Morality-Based Employment Discrimination

My employment with a UK-based, mainstream fashion brand was recently terminated on account of my adult work and business conflicting with the interests of the company.

When I accepted the job of Multimedia Designer and Developer with Missguided it did not occur to me that my experience in the online adult industry might work against me.

I lasted five days in what seemed a perfectly suited role for my skills, experience and enthusiasm before the company terminated my contract under the probationary terms of employment. The only explanation they gave shortly before marching me out of the building was ‘for reasons we can’t elaborate on at this time.’

Of course, I was certain of the reasoning behind it and I was aware that they took a view that, in my opinion, was narrow-minded and shallow of the adult work I have produced but instead of allowing me the courtesy of responding to their concerns they chose to cut ties.

An ‘official‘ reason eventually came through the recruiting agency that had placed me in the role; I was told that Missguided felt my adult business ‘conflicted’ with the interests and values of their brand.

I have still yet to receive any official, written confirmation of my contact’s termination.

Additional frustration was caused due to the fact that I had been upfront and honest from the very start with Pervlens Media proudly placed on my CV (which both interviewers had with them during my interview), we discussed areas of work I had been engaged in in the past and they had over three weeks to do their due diligence before my start date.

It was especially surprising to me as Missguided paints itself as an edgy, modern, progressive and fresh brand and I thought if anyone would be able to look past the adult content, even embrace it as something that makes my experience that little more unique, they would.

I have held jobs previously in roles with companies like Urban Vision, a partnership with Salford City Council, that had me, on a regular basis, coming into contact and dealing with council officers, Councillors, elected officials and members of the public.

It is probably a well-known fact, perhaps even to be expected, that a past in adult films will close off mainstream opportunities and employment .

Renee Richards, a well-known UK adult ex-performer, has experienced such discrimination too, and lost at least two jobs due to her past life, commenting;

“I worked in the adult (porn) industry for four and a half years, and performed in over 200 films. In that time I did not feel degraded nor did I find working in the industry demeaning. However, since leaving the industry I have been treated in a demeaning and degrading way by people who are not in the adult industry, who have either found out of their own volition that I used to work in the adult industry, or by me telling them.”

I wanted to share my experience as this kind of discrimination is often allowed under current employment law and is rarely spoken about and contrary to what people may think affects those behind the camera too such as back office and support staff of adult companies just as much as it can affect the performers and ‘stars’ of adult entertainment.

Legal advice that I sought shortly after the termination confirmed that the law is not only extremely employer-sided in the first two years of employment, especially so during the probationary period, but employers are not even legally obliged to elaborate or give written confirmation of the reasons for dismissal.

It has left me pondering – when did the UK become a place where we allow judgements on an individual with work history in a perfectly legal industry who was upfront and honest about it influence the ability or skill to do a job?

[Note: Missguided have been contacted for comment. At the time of publication, no reply has been received.]

Where Does The Green Party Stand on Sexual Freedom?

As the May election approaches, we should all be considering our individual priorities, and selecting an appropriate party and candidate to vote for. So for me (as you might expect) the erosion of civil liberties is far and away the biggest issue we face at this election, and especially those issues around sexual freedom and free expression.

Which parties are the strongest in these areas? Well to begin with, we can ignore the two largest: both Labour and the Tories have appalling records in these areas, climbing over each other to censor online expression and then insisting that the other side isn’t being tough enough on terrorists/protecting children/[insert your favourite threat to humanity].

UKIP’s libertarian noises have been a clever tactic to attract those who are sick of the politically-correct authoritarianism of the puritan left. But there can be nothing pro-liberty about UKIP in practise: their support comes overwhelmingly from older, socially conservative voters, who would be outraged by a loosening of policy on sex or drugs. UKIP has no mandate for expanding civil liberties, but their anti-immigration policies would require a large investment in the security state. More police with more powers? No thanks.

Putting aside the tiny parties (the Pirates have already featured here), there are two choices remaining: the Greens or the Lib Dems. Many of my sex-positive friends are enthusiastic supporters of the Greens, who are projected as a pro-liberty, left-wing alternative. I have doubts whether the Greens are either especially libertine or left (that discussion can continue elsewhere!) But where do they stand on sex? I was sent a link today to a statement of policy which has left me just as uncertain as before.

On Sexual Freedom

The Green Party believes that the law should not seek to regulate consensual sexual activities between adults where these do not affect others…

– This is a bland statement, rendered of little value by the “where these do not affect others” part, which is a get-out-of-jail-free card. Do the existence of strip clubs “affect others”? Anti-sex campaigners think so, and have long made (discredited) arguments that strip clubs cause an increase in sexual violence. Do lads’ mags or Page 3 affect others? Pro-censorship campaigners say these “objectify women” and make supermarkets and newsagents uncomfortable places for some women to visit. Anti-gay rights campaigners have long considered that the rights of gay people have wider, detrimental (but hard-to-quantify) effects on society. Basically, any sex act that doesn’t happen between two people in private might be said to “affect others”.

4/10

On Censorship

The statement continues:

... restrictions and censorship of sexually explicit material should be ended, except for those aimed at protecting children. The following are direct quotes from our official policy.

RR550 … Adults should be free to do as they wish with their own bodies, and to practice whatever form of sexual activity they wish by themselves or with each other by mutual consent. This includes the freedom not only to engage in such sexual acts, but also to be photographed or filmed doing so, to make such images available to other adults with their consent, and to be able to view such images. That someone might receive payment for any of these activities should not affect this freedom.

http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/rr.html#RR550

– This is a much stronger statement, but heavily undermined by the caveat “except for those aimed at protecting children” (my highlight above). Most UK censorship of sexual expression exists under the “protecting children” caveat. This includes the total ban on hardcore porn on TV – even at 3am, even PIN-protected – because (according to Ofcom) children might know the PIN and have access to a TV at 3am. The filters on home broadband, public WiFi and mobile Internet connections exist to “protect children”, but in practise block a lot of valuable content to both children and adults. ATVOD’s harassment of UK-based adult websites is done under the seemingly false pretext of child protection.

5/10

Sex Work

The statement continues:

RR554 Therefore, all aspects of sex work involving consenting adults should be decriminalised. Restrictions and censorship of sexually explicit material should be ended, except for those which are aimed at protecting children. Workers in the sex industry should enjoy the same rights as other workers such as the right to join unions (SeeWR410), the right to choose whether to work co-operatively with others etc. Decriminalisation would also help facilitate the collection of taxes due from those involved in sex work. Legal discrimination against sex workers should be ended (for example, in child custody cases, where evidence of sex work is often taken to mean that a person is an unfit parent).http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/rr.html#RR555

This is a strong, positive statement. It continues…

At the time that the 2008 bill was passed we did not have a Green MP in Parliament so did not have a vote. However our policy towards all forms of sex work is a liberal one advocating decriminalisation with protections against exploitation, abuse and trafficking.

And here’s the BIG problem with the Greens. They have a great sex work policy, and they now have one MP, Caroline Lucas. But Lucas is a vociferous opponent of Green policy on sex work, as well as a leading supporter of the censorious No More Page 3 campaign. Which way would she vote on these issues? We have no idea.

Note also the inclusion of the T-word… “trafficking” here. The blurring of lines between sex work and trafficking is based on the largely mythical idea of “sex trafficking”, which is used to attack the legitimacy of sex work. Not good.

7/10

We will try to carry more party-based coverage in the run-up to the election. If party supporters and representatives would like to provide us information on their policies related to these subjects, or write a post for this blog, please contact us.

B&Q Embraces Kinksters as 50 Shades is Released

Once upon a time, the fetish world was a dark, seedy place for the hardcore enthusiast only. Thanks to the Internet, kink has increasingly entered the mainstream, but we can thank 50 Shades of Grey for really bringing BDSM to suburbia.

50 Shades has outraged pro-censorship activists and the Daily Mail more than any porn ever could, because it has penetrated the reading lists and the bedrooms of respectable British housewives. Morality campaigners, horrified at the success of the books, have tried to link them to domestic violence, and have even called for book burnings. With the movie about to be released, the anti-50 Shades campaigners have launched a boycott, calling on people to donate to sexual abuse charities instead of watching it at the cinema.

None of this outrage has made a dent in public enthusiasm for 50 Shades, or the resulting interest in BDSM.

Indeed, BDSM is now so mainstream that the DIY chain store B&Q has jumped in on the act. In a “leaked memo to staff“, B&Q have warned employees to expect a surge of interest in BDSM-related products when the 50 Shades movie premières, including ropes, cable ties and tape.

It may be a surprise to B&Q staff that there are alternative uses for these apparently boring products, but the kink community is way ahead of them. London-based dominatrix Ms Tytania enthusiastically endorses B&Q’s products:

Every kinkster knows that their local DIY store is a treasure trove of pervertables: a term used to describe every happy find in its seemingly mundane aisles. This knowledge passes from kinkster to kinkster, and it’s a good thing, because along with the instructions, come the safety rules and common sense. Ever since I discovered the kink scene in London, I’ve been told of marvellous contraptions and materials that can be bought cheaply at B&Q, how to use them, and what to do with them, safely. If you know where to look, B&Q could be your favourite sex shop.

One of my favourite activities is japanese rope bondage: the art of tying people up, securely, inescapably and aesthetically. B&Q sell my favourite rope: 6mm, red polypropylene, in their rope & chains aisle. Well, I hope they still sell it, because it’s proven to be so hard-wearing and durable, that even though I use it to suspend 15 stone blokes from my ceiling suspension (made with concrete screws from yes, you guessed it, B&Q), it still looks as good as new after more than 8 years . It’s a beautiful, solid coral red and machine washable. Soft to the touch against the skin and cut in lengths of 4, 6 or 10 metres (anything longer would be too tangly), easily the best rope I’ve ever used for Shibari.

While enthusiasts embrace the convergence of BDSM and DIY, some strike a note of caution to inexperienced enthusiasts trying out kink for the first time. Sexpert Emily Dubberley says:

If B&Q staff are going to be given a memo on use of equipment, it is important they are aware of safety guidelines so they don’t put any customers at risk. There are many great books and websites out there exploring how to practice BDSM safely: 50 Shades wasn’t written as a sex manual, but a fantasy. As such, while it may inspire you, it’s not a good idea to assume you can use it as a ‘how to’ guide: as I’m sure even EL James would agree. BDSM is as safe as any sex, as long as conducted with informed consent and knowledge: while I applaud B&Q’s approach towards diverse sexuality, and celebration of customer satisfaction, they also need to consider customer safety.

Ms Tytania agrees. Noting that B&Q’s memo had mentioned cable ties, she provides the following advice:

Never use bungee or elastic rope, cable ties or binds. Gaffer tape is OK, but it can stick to hair or beards and result on the wrong type of pain. You only want the good kind of pain during play, the type that helps you space out and drift away into submission, not the one that snaps you out of it in agony. If you are planning to give rope a try, use 3 metre long lengths that are simple to unknot and tie up the limbs only, always above or below joints. Never put rope on the joints themselves. To ensure that the tightness is right, I slip a finger between the rope and the limb: if it fits, it’s neither too tight nor too loose. And have a pair of medical scissors at hand, the ones used to cut through bandages, in case you need to cut (in this case, Boots is your friend).

So there you have it, folks: go out there and enjoy yourselves. But be careful out there.

Oi Russell! If I Can’t Strip, It’s Not My Revolution!

Dear Russell,

Forgive the blatant sexual objectification of my own body to get your attention. Given your past reputation and my occupation, it seems fitting.

I’ve got a bone to pick with you… not wishing to sound like another critic in the army of naysayers lining up to knock lumps out of you (it beggars belief to observe the emotional violence levelled at you sometimes) as I think of you as someone who has done remarkably well, who has struggled against and overcome uncommon adversity, worked hard and transformed unimaginable pain into joyous medicine for the soul: laughter. You are a public figure of whom the Buddha himself would be proud.

I want to talk to you about feminism; specifically, how women are represented on the Trews. I’m not talking about the Feminism of yester-year, the bra-burning, militant Greenham Commoners, or the suffragettes who fought to the death for a right that became obsolete anyway. I’m not referring to any of these tired old tropes, which, thanks to decades of media conditioning and unhelpful narratives, continue to diminish the movement.

I’m talking about the value of women in society. How women are valued and treated in our culture, the rights, freedoms and options that they are afforded, or not afforded, by the rest of society i.e. men, and how these freedoms are enshrined in our culture, law and heritage. Simple.

I’ve heard you mention Guy Debord before – his book “Society of the Spectacle” explains how modern culture places a higher value on how things look above their reality, to all our detriment. Our present society likes nothing better than to endlessly pore over images of women, scrutinising every inch. We know that appraising women primarily for their attractiveness and the way they look is harmful to us all, yet it persists.

Media representations of gender are essential to public perceptions and beliefs, therefore the ways in which women are represented in popular mainstream media say a lot about cultural attitudes towards them. The legendary academic Jean Kilbourne nails this in her work ‘Killing Us Softly’, identifying attitudes alongside representations of women in advertising. Admirably, you have also pinpointed the problem of objectification, idolatry, and deification of women, turning them into 2d objects and projecting narratives onto them. You seem to have an impressive grasp of feminist ideology, revealed in episode 12 ‘Is Renee Zellweger getting older’ when you explain the “Madonna/Whore” delineation of female de-sexualised archetypes.

But it begs the question, what are you doing to create alternatives to the usual media mechanisms that silence womens’ voices and deny their personalities? How has the Trews facilitated a discussion about the value of women in society and the media? As a feminist myself, and a big fan of your work, I’m sorely disappointed.

I’ve been watching the Trews for about a year now; the part of me that bloody loves you, and always has, is thoroughly excited and inspired to witness you, with your knowledge, illustriousness, and sheer audacity, having a square go at tackling corruption, greed and ignorance head-on. But, sadly, the feminist part of me that is awake to female representation and subjugation is horrified by the lack of women on the Trews.

With the exception of the Focus E15 mums and Lindsay from the New Era Estate, who are magnificent exemplars of utter mightiness in the struggle for social justice in the UK, there has been a dearth of other women like them. So far I have been dismayed by the lack of outspoken, assertive, intelligent, empowered women in comparison to the number of men who fit that description. There is a growing alumni of impressive and influential male guests, including Scroobius Pip, Brenden Ogle, George Monbiot, Jolyon Rubinstein and Heydon Prowse, B Dolan, Dan Pinchbeck, Dave DeGraw, Mo Ansar, Rufus Hound, David Baddiel, and Alain De Botton. Conversely, is it fair to say that Chloe and Alesha the Cambridge drop-outs, your PA Nicola, and the little girl on the tube represent the full opinion, intellect and creative spirit of half the population?

You invited Helena Norberg-Hodge to share her expertise on trade agreements and food justice, but your habit of continually interrupting her to translate what she was saying into your “layman’s terms” was undermining. Ok, it’s part of your adorable shtick, and she’s not the only guest who is put through your jovial “everyday folk” filter, you do this with male guests too. But there is something disconcerting about her interview. You are more deferential with men, you hang off their every word – not so with Helena.

In episode 164, ‘Is David Cameron The Terrorist?’ you appear with Alec Baldwin, Max Keiser and Stacey Herbert. Worryingly, you introduced both male guests using their full names – but Stacey is just Stacey. She barely gets a word in throughout the discussion, and she is the last person to be addressed on each question. When she does offer a weird analogy about the banking system being like Ebola she doesn’t get to qualify it; instead Max Keiser interjects with “Ah, haha, well I think what Stacey is alluding to there…” Talk about patronising!

Even more worryingly, this has already been brought to your attention! In episode 106, ‘Is The Trews Sexist?’ a fan suggests that you redress the balance of male/female guests, in order to avoid the classic narrative of male-dominated politics. As a life-long fan of your humour I appreciated the delicious irony of your response, ordering your female butler upstairs to boss her about like a patriarchal overlord. Truly hilarious, but you didn’t actually take the hint.

Your most noteworthy female guest so far is undoubtedly Naomi Klein. Does that mean you’ll only take a woman seriously if she triggers anti-globalisation movements with her best selling books? Not a bad criterion to have for your guests, in which case what the bloody hell is Alistair Campbell (spin doctor to Blair’s Evil Empire) doing there? I understand the point – Campbell is human underneath etc. But what is the wider message being sent out to female fans?

I could go on but you’ve probably got the message. I don’t believe for a second I’m the first person to point this out to you – in fact you revealed an awareness of your sexist tendencies by apologising to that politician on Question Time for calling her “love”. Maybe your eyes are opening to the myriad ways that women are still stifled, undermined and disregarded.

What, then, qualifies me to aim this diatribe at you? Obviously, I’m a woman and a feminist. I’m also a “stripper activist”. I co-founded a group called East London Strippers Collective, a group of strippers who have gathered out of shared grievances about our industry, and a desire to improve it. We are committed to self-organisation, self-empowerment and ethical business practises. We seek to challenge stereotypes and widely held erroneous beliefs about our work, provoking better-informed dialogue about strippers and sex-workers in general.

How can a feminist be a stripper, I hear you think? Easily. For us pro-choice, sex-positive feminists our work is built on the principle that women have the right to be sexual beings, the right to choose what they do with their own bodies – the same principle that made abortion and homosexuality a legal right.

ELSC believe that women (and men) have the right to strip and not be stigmatised for it. We imagine that if clubs were run as egalitarian businesses, owned and managed by workers we might create a more respectful and sympathetic environment within the industry, changing the wider social impact. Our manifesto challenges the patriarchal conventions on which the industry is built, and ensures that no individual can profit from the work of another.

Unsavoury workplace controls, exploitative business practises and unhealthy manipulations of male and female sexuality are as much a consequence of capitalist greed than anything else. The more we strive to take back autonomy in our workplaces, the more useful and effective we can be in society, which makes us no different from any other exploited work force seeking an end to greed and exploitation. In many ways, the sex industry is the definitive capitalist business model, entirely profit driven. But I can imagine it being different.

Russell, your call for Revolution is a symphony of inspiration to me. I’m a politicised radical who believes in change. I went to anti-war demos and climate riots, some of my best mates fought high profile climate-justice court trials. What I learned during my informative years as an anti-capitalist rebel I am now applying to my choice of work. As an activist, visual artist and a practising Buddhist I’ve had ample opportunity to re-imagine the world. The task of our generation is re-imagining a system that serves people over profit; gender equality must be part of that system.

My vision for Revolution includes strippers. It includes all sex-workers. Because what they offer society is untold insight into gender biases and power relationships. I refer to this New Statesman article by Alison Phipps ’Why Feminism Needs Trans People and Sex Workers’;

“Sex workers are part of an industry which, although diverse, is profoundly gendered and based on the commodification of sex and desire. From this position they have unique insights into how gendered power relations and sexual scripts work… the gendered structures that radical feminism identified in the 1970s may have already become more complex and slippery in our postmodern world. Surely, those most likely to understand these present-day structures are those oppressed by them the most.”

As we strive ahead together calling out greed and corruption, I want the freedom to strip! I want to provide sexual entertainment to those who would otherwise be devoid of it, for the landscape of our art and culture to include tits and willies, and celebrations of nudity and sexuality. I believe there is value in sex work, and that those who choose to do it deserve recognition. I want my positive experiences as a stripper to be acknowledged and my negative experiences to serve as caution. I want to use my knowledge and understanding of my choice of work to be a source of transformation and inspiration to others.

I’d like to know what you think about this potential sticking point; because in the words of the glorious, articulate and mercifully female political agitator Emma Goldman… if I can’t strip, it’s not my Revolution.

Anti-Sex Work Comedian Kate Smurthwaite Silenced! Or was she…?

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings, all but the most delusional bloggers have become keenly aware of the importance of free speech, and the need to defend it against those who would take it away. This has been quite a shift for a Britain that has, over the last few years, become increasingly obsessed with not causing offence to anyone at any time.

This week, Spiked posted a well-publicised study into how free expression is being crushed in universities up and down the country in order not to confront students with ideas that might make them uncomfortable (though being challenged by new ideas is the very point of a university education, some might say). These bans – on everything from outside speakers to The Sun and Robin Thicke records – are often led by student unions, populated by our future politicians. So it’s a cause for concern.

And right on cue, a new case came to light. Comedian Kate Smurthwaite had her gig at Goldsmith’s College cancelled after feminist protests. Smurthwaite was immediately all over the media, commenting on how she was apparently “the wrong kind of feminist” and therefore had to be ‘silenced’ – that popular phrase used by people with high public profiles whenever anyone criticises them.

Classy: blaming sex workers, not rapists, for rape
Classy: blaming sex workers, not rapists, for rape

Of course, I was appalled by this story. I’ll admit to not knowing who Kate Smurthwaite was prior to this point, and upon researching her, she turns out to be a rather nasty piece of work – a vocal supporter of the ‘Nordic model’ in relation to sex work and someone not adverse to abusing sex workers on Twitter (‘rape enablers’ and comparisons to murderers are some of her charming claims) and who has trotted out zombie stats on the sex industry as fact. She’s campaigned against strip clubs, and is a supporter of Object.

But still, she’s entitled to the free speech that she wants to deny others. Not that she’s exactly short of platforms. Despite being an obscure and (as we shall see) rather unpopular comedian, she’s appeared on Question Time, for instance, and other TV discussion shows. Which rather suggests that she’s very much the RIGHT kind of feminist as far as the BBC are concerned – how many pro-porn feminists have had similar exposure? But if her show was closed down due to threats, then that’s clearly not on. We should combat horrible people and their horrible opinions by debate, not denial of platform – otherwise, it suggests that our arguments are as weak as those of Object. They might force Dapper Laughs out of business, but we are surely not that nasty?

But it doesn’t take long before this story sets the Bullshit Alarm ringing. It was the idea of her being “the wrong kind of feminist” that first raised my eyebrows. Now, I have no knowledge of the beliefs held by Goldsmith’s Feminist Society, but my experience of other feminist groups – especially student groups – is that the Nordic Model is hardly unpopular. Perhaps the feminists at Goldsmith are especially progressive when it comes to sex workers – though as 70 per cent of members had voted for the show to go ahead, perhaps they are not. The fact that they were co-organisers also suggests that they had no issue with her.

But let’s assume that the remaining 30 per cent were VERY angry and did indeed plan to protest. I have no idea how many people make up the Goldsmith’s Feminist Society, but I suspect that 30 per cent of the membership would not number in the hundreds. And there is no suggestion that this would be a violent protest – just sign waving and shouting. Uncomfortable for attending students perhaps (and we know how much they value their comfort) but a threat to security? Hardly. If Spearmint Rhino can cope with Object fanatics screaming abuse at XBIZ attendees, I’m sure this venue would have managed without calling in the riot squad.

But then, the Feminist Society has denied that any such protest was planned. This is unusual – usually, objectors are quick to crow about their victories, not issue denials. So where did the claims about a protest come from, if not from the Feminist Society? Well, they seem to have come from Smurthwaite herself.

To quote the event organiser on comedy site Chortle: “Kate told me 24 hours before that there was likely to be a picket with lots of students and non students outside the venue.” Ahh, I see. But why would Smurthwaite sabotage her own show? Well, perhaps the fact that after being on sale for “several” weeks, only eight tickets had been sold might offer up a clue. But that’s probably just me being cynical.

I’ve no doubt that in the fact of the alleged threat of protest put the wind up the venue, which will be governed by idiotic Student Union ‘safe space’ policies, which in theory are to ensure that all students can access venues equally, but in practice ensures that no difficult or challenging art, performance of discussion can take place – only opinions accepted by all (or, more accurately, by all the right people) can be expressed. In that sense, this is indeed related to the spate of university ‘no platform’ bans and suppression of free speech. But it also feels like a neat bit of manipulation. And while we might experience a spot of schadenfreude at one of the censorial having the tables turned on them, let’s not be fooled into thinking this is any sort of victory. The same thing could happen to any of us, but unlike Smurthwaite, we’re probably not going to get any invitations to appear on Question Time or TV panel discussion shows as a result. And unlike Dapper Laughs, she is unlikely to be ritually humiliated on Newsnight as her grossly offensive tweets to sex workers are disapprovingly read back to her. However much she might want to claim otherwise, Smurthwaite has in no way been silenced.

2015: The Year to Vote for Freedom

An election year comment from Loz Kaye, Leader of Pirate Party UK

For some time now, a nasty puritan streak has been growing in British public life, fed by prejudices both from the left and right. I don’t need to go through each instance: just search back through the history of this blog. Week after week we have seen moral outrage after outrage, crackdown after crackdown.

The absurdity of the AVMS video on demand regulations, or anti-facesitting laws if you prefer, seemed to sum up the sense of panic and how it is infringing peoples’ freedoms. At the heart of sexuality and how we use our bodies has to be consent. It is preposterous to outlaw images of an act that you can consent to. Worse still, in my view that undermines the very concept of consent itself, turning it in to something which is arbitrarily given and withheld by others, not yourself.

That is inherently political and no wonder that the following demonstration was at Westminster, however much MPs looked the other way.

This new puritanism is indeed politically motivated. The pressure on Internet Service Providers to move to default web filtering came directly from Cameron and the likes of Claire Perry pandering to tabloid scare headlines. What we learnt in 2014 was that, as so many of us warned, this led to censorship, including websites there to help victims of abuse or to support LGBT people.

The focus for so much of the moral panic has been the perceived “wild west” of the Internet. We in the Pirate Party have right from our outset opposed the use of web blocking as a state means of personal control.

Web censorship is not a tool for sexual health promotion. State censorship is not a tool for creating equality. Curtailing freedom of expression is not a tool for supporting victims of crime.

If 2014 saw us on the back foot, 2015 is the year to set the agenda. These are the key positive aims as I see it:

  • Change the direction of the Department of Culture Media and Sport pressure and work to remove default web filtering.

  • Work with advertising standards to make sure ISPs don’t misrepresent filters as foolproof parenting tools.

  • Stop the use of web filtering and blocking as a pretended social policy tool.

  • Reverse the ATVOD censorship moves.

  • DCMS should launch a review into the role of OFCOM and ATVOD in controlling freedom of expression.

  • Disband the “copyright cops” PIPCU to give programmes working with victims of abuse a £2 million boost over 3 years.

  • Embed removing of stigma about discussing sexuality frankly as a vital part of public health strategy.

I’m sure you can think of plenty more, let me know what they are and I’ll be happy to work for them.

The reason that politics has drifted so far in an authoritarian direction, particularly when it comes to sexual freedom, is that most politicians see it at best as a peripheral issue, at worst as a career ruining one, not to be touched with a barge pole. Of course ensuring the safety of sex workers, the well-being of LGBT people or removing stigma about discussing sexual health is not marginal, it’s literally a matter of life and death.

It is our job in 2015 to assert this not a peripheral issue, to destroy the myth that liking particular types of images means that you are unconcerned with the welfare of women or young people, and to support candidates who do have the guts to stand up.

At the risk of angering ATVOD, I would suggest that you can be a bit forceful in 2015. As it’s a general election year, it’s your opportunity to tell MPs and candidates what to do.

It’s very simple. For the next few months tell candidates that you expect them to actively support sexual freedom of expression with the kind of policies that I outlined, or you won’t vote for them.

Let them know that you will tell as many other people as you can to join you in finding a pro-freedom candidate. And stick to that, despite all the scaremongering about wasted votes or two horse races you’ll hear. Don’t let your MP get away with claiming this is not something that concerns their constituents after May 7th.

I suspect that most people reading this blog will not be afraid to try something new. It may be that you should consider doing that in May.

This Anti-Porn Law is Our Clause 28

My earliest memories of a sexual minority being unjustly targeted and criminalised come from the gay scene in the late 80s. Friends who came to London to dance their youth away and to go cottaging, who had never had an interest in politics, suddenly found themselves getting up in arms, angry and belligerent, when the Thatcher government’s notorious Clause 28 came into force.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 banned the promotion, and even the discussion in schools, of homosexuality as a valid form of family relationship. It used the predictable argument of protecting children from harm. But as is often the case, the legislators were twenty years behind the times and unprepared for an urban, unclosetted gay community that was proud of its nascent culture, articulate and ready for battle. According to the papers of the day, lesbians abseiled into the House of Lords; gay activists crashed into the BBC Studios and highjacked the news. It was claimed that:

putting Clause 28 through parliament was one of the greatest promotions of homosexuality we have ever seen.”

Boy George, then demonised on the tabloids as a heroin-fuelled deviant and has-been, released No Clause 28, a single that helped put this legislation in the spotlight. Young people of all sexualities danced to the revolution, presenting gay culture as a fun and creative force, in opposition to their dull, archaic detractors. It was like being tut-tutted by your grandad, only it was real legislation. British gays’ pride in their cult of pleasure whilst denouncing prejudice, was a masterstroke that has paid off ever since. Perhaps the best lesson that the gay movement has taught future activists is: carry on, fiercely, and have fun while doing it. Something that was instinctively followed when independent porn producers, sex workers, groups from the thriving BDSM london scene and their allies, demonstrated in Parliament Square on December 12th of this year.

When the AVMS Regulations came into force two weeks earlier, on December 1st, 2014, it had a similar electrifying effect to Clause 28, mobilising individuals and groups that until then, had had very little interest in politics. Independent fetish porn producers were directly affected by banning the representation of sexual activities that appear regularly, safely and consensually in our work, as were women, LGBT and queer people, and the porn that they make. It felt as if those who wrote this legislation had no knowledge, or rather, no acknowledgement, of any sex that deviates from a narrow, normative, heterosexual, procreative model. It’s no wonder that the deviants came out in force, once again uncloseted, angry and political. Women and gay/queer people know a lot about being demonised for using their bodies for purposes that are neither procreative nor to make a man hard.

The protest was a defiant celebration of, and public pride in, sexual difference. You could feel the stirrings of a nascent movement that was not going to be bullied by shame. Staging a mass facesitting was arguably its master stroke, but was criticised both by insiders and outsiders, for displaying a sex act to a non-consenting public (of mostly London tourists). Personally, I wasn’t too concerned about this. One of the many contributions of modern gay culture to the world is the legitimisation of public sex, challenging bourgeois myths of sex as a fiercely private affair. Plus, this was London in December, and the protesters were wearing three layers of clothing. Unless you were the incarnation of Mary Whitehouse, Sodom and Gomorrah it wasn’t.

But I am still a bit of a natural born killjoy, so my fear, which I vocalised in some interviews, was at first that the spectacle of a mass facesitting would give the media the perfect excuse to exploit the banal and ignore the real purpose of the protest: never underestimate the media circus’ power to trivialise the most serious subjects.

Fortunately for the protesters, the potential for farce had long before been appropriated by the AVMS Regulations, also fabulously monikered Female Ejaculation Ban. Its ridiculousness said more about our rulers, than about those perverts in Parliament Square. There was enough potential for juicy jokes on the state’s weird obsession with spanking and squirting to fill many newspaper pages. Did I just type weird obsession? Surely, I meant predictable. Anyway, I’m digressing.

The AVMS Regulations politicised and united groups that, as I have already mentioned, have not, until now, been known for their interest in politics: namely the porn industry and the fetish scene (sex workers, on the other hand, being traditionally marginalised, have a long history of political activism). Most of the adult industry follows a neoliberal, capitalist model that worships financial gain at any cost, so the big studios aren’t going to come out in defence of the competition. The fetish scene, being very white, male and middle class, suffers from a short-sighted fetishisation of persecution. I have lost count of the many times London kinksters complain about not feeling “special”, in an increasingly tolerant culture. I hear you, you poor snowflake. These complaints can only come from people who have never suffered stigma of any kind.

But back to these freshly politicised sexual minorities, who clearly understand the dangers of discrimination and stigma: there are many similarities between the mobilising effect that the AVMS Regulations had in the independent porn producers and BDSM scene, and Clause 28 in the gay community. Neither gays nor women can enjoy their pleasures lawfully, it seems, without becoming a threat to society.

For years, Backlash has looked at the long history of the gay movement for models and references. They are, after all, 30 years ahead of us in terms of political activism. We also share a feminist perspective because sexual stigma is often blatantly gendered. Sexual discrimination, whether it’s against cottaging or against facesitting, is also pretty much the same: it hates anything that does not validate reproduction and a hierarchy that bows to male desire, one where the female is always at the bottom and subservient to it. Anything that doesn’t follow this narrative is, invariably, harmful to children and a the end of civilisation as we know it. Perhaps our unimaginative powers-that-be are taking facesitting and “being on top” too literally.

So yeah, gays, women and those unclassifiable weirdos, the queers: Backlash have defended many of them. Everything that we have encountered in court, at employment tribunals, in law, in the media, the gay movement fought against 30 years ago. When we look for ways to understand, then defend, all sorts of cases against sexual difference, we refer back to gay activism. We stand on the shoulders of giants. When faced with sexual discrimination, I often find myself wondering: what did the gays do before?

There is some hope that the AVMS Regulations will be repealed in the end, and that activism and protest will play a major part. One of the most positive effects of Clause 28 was that it had the exact opposite effect that it sought. Instead of silencing homosexuality, as it thought it would, by banning schools from even discussing it, it highlighted institutional homophobia and a shift in society towards tolerance of sexual minorities. It did indeed catapult gay culture into the mainstream, and found support from many quarters, as well as from the general public, who felt no gay threat, but rather, sympathy, for a persecuted minority.

So what can we do, while this law is still in force, with all its arbitrary, misogynistic, frankly farcical prohibitions? Because farcical or not, it still has the potential to make many people’s lives a living hell. Clause 28 wasn’t repealed until 2003, by the Blair government. Based on cases defended by Backlash, I have seen that these laws are often used to kick people who are already down. The AVMS Regulations, like ATVOD before, will force many independent porn studios that are a model of resilience in the financial crisis, to close down: even though nobody (to our knowledge) has died after a severe facesitting session.

And what to do next? I get asked that a lot. Carry on sitting on people’s faces on your videos and supporting your independent studios by buying from them. Back in 1988, gay people carried on being gay, doing what gay people do, and becoming an inspiring role model for an increasingly diverse society. Porn, and specifically, independently produced porn, creates cultural artefacts. Contrary to the opinion of our detractors, and of sexually awkward legislators, porn doesn’t exist in a criminal demi-monde or in a cultural vacuum. It’s a product of its time that talks about the world it comes from. Niche porn offers an education into the less discussed forms of sexual expression. It’s worth protesting, disobeying, fighting for our right to a more diverse porn. Thank to gay activism, we have a much richer world, with more ways of living and connecting. We are following in their footsteps.

I keep writing that I saw the beginning of a nascent movement after December 1st, because so many people united against persecution of diversity. So much was written and said. It started a fascinating debate about the role of porn in our culture, as I’ve already mentioned; but also, about misogyny, sexual autonomy, art and porn, porn and feminism, the complexity of porn and those who make it… And last but no least, it fuelled a debate about state censorship. Much more needs to be said, written and shouted. I hope that, after the inevitable lull of Christmas, the anger will still be there.

Last month, many must have realised that they are not alone and that they are not helpless deviants living on the fringes of society. It’s been immensely satisfying to connect with other porn producers who, like me, consider our work legitimate, ethical, creative, relevant. Something that deserves to be respected as a valid profession. Like the gay movement 30 years ago, we all agreed that we were not going to tolerate being criminalised and silenced by outmoded legislators. We were not going to accept sexual stigma as an inevitable result of running a discredited business. And we were fed up with being misrepresented as pimps, as coerced women, as unsophisticated, easily bullied smut-peddlers. The so-called Porn Ban was an unprecedented call to arms for all those who work in the less corporate side of the adult industry but also, for those who enjoy watching and exploring the less trodden paths of human sexuality. So yeah, things have perhaps to get worse before they get better and maybe ATVOD or the AVMS Regulations, much as we resent and oppose them, might be the catalyser. Everybody needs a kick in the arse sometimes, to feel the anger.

Vid: The London Porn Protest

Here is a 20 minute video covering the highlights of last Friday’s porn protest outside the UK Parliament. With thanks to Terry Stephens (aka The Naked Truth Guy), who shot and edited it (follow him on Twitter).

The video includes my speech on behalf of Sex & Censorship, along with speeches by organiser Charlotte Rose, lawyer Myles Jackman and CAAN representative Jane Fae.

Payments to Clips4Sale Blocked, with “ATVOD” Error Message

Here’s a strange, and largely unexplained, story that’s emerged over the couple of weeks since the “ATVOD law” was introduced against British online porn services.

Clips4Sale.com (C4S) is a site allowing small content producers to make and sell their own video clips without the expense of building their own website. Although it’s an American service, ATVOD considers that individual channels may fall within its censorship remit, if they are managed by a person in the UK. This means that individual performers who sell their own clips may be considered to be “On Demand Programme Service providers” by ATVOD, and subject to massive fines. As a result, a number of UK-based producers have closed their C4S channels down, through fear of being targeted.

Shortly after the law came into place, some UK providers noticed that their C4S payments had dropped. During one test of the service, the card was rejected with the error code: “PROHIBITED:GB-ATVOD” (click here for screenshot).

Before a service can be sanctioned, it must have been the subject of a complaint to ATVOD, followed by an investigation and determination – during which the service provider has the right to respond and appeal. Instead, here were services having payments blocked without any kind of due process. It seems that services were subsequently unblocked, with C4S mailing a provider:

...we found a way around all this and now all UK
debit cards are back buying again!!

Mysteriouser and mysteriouser: there was still no information provided as to why and how the payments had been blocked. We have placed a request with C4S for more information, and will update this post if any is received.

Meanwhile, I put three questions to ATVOD’s CEO Pete Johnson, asking whether he could cast any light on:

1) …why these payments are being blocked,

2) who is doing the blocking,

3) and what the rules are regarding which services and which users will be blocked?

To which I received the following response:

We are not responsible for payment processes operated by, or any error codes displayed on, Clips4Sale. I suggest you direct your questions to Clips4Sale.

I followed up:

I certainly have contacted them. Are you concerned that they are using “ATVOD” in the error code? Have you contacted them to discuss this?

And received the following response from Cathy Taylor, ATVOD’s Policy and Investigations Manager:

If Clips4sale are using their paywall as a proxy age verification process and are declining certain types of payments which can be used by under 18s in order to ensure that UK based pornographers are compliant with ATVOD’s Rule 11 then it is unlikely that ATVOD would have a reason to be concerned.

Still little in the way of clarification. So as this stands, we know that a payment block was put in place, and then (apparently) removed, but details are still very vague. It is currently unclear whether blocking payments in this way is being done at the request of UK authorities, and whether it is legal.

Weekly News Summary w/e 14 December

Mass face sitting protest a success, and receives international media coverage

A protest by sex workers, adult entertainers and campaigners took place In Westminster, outside the Houses of Parliament on Friday 12th December.

The protest was organised by Charlotte Rose, a sex worker and sex educator who stood for Parliament in the Clacton and Rochester and Strood by-elections.

The sight of clothed face-sitting and simulated sex outside the home of UK Government attracted worldwide media coverage, and will have raised awareness among those who may not been aware that such laws were being created to restrict the content consensual adults are free to consume.

In addition to the attention-grabbing simulated sex and clothed face-sitting, key campaigners shared their views on why we need to stop it now and what laws like this mean for our future way of life. Speakers at the event included Charlotte Rose, Jerry Barnett, Myles Jackman and Jane Fae.

The protest also took to twitter to maximise its reach with the hashtag #PornProtest with 4,700 users sending 7,185 tweets, with a potential of 35,688,045 impressions.

Just some of the coverage:

The idea of a sex protest outside Parliament is not a new one, in 2008 a similar protest was held outside the heart of British politics over laws that were passed to make “extreme pornography” illegal to possess, produce or distribute.

Adult DVDs sent to parents and children

The Edinburgh Playhouse has been forced to issue an apology after it accidentally sent hundreds of pornographic DVDs to children and their parents.

The duplication company responsible for producing the DVDs, Edithouse, has accepted “full responsibility for the mistakes made in the duplication process” in a written statement issued after the playhouse recalled the DVDs following the discovery of the adult content by a member of staff who had taken a copy for himself.

Playhouse sought the advice of the Police but Police Scotland confirmed no crime had been committed as this was a production error rather than a deliberate circulation of pornography to youngsters.

Vodafone blocks Chaos Computer Club site, fuelling ‘Net censorship concerns in UK

Vodafone UK isn’t letting its customers access the website of the Chaos Computer Club (CCC), one of the oldest and largest associations of computer hackers in Europe.

It’s not yet clear why the mobile operator has blocked the ccc.de website but since late last week the site has been unavailable for users of Vodafone’s mobile internet.

The CCC believes it’s because its site has been misclassified in the Internet filtering system used by Vodafone.

The CCC, since its founding in 1981, has highlighted security risks in technology affecting a large number of people, has exposed government surveillance and has advocated for privacy and freedom of information online. Every year the group organises the Chaos Communication Congress, the largest hacker convention in Europe.

“When these filters were introduced, their abuse was imminent,” said CCC spokesman Dirk Engling in a blog post Friday.

“Today, we are shocked to learn that they not only block access to our site, but also to our conference. We see this as proof that censorship infrastructure — no matter for which reasons it was set up, and no matter which country you are in — will always be abused for political reasons.”

According to a check on blocked.org.uk, a website maintained by U.K.-based Open Rights Group (ORG), ccc.de was being blocked by both Vodafone and Three, another U.K. mobile operator, as of Sunday. The Chaos Communication Congress tickets site, tickets.events.ccc.de, was only being blocked by Vodafone.

El Paso Children’s Hospital backs off from fundraising event due to DJ’s porn career

Cash-strapped El Paso Children’s Hospital is backing away from its participation in a local fundraiser after learning Monday that the special guest DJ for the event also happens to be an adult film star.

The Dance4Charity benefit which seeks to raise charitable donations for organisations and charities through house/dance and DJ events.

The event was set to feature headline entertainment by DJ Jessie Andrews, who also is a working superstar in her other career path as an award-winning porn actress.

According to Children’s spokeswoman Susie Byrd “This event was coordinated through the UMC Foundation without the consent of El Paso Children’s Hospital. We have asked the UMC Foundation to immediately correct this by removing our name as a recipient”

Not long after Byrd was asked for comment on the booking of Andrews, all mention of the event and her appearance on the Children’s Hospital social media accounts were deleted.

Andrews tweeted several responses to the story via her twitter account, @JessiesLife;

“I love music. I love to dance. I love to dj. And it’s not a joke to me. I honestly love it. Who cares if I do/done porn? Let’s get real,”

“ALSO: Shame on anyone who judges me for what I’ve done. It’s 2014. If I got hurt the hospital wouldn’t turn me down.”

“Society pretty much says that since I’ve done porn I can’t do anything else in life that’s respectable. Just kill me now why don’t you,”

December 9th, a day after the news broke, Veteran’s Entertainment, the organisers of the fundraiser issued a statement and confirmed that “The event will still be held and we will push to support a charity that would like us to help them” and added “A person’s past should not prevent them from doing a positive service for others, hopefully more organizations will recognize that.”

Andrews has won various accolades for her work, in 2012 she picked up the AVN Best Actress and XBIZ Best Acting Performance and New Starlet of the Year awards.

She is as well known for her mainstream modelling and music career as much as she is for being active, popular porn star with both careers doing extremely well – her music can be heard via soundcloud.

Resist Porn Culture criticises animal welfare charity over so-called ‘misogynistic’ and ‘offensive’ imagery in the charity’s latest anti-dairy products campaign.

Resist Porn Culture has attacked animal rights and welfare campaigners PETA for the charity’s latest anti-dairy products advertising campaign.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) ad is on a billboard outside Notts County FC’s stadium. The football club told the BBC that the ad was due to be removed but as of BBC running the story it was still in place.

The ad featured a woman who had white liquid, presumably milk, splattered across her face with a look of surprise or shock. The slogan to the right of the image read “some bodily fluids are bad for you”. The campaign group Resist Porn Culture said the poster was “sexist” and called for tighter regulations.

The ASA confirmed they would be launching an investigation after receiving four complaints due to the fact that the ad was sexual in nature and close to a ‘family’ venue.

PETA responded to the criticism, telling the BBC the billboard was a “tongue-in-cheek warning” about the dairy industry’s treatment of cows

He added:

“While some people might disagree with our tactics, there is no one final word on what offends women and what doesn’t.’

“Many of the women here – and the women who have written in telling us they love the ad – have a different opinion.”

PETA have long used provocative ad campaigns, often featuring nudity and sexual innuendo, to push their message.

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The UK is sleepwalking into censorship

  • Thousands of websites blocked by filters
  • Porn is just the starting point
  • Free expression is under threat!

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