Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Small: Child protections merit lawmakers’ support

Child protections merit lawmakers’ support
By Jonathan Small

Amid the typical debate over budget priorities and policy issues this year, Oklahoma lawmakers are also considering bills to better prevent child exposure to pornography. Those bills deserve legislators’ support.

State Sen. Jerry Alvord, R-Ardmore, and state Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, R-Elgin, have filed legislation to give home-Internet access subscribers and cellular-data-plan subscribers the ability to block access to porn sites.

The legislation requires any entity that publishes or distributes pornography from a website to “provide Internet service subscribers and cellular service subscribers the opportunity, before any individual using such services may access the material, to request that access to the material by subscription service be denied.”

Any porn business that fails to do so could be sued and held liable for actual damages as well as potential punitive damages, including through class-action lawsuits. Companies that used “reasonable age verification methods” before granting access would be protected from legal liability.

Put simply, parents could opt-out of allowing minors to access pornographic websites through a home network and companies would be strongly incentivized to require age verification before granting access.

That’s an approach that has succeeded when dealing with other products harmful to children. Similar technology is already used for online gambling sites, online tobacco sales, and online alcohol sales.

For many Oklahomans, the main appeal of the bill is moral. Children simply should not be exposed to pornography.

But there are reasons to support the bill beyond the clear-cut moral case.

The National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation warns, “Adolescents are normalizing sexual abuse done to them because of pornographic exposure.” The coalition warns that girls “are especially prone” to that problem.

As a state, we do all we can to protect children. Allowing pornography to convince a child that their abuse is “normal” (and therefore undeserving of reporting to authorities) runs counter to that.

Youth porn exposure also has ripple effects that impact other policy areas.

In the March 9, 2023, edition of the Journal of Psychosexual Health, researchers noted that pornography is consumed more frequently by “adolescents with lower academic success than by those with greater achievement” and that pornography use “and aggressive behavior in the classroom was found to be significantly correlated.”

Given the taxpayer resources devoted to education, it makes sense to adopt policies that allow students to get the most benefit from our education spending. Given that Oklahoma already struggles with poor academic outcomes, it makes no sense to allow porn exposure to further drag down some students. And since porn exposure is linked to disruptive behaviors that negatively impact other students, the problems caused by porn are not isolated to youth who access it.

Similar laws have been enacted in Texas, North Carolina, Louisiana and Mississippi. This year, Oklahoma should join that list.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.


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