All posts by Jerry Barnett

Who Will Defend Hate Speech?

Bang On Target
Bang On Target

Defending the right of people to publish and watch porn is an uphill battle. Nice, “liberal” people aren’t always as liberal as they think, and many think sexual imagery is a Bad Thing, and shouldn’t fall under the umbrella of free expression. So there was a strong boost for the anti-censorship movement in December when the UK “porn filters” were rolled out, and it turned out that they weren’t really much to do with porn at all.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a genuine free speech lobby in this country (it was the discovery of this fact that led me to set up the Sex & Censorship campaign). However, the filters blocked such broad areas of content that far more vocal groups have been spurred into opposition, and have strengthened the anti-censorship movement. The revelation that a number of gay sites had been blocked, apparently in error, led to outrage from the LGBT community and its supporters. And the inclusion of Sex Education as a category that parents could prevent their teens from accessing caused outrage among many commentators.

The animal protection organisation World Wildlife Fund adopted the panda as its symbol, rather than some endangered species of lizard or beetle, because pandas look cuddly. Saving ugly creatures isn’t a cause that many people will donate to. In the world of anti-censorship campaigning, LGBT and sex education causes are the panda; and yet, many of the “uglier” blocked categories should be just as much a cause for concern as the “pretty” ones. But if people accept that some expression can be censored, then free speech is lost.

Many of the blocked categories have been ignored because they don’t upset any large lobby group, but they should be cause for concern. I have seen no defence, for example for “sites that give information on illegal drugs”. Yet such sites save lives, and fill a role that, in a more sane world, would be carried out by government. The site pillreports.com, for example, is a database of ecstasy tablets on the market. As the site says: ‘Pills sold as “Ecstasy” often include other, potentially more dangerous, substances such as methamphetamine, ketamine and PMA.’ Filtering of drug information doesn’t protect anyone, but simply enforces an anti-drug morality. If allowed to continue, this filtering will doubtless cost teenage lives.

“Sites that promote self-harm” may make for good Daily Mail headlines, but people in distress most need a community of people who understand them. Isolating troubled young people from each other can only be a recipe for disaster. “Sites that describe guns” are also on the list, and illustrate the constant confusion between expression and the physical world. America’s gun lobbyists try to claim that “guns don’t kill people”; this is patent nonsense. Guns do kill people: but there’s no evidence that pictures or descriptions of guns do, and in fact guns are shown daily on TV, often in glamorised ways, without any evidence that this leads to real-world violence.

The option to block social networking sites is perhaps one of the most sinister of all. Depriving children of social contact may be classified as emotional abuse, and yet, because of the endless panic over “online grooming”, many parents may exercise this option. The best way to open a child to the possibility of grooming is to keep them ignorant of the real world. The filters will harm children.

The “file sharing” category is not there to protect children at all, but to protect media corporations from having their content pirated, and probably the result of some clever lobbying activity. Piracy is the problem of the media and entertainment industry, and is a poor excuse for censorship.

The catch-all category of “tasteless and obscene” is another one that preserves conservative ideas of morality, rather than attempt to protect children. Among other things, it includes the ludicrous concept of “how to commit murder”; one would think any teenager conversant with basic physics, chemistry or biology would be able to work that out. Presumably the banning of science classes in school must follow. This category also includes “bathroom humour”, though one must suspect that children can work out fart jokes by themselves, without help from the Internet.

Support my fight against censorship
- become a Patron

The list goes on and on. In every case, it seems that blocking content can do more damage to child development than the content itself. The category that most divides people is that of hate speech: “sites that encourage the oppression of people or groups based on their race, religion, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation or nationality”. The idea that racism, homophobia and other prejudices can be dealt with by censorship has been fashionable for a few decades, and is attractive to people who dislike prejudice. And yet it is a false promise. Censorship of words that might offend minorities has never solved any underlying problem. Discourse is the solution to bigotry, and this must include angry, “offensive” discourse, however unpleasant it is. Politically correct cures for prejudice do not work; indeed, they leave problems to fester and get worse.

This isn’t to say that prejudice should be left alone: education, discussion, debate, argument and, most of all, leadership are essential. We have a government that wants to protect us from “hate speech” on the one hand, while hinting on the other that immigrants are a threat to our society. Hate can be spread without using hate speech.

And those who think that censorship introduced for “good” reasons will not then be abused are naive in the extreme. The core problem with censorship is that it will always be abused by those with power. Once it is accepted that hateful speech can be suppressed, then the definition of hateful speech will grow inexorably until it is unrecognisable.

Voltaire said: “I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Those who are tempted to draw acceptable lines for Internet filtering are missing the point. In a free society, there can be no acceptable lines.

Support my fight against censorship
- become a Patron

Dear Claire, About Those Filters…

#CensoredUK copyDear Claire Perry MP,

I know you remember me – we’ve met twice. The first time, I was a witness at your parliamentary inquiry into “protecting children online” – although of course, we all knew that was a euphemism for justifying Internet censorship. I was shocked, but not surprised, to hear the torrent of anecdote and misinformation that passed for “evidence”, and was duly noted by the MPs.

If the event hadn’t been so serious, it would have been comical. Jacqui Smith (whose expertise in pornography extended as far as accidentally claiming for some on expenses) was sure that porn was leading more people to try anal sex – although she apparently had no evidence that this was true, and didn’t explain why it might be a bad thing anyway. The anti-sex group Object was, of course, represented, and of course furnished the inquiry with horrific (but vague) tales of rape caused by porn. But then, Object are as fond of linking everything to rape as the Daily Mail is of linking everything to cancer.

I did my best to point out that, if there is any link between porn and sexual violence at all, evidence suggest a benign one: increasing sexual freedom and openness (including easy access to pornography) correlates with a decline in sexual violence. And psychologists are increasingly coming to the conclusion that porn isn’t harmful – although conservative sexual attitudes probably do cause lasting damage. But puzzlingly, the MPs showed fairly little curiosity, and seemed to note down wild claims just as easily as they did hard evidence. There already appeared to be a general acceptance that something must be done.

I was especially worried to be the only person defending the basic concept of free speech (although I discovered later that Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group had appeared in another session). Free speech was once something Britain prided itself on, and still today, many Britons live in the mistaken belief that our country is founded on this idea. But the reality is otherwise: for decades, Britain has been easily panicked into surrendering rights in exchange for (false) promises of greater protection for our children. I was proud to defend free speech in Britain’s historic Parliament, but I felt that myself and Jim should not have been left to fly that flag alone.

Although you made a good show of listening carefully to all the arguments, it was already known at that stage that you favoured an Internet filter. To my eyes, it seemed that you had reached your conclusion and were going through the process of gathering evidence before you announced your support for a filter. And so it turned out.

You had been warned that the first experiment in filtering for “child protection”, on mobile networks, had been a catastrophe. It is simply not possible to classify hundreds of millions of websites as either “safe” or “over 18” without making vast numbers of mistakes. Yes, it’s pretty easy to block most commercial porn (in fact those sites voluntarily self-label as adult content), but in between kink.com and disney.com there is a near-infinite amount of hard-to-classify content.

Much of the content and many of the forums on sex education, sex advice, gay and lesbian advice, information on sexual infections, and so on, is aimed at teenagers, and yet has been largely blocked from mobile phones held by under-18s. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. All sorts of content has found itself blocked on mobile networks. The Open Rights Group even found a site selling engraved silver gifts that had been blocked because it sold cigarette lighters – classed as “tobacco products” and therefore censored by the blind, dumb filtering software.

And these sites aren’t just blocked for children: millions of adults too have found themselves unable to reach “over 18” sites. There are many reasons why some adults don’t want to contact their provider and ask for the block to be removed; and even among those who do, some have found the block replaced a day later, presumably through some technical error.

This isn’t “filtering”, it’s censorship, and it already affects the way millions of people see the Internet. And now you want to repeat an experiment that has failed catastrophically, but on a far greater scale. Home connections, unlike mobile connections, are shared. Now, as well as asking their ISP for the right to look at “adult content”, people have to ask their parent, their landlord, their flatmate, their partner.

The second time we met was in the Sky News studio. I know you remember me, because you described me as a “responsible pornographer”. I felt dirty. I tried to put two questions to you, but you talked over them, as politicians are trained to do. So here are those questions again:

  1. I’m a parent: are you suggesting that my partner and I should censor our home Internet connection because we happen to have a child in the house? Should parents set their filters on or off?
  2. How can you prevent a repeat of the huge overblocking problem that already appears on mobile networks?

Since you wouldn’t answer these, I will: 1) There is no sense in a filter that affects a whole household rather than individuals; 2) You can’t prevent overblocking. You can promise to, just as you can promise to stop the tide. But you can’t. It’s impossible.

Free event-based dating for the UK
Jaunt.Singles

And now, the ISP filters are here. And guess what? Overblocking has already been reported. Of course, you (and the ISPs) will dismiss these as teething problems, but unlike teething problems, they ain’t going away.

We shouldn’t worry about teens though. They have doubtless already downloaded the Pirate Browser, or bought themselves a USB key that bypasses the filter. The net result is that nobody is safer, but many people have had their view of the Internet censored. The genius of your approach – bullying the ISPs – is that you have done all this without the messy business of passing a law or having a debate in parliament! Who needs democracy anyway? The Chinese and Iranians are, no doubt, taking notes.

I look forward to our next meeting.

Regards
Jerry Barnett
Founder, Sex & Censorship

#CensoredUK – We Trended!

#CensoredUK copyYesterday’s #CensoredUK Twitter campaign made a splash online, trending nationwide across the UK. We launched the campaign to supporters late on Wednesday. By Thursday morning, regular tweets were being made and by late afternoon, the hashtag was spotted trending in London and across the UK. We often hear people say that the British are more concerned with security or prudery than free expression, but yesterday suggested otherwise. Many British people are outraged with attempts to censor our media.

As of this morning at least The Telegraph had covered the campaign.

The twin strands of this campaign – Sex and Censorship – are deliberately chosen. Today’s push towards Internet censorship comes from two camps: puritans who think sexual expression is harmful, and those who seek to gain power by controlling information. These two groups came together at the ATVOD conference on child protection which was held in London yesterday afternoon. We heard a series of hysterical claims about the effects of pornography, but were offered no evidence to back them.

The Deputy Children’s Commissioner, Sue Berelowitz, described in detail a gang rape of an 11 year old; she claimed that participants had said the experience was “like being in a porn film”; and then claimed that this was all the evidence she needed to conclude that porn causes sexual violence.

But (even assuming that the story is true as she related), anecdotes are not a substitute for statistical evidence. We know that porn availability does not correlate with a rise in sexual violence; in fact, we know that the opposite is true. Sexual violence has fallen sharply in most developed countries in the past three decades, as have most other forms of violence.

They do not have the moral high ground – we do! We do not “protect our children” by trying to hide the world away from them. We don’t make them safer by allowing them to hit puberty without knowing what is happening to their bodies, and what the implications are.

Support Sex & Censorship:
Buy Porn Panic! - The Book

We live in an increasingly safe society, but a coalition of campaigners want to convince us that thing are getting worse. A rising moral panic is under way; the purpose of the Sex & Censorship campaign is counter those messages, and replace hysteria with evidence-based thinking.

We thank everyone who has followed so far, and look forward to your support in coming campaigns!

#CensoredUK – Day of Action – Thursday 12 December 2013

Online day of action: #CensoredUK Thursday 12th December. Please copy and send the following tweet (and see below for more sample tweets) – and follow us on Twitter.

For three decades, the UK has been sleepwalking into censorship. It would be inaccurate to say we still are: now we are running at full speed! Most of the censorship measures have been introduced under the banner of “protecting children”; now we are told our children are under threat from the Internet. And yet no reliable evidence of a threat has been produced.

On the contrary, a generation has grown up with Internet access, and teenage pregnancy rates are at their lowest since 1969. Since domestic violence cases peaked at over 1.1m in 1993, they have fallen by over 70%. And these trends don’t just affect the UK. In the United States, rates of sexual violence fell by 64% from 1995 to 2010.

But the evidence doesn’t deter those who want to limit access to the Internet for British citizens. This Thursday, a conference will take place in London, aimed at persuading the government that even more controls are needed – again, to “protect children.”

This Thursday, please use the #CensoredUK hashtag on Twitter, Facebook and other social media to register your opposition to any further moves to censor the Internet: the UK must have the same access to information as citizens in other democratic countries.

Here are some sample tweets you can copy and adapt… or just write your own (and don’t forget the hashtag). Let’s get this M***F**** trending!

  1. Join the #CensoredUK online day of action! Click for details: http://bit.ly/1aUtIsn
  2. Is the UK sleepwalking into censorship? http://onforb.es/1gYULrT #CensoredUK
  3. Cameron: UK will block “extremist” web sites http://bit.ly/1jMkeHv #CensoredUK
  4. Sky, TalkTalk, BT, Virgin to introduce Internet filters http://bbc.in/J4JNVX #CensoredUK
  5. China praises UK Internet censorship plans http://bit.ly/1hM5aKj #CensoredUK
  6. Tim Berners-Lee warns of Internet censorship rise http://bit.ly/19BfjRT #CensoredUK
  7. UK “porn filter” will also censor political speech http://bit.ly/18B4dfN #CensoredUK
  8. “Porn filter” will also block conspiracy theories http://bit.ly/IP1b0j #CensoredUK
  9. British companies are blocking gay websites http://bit.ly/J4Li6l #CensoredUK
  10. Why is the UK the most censored country in Europe? http://bit.ly/1hMfNwH #CensoredUK
  11. British Library censors Hamlet as “too violent” http://bbc.in/1e4QMfQ #CensoredUK

Is Anti-Sex Feminism a Step Backwards for Women’s Rights?

An article on anti-sex feminism by Jerry Barnett, founder of the Sex & Censorship campaign, which was published this week on the Feminist and Women’s Studies (UK & Ireland) blog:

Being in my late-40s, I’m one of a generation whose mothers embraced second-wave feminism – or Women’s Lib at it was better known at the time – in the late-1960s and early-70s. I came of age reading Spare Rib and other feminist magazines my Mum left lying around, and remember the importance of sexual liberation to the feminists of those days. In fact, those magazines constituted the first “porn” I encountered… (click here to read the full article).

ALERT: Parliament Considers UK Internet Block-List

David Cameron’s announcement of an Internet filter to “protect children” has raised great concern this year; and yet, as I wrote following the announcement, the filter is merely a first step towards Internet censorship: I referred to it as “Internet Censorship 1.0”. The filter is not a legal requirement, but a voluntary agreement between the government and ISPs; but it was inevitable that legislation would follow. And indeed it has: the Online Safety Bill is a private member’s bill which is about to have its second reading in the House of Lords.

A casual reader might assume it simply refers to the filtering system already discussed, but in fact it contains something far more serious: an attempt to introduce a mandatory UK Internet block-list. This historic move would truly put the UK in the same camp as China and Iran: the government, or more likely, unelected regulators, would deem a site to be inappropriate for viewing by the British public, and it would vanish from our view of the Internet. Below is the key text from the bill, with my comments in bold.

(1) Internet service providers must provide to subscribers an internet access service which excludes adult content unless all the conditions of subsection (3) have been fulfilled. Note that “adult content” is a very broad term. This blog is already considered “adult content” by some UK mobile networks.

(2) Where mobile telephone network operators provide a telephone service to subscribers, which includes an internet access service, they must ensure this service excludes adult content unless all the conditions of subsection (3) have been fulfilled.

(3) The conditions are— Now watch carefully…

(a) the subscriber “opts-in” to subscribe to a service that includes adult content; This simply puts the existing filter plans into law.

(b) the subscriber is aged 18 or over; and The ISP must age-check the subscriber before allowing them to opt in – this already happens on mobile networks. The juicy bit is next:

(c) the provider of the service has an age verification policy which meets the standards set out by OFCOM and which has been used to confirm that the subscriber is aged 18 or over What does this mean? Let’s break it down:

Clause 3(c) means that even if the user has proved their age and opted in to see “adult content”, the ISP must only allow them to do so if the service meets content standards as set by the media regulator Ofcom. Each ISP can’t, of course, check every site on the Internet. Instead, the only technical solution is to block any service that appears to provide adult material, unless it is on an Ofcom-approved list.

Does such a list exist? Yes: Ofcom has already delegated the power to regulate online video services to a private organisation called ATVOD. ATVOD requires video services to register (and pay), and to comply with a series of UK-specific content guidelines. How many adult services comply to ATVOD? At present, around 20, and most of these are fairly soft, and are mostly linked to existing adult TV channels.

There are millions of porn sites in the world. There are many million more sites that contain sexual imagery, sexual chat, sex education material or other content that might (according to some people) not be suitable for under-18s. Under this bill, ISPs would be breaking the law if they failed to block a site containing “adult content”, and so if a service is in doubt, it will be blocked, to be on the safe side. As noted above, massive over-blocking has already occurred on mobile services.

There is no partial step into Internet censorship; either a block list exists, or it doesn’t. Once created, it can be used for any purpose; David Cameron has already hinted at blocking “extremist” sites. And “extreme”, like “adult content” is wide open for interpretation. Although we generally believe we live in a free country, we have always been a censored one. The Internet blew a hole in the power of the state to decide what can be published and what can be seen. It is no surprise that the state wants to reclaim that power.

Any step to create a UK block list must be opposed by anyone who believes in free expression. We must ask our MPs: why does Britain, almost alone in the democratic world, see the need to implement such a measure? Why are British people more in need of “protection” than Americans or other Europeans? As a private member’s bill, the Online Safety Bill may well fail, but the measures are most likely to reappear in an official government Communications Bill. We have time to protect our Internet freedom, but we don’t have long. What can you do? We will be making an announcement shortly. Please join our mailing list to receive alerts.

Are Sex and Porn Addictive?

We’re pleased to welcome a new blogger. David J. Ley PhD. is an American clinical psychologist who practices in Albuquerque, NM. He is the author of The Myth of Sex Addiction, writes a blog for Psychology Today, and is a frequent speaker on radio and television. His website is: http://Drdavidley.com

David J. Ley PhD
David J. Ley PhD

The cry “save kids from addictive porn” has resounded through Britain of late, part of the argument for restricting pornography access. The idea sounds sensible, at least at first. Like drugs or alcohol, porn (and sex in general) can feel really good. So, it seems to make intuitive sense that sex could be addictive in similar ways. Unfortunately, the idea of sex and porn addiction is merely an expression of human fears of sexuality, and is a concept which reflects the manipulative power of pop psychology and moral panics.

The idea of sex addiction first sprang into the American consciousness in the early 1980’s, when Patrick Carnes, a prison psychologist, first published a book where he related sexual behavior problems to the problems of alcoholics. He advocated for the use of 12-step treatments, like what is used in Alcoholics Anonymous. Carnes’ ideas caught fire and spawned an enormous industry in the United States, tapping into tremendous fears of sexuality, particularly aspects of male sexuality.

The idea of sex addiction took root in fertile soil, which had been fertilized by centuries of fear and sexual suppression. The ideas that masturbation itself could be unhealthy can be traced back centuries to European physicians, who argued that masturbation depleted men of crucial energy. We now understand that many of the problems blamed on masturbation and excessive sexuality, from mental health problems or blindness, were actually the result of untreated sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis or gonorrhea. But, for hundreds of years, physicians advocated against the dangers of too much sex or too much masturbation. Kellog’s cornflakes and Graham crackers were originally invented to be bland foods that wouldn’t “stimulate” physical passions or lead to sexual arousal. Throughout history, societies go through periods of changing attitudes towards sex, from more liberal “free love” attitudes towards conservative times when sexual expression is restricted. Fear-based ideas such as sex addiction or nymphomania arise in times and societies that are attempting to suppress or control sexuality. Sadly, the medical field has often been an instrument of this control.

Historically, women suffered the most from these danger moral medical practices, where women diagnosed as nymphomaniacs were institutionalized, lobotomized, or had their clitorises removed, when doctors determined that these women liked sex too much (as much as men for instance). The diagnosis of nymphomania was finally abandoned and rejected as the medical field acknowledged that these diagnoses were based on culturally-determined gender stereotypes, not on medical or scientific data. Sex researcher Alfred Kinsey said it best, when he quipped that “a nymphomaniac is anyone who has more sex than their therapist.”

But today, it’s men’s turn. According to most studies, alleged sex addicts are overwhelmingly male. Between 85-92% of most “sex addicts” are men. There are two main reasons for this: first, the idea of sex addiction came to the fore at the same time that American media and society made a shift in the way that gender was regarded. For centuries, masculinity was seen as the ideal. Medical textbooks focused on male physiology, and females were ignored. Men were seen as smarter, and more valuable. But, beginning in the 1980’s, masculinity became a figure of ridicule. Men were increasingly portrayed as buffoons, subject to the whims of their penises. Penises themselves are most often portrayed as objects of humor, rather than sexual objects comparable to female genitalia. Men today are seen as less moral than women, and male sexual desires are seen as baser, deficient, and dangerous.

Gender differences in sexual desire, attitudes and values are clear. Men masturbate more than women, use pornography more frequently, are more likely to be interested in fetishistic sexual practices, engage in infidelity more, visit prostitutes more, and are more likely to be interested in casual sex. All of these behaviors have been regarded as symptoms of sexual addiction, when they actually reflect sexual differences between men and women. The field of sex addiction has served to attack (and excuse) male sexuality for the past thirty years. Historically, powerful men throughout history have enjoyed sexual privilege that included a “hall pass” from monogamy. But, as social views of masculinity changed, powerful men caught in infidelity needed something to blame. The idea that sex is addictive and a powerful drug became a convenient scapegoat, which actors, politicians and sports figures used to excuse their misbehaviors.

The second reason why sex addiction is focused on men lies again in the time when sex addiction emerged. The early 1980’s saw the rise of AIDS. With the AIDS crisis, unrestrained male sexuality, and in particular male homosexuality, was seen as not just a moral inconvenience, but a potential life-threatening behavior that endangered men and those around them. Today, studies show that gay and bisexual men are about three times more likely to be labeled as sex addicts, than they are to be diagnosed with mental health or drug and alcohol problems.

But, despite thirty years of public acceptance and media embrace of the idea that sex is addictive, sexual addiction is not a diagnosable illness. Medical and psychiatric industries have consistently rejected this concept, as based on moral and cultural values, with little to no scientific basis. Repeatedly, over the past years, proponents of sex addiction have been chastised for poor science, based on anecdote, rather than defensible empirical scientific research.

And yet, the idea that sex is addictive remains a powerful myth in modern society, because of its usefulness. Media and moral groups use this idea to invoke fear, tapping into normal human sexual anxiety. The idea that porn is addictive was used by religious groups to ban Playboy from the shelves of convenience stores, and is used today to invoke fear that childhood exposure to porn can create uncontrollable and damaging addictions.

Sex and porn, can cause problems in people’s lives, just like any other human behavior or form of entertainment. But, to invoke the idea of “addiction” is unethical, using invalid, scientifically and medically-rejected concepts to invoke fear and feed panic. The history of the idea of sex addiction should be a cautionary tale to modern British society – whenever this ploy is used, its intent is to restrict sexual freedoms, based on conservative social philosophies.

Models & Performers: Lend Your Support!

dont-censor-meThere are many censorship actions taking place in the UK right now. Everything from porn, Page 3 and lads’ mags to strip clubs are in the firing line. Anything sexy is declared sexist! We’re told this is about protecting women. And yet, it is women who are under the greatest attack. Those women who have chosen to undress for a living are told that what they do is wrong. The censorship lobby is picking up steam. Everything from strip clubs to web sites are being forcibly closed down.

If you are a pornstar, model, webcam girl, stripper, fetish performer or otherwise make your living from your body or your sexuality, you are under the threat of being censored!

Please help us fight back by lending your voice to the campaign. Just download and print this sign, snap a photo of yourself with it, and mail it back to us! Your photo will be published in a gallery on this blog.

Photos can be clothed or undressed, with or without your face showing. Please accompany the photo with your name (working name or real name) and a short message to those people who want to suppress your image.

Thanks!

Concerns Raised Over “Child Protection” Conference

The UK video-on-demand regulator, ATVOD, has announced a conference on child protection, to be held in London on 12th December. In an open letter, below, we raise concerns with the nature of the conference and some of the speakers to be featured. (UPDATE: a response was received on 19th November, and has been appended to the end of this post).

Jerry Barnett
SexAndCensorship.org

18 November 2013

Open letter to: Julia Hornle, ATVOD board member

Cc: Sue Berelowitz – Deputy Children’s Commissioner

 

Dear Julia,

I am writing with regard to the ATVOD-organised child protection conference taking place in London on 12th December. I am informed that you selected the conference speakers. I write on behalf of a number of people who are greatly concerned that the conference line-up is not altogether suitable for an event whose purported goal is to determine what best can be done to protect British children.

The concerns are twofold: first, the lack of expertise related to the effects of content on viewers, including children and teenagers, and second the inclusion of two speakers whose beliefs seem out of place at a conference dedicated to child protection.

On the first point: How children and teenagers are affected by what they see online is widely debated. A great deal of research has been done over several decades, and a good deal has yet to be done. There is still however no conclusive evidence to support how harm, if any, is done by  sexual, violent, or other material and it would therefore seem premature to suggest remedies until the existence and nature of any problem is properly understood.

For this reason, it is puzzling that the conference speaker list includes no expertise on this matter, and yet plenty of expertise does exist. It would seem suitable to include a child psychologist, or somebody who has directly tried to research the effects of viewing such material.

A number of suitable individuals come to mind, but we might suggest:

  • Dr Guy Cumberbatch is a chartered psychologist who has been commissioned previously by Ofcom to conduct research on this very subject area. It would seem sensible that the conference should be informed by an expert in child psychology before coming to any conclusions.

  • Dr Clarissa Smith is Professor of Sexual Cultures at Sunderland University, and (along with colleagues) is conducting the most exhaustive study to date into the effects of pornography on its users.

  • Sharon Girling is a former senior Police officer with national responsibility, now an independent consultant, and probably the UK’s leading authority on online child abuse imagery, and protecting abused children who are identified from such imagery.

It may be dangerous to rush towards policy-making without input, at such a critical event, from people such as the above. As history shows, rashly drafted laws and regulations might disrupt existing child protection activities, and thus have the reverse effect to that originally intended.

On the second point: we note with concern the inclusion of the following two speakers:

  • Paula Hall is billed as Chair of the Association for the Treatment of Sex Addiction and Compulsivity. However, there is widespread skepticism among mental health professionals that “sex addiction” is even a genuine condition, or whether it simply stigmatises normal sexual response. Although “hypersexuality” was previously accepted as a psychiatric condition (as once was homosexuality), it has now been removed from the most recent manual of psychiatry, DSM-V. It is worrying that you consider what many believe to be quack psychiatry to be relevant to this discussion.

  • Julia Long is a spokesperson for the morality group Object, which campaigns against all forms of sexual expression, whether consumed by children or adults. Object frequently attempt to link adult material to sexual violence, although they have no evidence to back this point of view. They have claimed (without evidential foundation) that adults are harmed by accessing pornography, reading lads’ mags and visiting strip clubs. Again, their inclusion seems incongruous at a conference aimed at protecting children, a subject in which Object and Ms Long herself appear to have no expertise or prior interest.

The anomalies in the conference line-up have led to questions as to whether this event is about child protection or Internet censorship. I look forward to your response, and hope that you can put minds at rest regarding your goals in setting up the conference panels.

Regards,

 

Jerry Barnett
SexAndCensorship.org

 UPDATE: the following response was received on 19 November:

Emailed on Behalf of Julia Hornle

Dear Mr Barnett,

Thank you for your letter and suggestions for the joint ATVOD-QMUL conference on 12th December.

We have finalised the composition of the panels and speakers.  I’m familiar with the work of the speakers you suggest and have no doubt that they also have interesting contributions to make, perhaps at a different conference.  Please let me know if you are organising such an event in the future.

Kind Regards,

1984-2014: Conference Will Mark 30 Years of UK Censorship

The Sex & Censorship campaign is pleased to announce that Jerry Barnett, the campaign founder, will appear as a keynote speaker at a conference on censorship, called to mark 30 years since the Video Recordings Act introduced a regime of video censorship to Britain. The event, titled 1984: Freedom and Censorship in the Media – Where Are We Now?, will take place at Sunderland University on April 8-9 2014.

The organisers have released an excellent two-minute video to promote the event, which you can see below. Please watch and share! Further information about the conference can be found at the event web site.