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Exclusive: 'Terrifyingly' easy access to porn is affecting our children, says government review head

Baroness Gabby Bertin discusses landmark online Pornography Review and how parents can help

Boy lies on bed looking at his phone
Sophie Hamilton
Parenting Editor
12 January 2024
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Here at HELLO!, we were shocked to read a recent news report which revealed that half of all reported child abuse cases involved accused teenagers below the age of 18.

Police attribute the rise to young people owning mobile phones and watching hardcore, violent or abusive pornography online. They say this is affecting how young men behave sexually with girls, and demands are made for nude videos and pictures.

"It's a crime to take, make, share or distribute an indecent image of a child that is under 18," Ian Critchley, lead of the NPCC told BBC News.

Now, a new independent review has been launched by the Government into online pornography, led by Baroness Gabby Bertin.

Baroness Gabby Bertin
Baroness Gabby Bertin

The Pornography Review aims to advise the government on ways to tackle the potentially harmful impact of pornography on viewers, and to look at how abuse and exploitation can be better addressed in the modern industry.

On 11 January, the Call for Evidence for the review was launched where pornography creators, law enforcement, parents and the public will be given an opportunity to share their thoughts on the effect pornography is having on society and help shape the future of pornography regulation in the UK.

The questionnaire, which closes on Thursday 7 March, will collect evidence on the impact of pornographic content on relationships, sexual behaviours, mental health and their views of women and girls.

Below, HELLO! talks to Baroness Gabby Bertin about the Pornography Review…

Hello Baroness Bertin, can you tell us about the review and why it's so needed?

It's a huge privilege and honour to have been asked to do this review because I've done a lot of work in the violence against women and girls space.

It's clear to me that we can introduce all kinds of brilliant pieces of legislation to try and help victims, but if you're not looking at why it's happening with such prevalence and trying to tackle it at source, you're not doing the job.

The pornography law as it stands is all geared up for the offline world and nobody's watching porn offline now, it's all online. The checks and balances that are in place with sex DVDs don't exist online and it's quite wrong.

The reason why the Prime Minister was so keen to set this review up is that we've got to find a way to marry up the offline and the online world in this area.

The Online Safety Act has absolutely made progress on child verification and children's access but that can't happen a moment too soon. It's still terrifyingly easy to get access to stuff that nobody under the age of 18 should be seeing.

I think a big bucket of work will be about the enforcement of what is happening online, which we already know is completely illegal, and trying to work with the police and the agencies to make sure that they have all the tools to try and get that kind of access, that kind of content offline.

Another big part of the work is trying to examine the impact of so many young people seeing this kind of content way too early in their lives, and what we do to try and remedy that.

Teenage boy lying on his bed looking at his phone© Getty
Teenage boy lying on his bed looking at his phone

How is viewing pornography affecting our young people?

You can't say 100% if you watch hardcore porn, you're therefore going to enact that in your private life. But the police have released this figure that there's been a huge spike in child crimes, child rapes on the back of watching violent porn. And that is all you need to know really.

That story is horrifying and totally unacceptable. If you're getting a taste for that age 13, you're not suddenly going to grow out of it at age 16 - you're probably going to get more extreme.

We know that, unfortunately, it is a journey. You speak to any police officer in this world, it's always a journey. They don't just wake up one morning and decide they're going to go onto an illegal website. It's a journey into much darker stuff and we have to stop that.

How will parents be able to have their say in the review?

The review was launched about a month ago and there is now a call for evidence. It's an opportunity to hear from everyone who cares, has an interest, understands it, knows what's going on and perhaps knows how to solve it as well.

Pornography is a difficult thing to talk about with your children. It's not necessarily something you want to raise at the breakfast table every day, but it's giving parents those tools that don't shut down the conversation.

Obviously, every family is different and for some families it might not be possible, but I think just being as helpful as we can to give support to parents is something that I don't think is happening in a uniform way now.

Is online pornography talked about in schools with students at the moment?

That's a very good point and it's not, in any sort of regular fashion. I think the Department of Education is currently consulting on what they put into the content of their relationship and sex education, which is now compulsory in schools, or will be.

It's complicated, because obviously, you don't want to signpost pornography to people who haven't spotted it yet. Generally speaking, if you're a 15-year-old boy, you probably will have done. All these considerations have to be thought about, and how do you actually teach it and tackle it?

I would hope the review will work closely with the Department of Education to try and get a proportionate solution to that.

How long is the review going to take?

The ambition is we will report in the summer.

This has been going on for a long time now. People are being affected by it. It's not something that should take years and years, we've got to get cracking with it.

And likewise, the Online Safety Act and all the better checks around age verification that we've got to move as quickly as possible on. I hope this review will support the work that Ofcom's doing on that as well, so speed is of the essence.

A girl being comforted by her mother© Getty
A girl being comforted by her mother

Are you looking to implement similar age verification checks for online pornography that are now required within the Online Safety Act?

In a sense, that law has been created. There was a series of discussions during the period of the legislation that has just gone through which delved into much more robust regulation of the pornography industry.

For example, role-play that makes the participants look like children. There are things that you wouldn't be able to get in the old fashioned world, but you are able to access in the online world, so that's the area we'll look at.

Also, exploitation. There's never really been a proper understanding, not least because it's quite new legislation on modern slavery. What are the links to the porn industry with exploitation? [I'm] fairly sure there are links, so it's trying to understand how the industry can better protect the people who appear in their content, and put much more pressure on those in the industry to do the right thing.

We're not trying to say people must never watch porn or somehow trying to regulate people's private lives, but it's clear that there is a sense of a total lack of proportion.

What will the next steps be when the review is finished?

It depends. There will be some things that may well need primary legislation.

Who knows what the political landscape would be like, but I want this review to be very ambitious, for it to be something that whichever government is in power can adopt - and that's why it's got to be independent as well.

I think there is generally a cross-party desire in the area of pornography to really try and change thing

As a parent, there's a conflict between monitoring your teen's phone use and your teen wanting privacy, so we do need restrictions in place on the websites…

 It's impossible for parents.

The adult space is more complicated. People will have certain things they want to do, and you've got to be careful as a government that you're not restricting certain things.

But we have to be sure that this law is going to work to protect children. Likewise, if as a child you do get through the age verification barriers, which of course some children will, then what you are able to see [needs] certain barriers as well.

Perhaps we have to look at certain levels, make it as hard as possible to just fall upon really, really extreme content, if it's not made illegal.

The drumbeat for it is really quite loud now. I think five years ago, maybe not so much; people sort of knew it went on but perhaps weren't quite so aware, but a big proportion of the country is suddenly waking up to this.

The more people understand that this is happening, the bigger the support will be to make change.


Have your say:

Contribute your views to the Pornography Review on the government's website here or email

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