno v. ACLU.

“Essentially, the FCC and lots of other regulators have already defined what pornography is and how to keep it off our broadcast television,” Schilling concluded.

Brianna Elder, the director of advocacy for Unbound Now in Austin, also testified in favor of Schatzline’s proposal.

“Porn is often used as a grooming tactic from traffickers and predators … as a way to desensitize youth,” said Elder. “And another aspect of it is a lot of the porn that is online or made available is a product of trafficking.”

The development of minors is affected by consuming “this kind of material,” and it “affects their brain development,” Elder argued.

“It just kind of sets the trajectory of the way they view relationships, themselves, [and] interactions with others,” Elder continued.

Carrie Moore of Texas Education 911 stated during her testimony, “We’re just over sexualizing children … from beginning to end.”

Our lines between adult, proper adult, and proper child relationships throughout society are being blurred more and more. And it’s because of things like porn sites [that] well-meaning nonprofit curricula will have links sometimes to things that this [legislation] would at least prohibit them from having one or two clicks away from some pretty disgusting and inappropriate, unhealthy things for children to see and to try to live up to those expectations in life.

Moore ended her testimony by saying, “We are erasing that line so that they’re born with that natural inclination.”

Deborah Simmons, a mom with more than 10 years of experience in the information technology industry, testified in favor of the bill.

Simmons explained to the House committee that she used her IT skills to research the accessibility of sexually graphic images, explicit text, and embedded hotlinks in databases and portals.

She discovered that “filters are inadequate to anticipate and prohibit access to every new website.”

“There are links embedded in websites that are falsely marketed and curated as ‘safe’ portals for K-12 students. Some of these links go to actual porn sites,” explained Simmons. “The peddlers of pornography, child pornography, child sexual abuse material, and obscene content do not have boundaries in their efforts to expose children and corrupt their young, impressionable and innocent minds.

No one testified against the bill.

The policy director of the Texas Family Project, Austin Griesinger, told Texas Scorecard his organization sees this as “commonsense legislation.”

“It is far too easy for a minor to access harmful—and often times illegal—pornographic material,” said Griesinger.

Similar legislation was filed in the Texas Senate by State Sen. Angela Paxton (R–McKinney). Her proposal, Senate Bill 2021, was left pending in committee after a hearing earlier this month.

HB 3570 was also left pending in committee.

Soli Rice

A journalist for Texas Scorecard, Soli is a new Texan with a passion for politics. She's excited to hone her writing skills and help spread truth to Texans.