I have long predicted that the porn panic – the war on sexual expression – would engulf content far beyond pornography. The takeover of the British anti-censorship movement by members of the fetish-porn scene has thus been frustrating, as it has suggested that the threat to free speech is about the needs of people with unusual sexual tastes. I have predicted, in particular, that dating sites like Craigslist would be hit hard, as they allow people to post adult images on their ads. Last week, Craigslist did indeed close its dating section, but in response to legal changes in the US, rather than the UK.
While the UK’s attacks on Internet freedom have focused on the “need to protect children from pornography”, US attacks have focused on prostitution (labelled as “sex trafficking”). Using the latter excuse, the United States just approved a pair of laws, known as SESTA and FOSTA, which criminalise online services that enable “sex trafficking”. While this might seem a worthy effort, when one scratches the surface, we find the hand of anti-sex feminism at work, as usual, and the story is not as it seems.
The trafficking panic has been rising for a decade, and has long ago been exposed as largely mythical by tireless campaigners such as Brooke Magnanti and Laura Agustin. Magnanti’s book The Sex Myth outlines how the panic rose in the UK, leading to Parliament approving funds to tackle sex trafficking; but although anti-trafficking campaigners had claimed thousands of victims, the police could find hardly any. Agustin, in her book Sex in the Margins, outlines how illegal immigrant women enter the sex industry voluntarily as an alternative to lower paid (illegal) hotel work, but are dismissed as “victims” by campaigners.
Illegal immigrants who sell sex are thus labelled “trafficked women”, and then rescued. Agustin refers to the anti-trafficking movement as the Rescue Industry. The Rescue industry is, in reality, a merger between the anti-prostitution movement and the anti-immigration movement. Now, when brothels are raided to “rescue” trafficked women, the women are often sent to asylum camps before being deported – hardly the rescue of helpless victims that people tend to imagine.
Despite the fact that genuine victims of sex-trafficking are more rare than one would assume from reading the headlines, politicians have been persuaded otherwise. The first American victim of the panic was Backpage.com, which last year was forced to drop its famous escort listings. SESTA / FOSTA is the latest example of this. American sex workers have strongly opposed the new law, arguing that without places to advertise, they will be forced underground, and inevitably face more dangers as a result. The police too say that street prostitution has increased since Backpage was closed. But the Rescue Industry is now a well-funded juggernaut with the power to shout far louder than sex workers.
Once escort ads were banned, US sex workers moved to classified ad platforms like Craigslist, which have never allowed blatant escort advertising. When SESTA / FESTA was approved last week, Craigslist had little choice but to close its dating section – a little corner of Internet freedom that has thrived for years.
Although SESTA / FOSTA doesn’t apply in the UK (where anyway, prostitution is legal), Craigslist is a US business – so the UK has lost one of its most vibrant dating and adult contact services.
What is the future for UK escort listing sites like Adultwork.com and Viva Street? On paper, there is no reason for them not to continue. But I predict that the Digital Economy Act, which already enables porn censorship, will inevitably be extended to block new categories of content, and that “trafficking” will feature in the next list of targets.
Yesterday, BBC Radio 5 Live dedicated an hour to discussing the alleged threat posed to public health by pornography. The programme made little attempt to ask balanced questions, or examine any evidence beyond the anecdotal. Instead, it was premised on the assumption that porn poses a threat to society, and that “something must be done”.
I was invited on to the programme to discuss the issue. Before I joined the discussion, I listened with incredulity as a BBC-approved, evidence-free anti-sex moral panic was broadcast to the nation. I was eventually added to the discussion, and did my best to counter the misinformation, though no real time was allowed for discussion of solid evidence.
Thanks to a supporter who contacted me via my Facebook page, I discovered that my book Porn Panic! has been briefly discussed on a Facebook feminist group called Level Up. Which is nice – except that the discussion is deeply inaccurate, and handily illustrates some of the deep problems within the identity-obsessed left that my book identifies.
I should point out here (to anyone poised to suggest that my taking issue with feminism is “sexist”) that the book has been well reviewed by female reviewers and readers, including this lovely tweet received today:
So anyway, the Level Up thread (shown in this screenshot) begins by complaining that Porn Panic! conflates “objecting to the objectification of female bodies with censorship” (followed by a sad/angry face).
It then proceeds with a series of increasingly wrong claims. I applied to join the group in order to respond (politely, of course!) but it’s looking like my application is being overlooked. Hence this post.
Having been branded everything from a Nazi to a misogynist and (this week’s favourite insult) an alt-right sympathiser, I think it becomes ever more important to correct false claims.
Do I conflate objecting about objectification with censorship?
Yes, pretty much. Not directly, but by pointing out that claims of “objectification” invariably come along with “something must be done!” demands. The deeper point is that objectification itself is a dodgy concept, suggesting that one woman can demand another woman’s image be removed, simply on the basis they’re both women. So a model doesn’t have a right to work, because feminists demand a right for no woman, anywhere, to be “objectified”. It’s nonsense, of course – the only person who has a right to decide where her image is seen is the person who owns the body in the image, not random strangers. “Objectification” has become an excuse for bullies to attack the right of women to self-expression.
Do I claim feminism is a driving force for censorship?
Yes, very much so. The poster complains that I equate censors with “feminists complaining about sexism”. That’s not very accurate, except in the sense that some feminists don’t know the difference between sexism and sexual expression. So when a feminist says “sexualised music videos are sexist and something should be done!” then really they’re saying “erotic images of women are harmful and must be censored”. Porn Panic! documents many real-life examples of this behaviour.
Am I connected with Spiked?
A commenter responds: “A quick google suggests that the author is connected with the vile brigade of Spiked”. Quick googling has replaced genuine research for many people online. I can only assume she found a review of my book in Spiked. But then, the book has also been reviewed (favourably) by feminist bloggers, and nobody’s suggested this connects me to feminism.
Are Spiked vile? “Vile” is one of those words that identitarians (including feminists) seem to throw around with abandon. Spiked is an interesting publication, with roots in the far-left Revolutionary Communist Party, but currently is a blend of liberal/libertarian and other viewpoints. I support the excellent Spiked defence of free speech, which is desperately needed in these censorious times. Spiked is refreshingly radical on other issues too, though we part company on issues like Brexit (I’m a staunch remoaner).
Have Zero Books gone all libertarian?
The commentor goes on to say: “…Zero Books which used to be a very interesting publisher has been literally taken over by the Spiked/Institute of Ideas crowd and they seem to publish little else than their questionable ‘libertarian’ stuff…”
I’m incredibly proud to have been published by Zero Books. They’re a left-wing imprint that (unlike much of the left) hasn’t been gripped by authoritarian or identitarian viewpoints. My publisher Douglas Lain seems to be one of the few Marxists left in the world who knows what Marxism is; and though I no longer call myself a Marxist, it’s important to differentiate between Marx’s ideas and the claptrap spouted by most “Marxists”. I’m also an ex-leftie left distraught at the atrociously reactionary state of the political left, so Zero Books is my ideal publisher. Unlike many on the left, ZB looks for intelligent viewpoints from many sides for their podcast and YouTube channel. They have not “literally” been taken over by Spiked, Institute of Ideas (which is linked to Spiked) or libertarians.
The poster replies: “Eurgh yeah I’ve seen way too much of Spiked moaning about freeze peach on university campuses. They can’t even be bothered to find out what freedom of speech entails” – which is pretty hilarious, as she goes on to say “…no platforming is people demonstrating freedom of action!” (No Platform being one of the most blatant forms of censorship now prevalent on the left).
“Freeze Peach” is a way of sneering at free speech that has become fashionable among lefties (the fact they need to sneer at free speech at all is revealing). Ironically, I even mention the term in my book:
“Free speech, once the bedrock of liberalism, has – quite literally – become a dirty word on the political left. For a while in 2014, it even became fashionable for some online activists to mock the defence of free speech as FREEZEPEACH, using the argument that free speech cannot be allowed while some groups remain oppressed. The argument is a circular one, because in the swamp of identity politics, some groups are deemed to be permanently oppressed, by definition. So the argument goes: all women are oppressed; all men are privileged; therefore men cannot have free speech, because they use it to oppress women.”
I’d welcome the chance to discuss these points further via the Level Up group or elsewhere. You know where to find me!
Dr David J Ley, a psychologist specialising in sexual matters, and especially pornography, has recently been at the receiving end of a barrage of online abuse, following the announcement he would be speaking at a conference on the treatment of adolescent sex offenders. Dr Ley (author of Ethical Porn For Dicks) was due to give a speech titled: “Promoting Responsible Porn Use in Youth and Adolescents”.
Sexual violence is highest in the adolescent age group. An influential study called Pornography, Rape and the Internet (PDF) found that pornography viewing appears to significantly reduce sexual violence in this age group:
“I find that the arrival of the internet was associated with a reduction in rape incidence. While the internet is obviously used for many purposes other than pornography, it is notable that growth in internet usage had no apparent effect on other crimes. Moreover, when I disaggregate the rape data by offender age, I find that the effect of the internet on rape is concentrated among those for whom the internet-induced fall in the non-pecuniary price of pornography was the largest – men ages 15-19″
So anyone with an interest in reducing sexual violence – one might assume – would have found Dr Ley’s talk informative and beneficial. But morality campaigners thought otherwise, and set out to get the talk cancelled.
The tweets varied from the infantile…
… to the murderous…
… and of course, someone managed to blame capitalism (because nobody EVER thought of wanking before Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations)…
Ley’s Speech Cancelled
Following the abuse, and a letter-writing campaign to the conference organiser, Dr Ley’s invitation was withdrawn, and he will no longer be speaking at the event. The letters repeated standard myths about pornography, and contained veiled threats to disrupt the conference:
“You are hosting the porn industry. This is quite likely to increase sex trafficking at the hotel where hosting!
I certainly will raise my voice and bring women to protest this conference!!
We will protest the venue as well as the entire conference. Pornography does not help sexual offenders!
88% of porn is sexual violence!”
Sexual Repression is Harmful
We need to retake the moral high ground: We believe sexual repression is harmful. We believe sexual freedom reduces harm. The puritan left, like the religious right, would return us to the sexual dark ages, and that will be deeply harmful for everyone.
I’ve attended London’s Notting Hill Carnival most years since 1981. This year, like most, I went both days: Sunday with the family, Monday just to dance. Carnival showcases a West Indian culture that (unlike European cultures) shows no shame in blurring the line between dance and sex. And of course, this openness is bound to upset western sensibilities. Once, conservatives would have complained bitterly about the displays of sexuality, but the mantle of anti-sex puritanism has now been firmly taken over by the political left, and especially by parts of the feminist movement.
As an anti-censorship activist over the past decade, I began to notice about five years ago that anti-sex feminists had particular issues with black music and dance. I dedicated some time to documenting this in my book Porn Panic!
“Since their invention, music videos had come under fire from morality campaigners, but this was a phenomenon better known in the United States, with its powerful Christian right, than in Britain. Many of the attacks on popular music in America contained thinly-veiled racism. US Society was racially segregated for most of its history, until relatively recently, and most white Americans had had little contact with black Americans or their cultures, until the rise of music recording and radio. Although black artists were often boycotted by radio stations, white performers, from Elvis Presley onwards, began to copy black music, and young white people began to dance to it. Unsurprisingly, this infuriated white conservatives.
A 1960s circular from the Citizens Council of Greater New Orleans reads as follows:
“Help Save The Youth of America
DON’T BUY NEGRO RECORDS
(If you don’t want to serve negroes in your place of business, then do not have negro records on your jukebox or listen to negro records on the radio.)
The screaming, idiotic words, and savage music of these records are undermining the morals of our white youth in America.
Don’t Let Your Children Buy, or Listen To These Negro Records…”
Such a message shows more than hatred or anger: it reveals fear. As well as breaching the carefully constructed walls of racial segregation, black music and dance had caused a deeper concern: it was highly sexual. African dance had always been more ‘wild’ than the European equivalent. Now, as civil rights and anti-colonialism movements peaked, and segregation ended, continents were belatedly colliding. For the first time, black music entered mainstream Western culture. The dam broke. This was not a meeting of equals: African culture poured over white society like a tsunami.
Blues, jazz and rock and roll had just been the beginning. Now soul, hip hop, disco, reggae, dancehall, afrobeat, soca, dub, house, R&B, and many other genres sold records by the millions and entered the charts worldwide. By the turn of the century, it was hard to find music in the British charts that did not have some black roots.
And the videos that came with the music showed another African influence: clothing became skimpier, hips and backsides rolled in a way that white bodies had never before moved. As the moral panic against ‘sexualised’ music videos took root, it was not just a reaction to music; it was a reaction to blackmusic.
Black female artists came under particular attack during the Big Panic. Especially singled out for criticism were Beyoncé, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj. But far from apologise and cover themselves up, all three of these artists revelled in their displays of sexuality, and responded to attacks by becoming more ‘sexualised’, apparently taking enjoyment from taunting the mostly white, middle-class commentators that were attacking them. Beyoncé’s famous performance outfits became more revealing. Rihanna turned up to the 2014 Council of Fashion Designers Awards in a near-transparent dress, which generated an inevitable barrage of outrage. Minaj’s Anaconda video gave the finger to her critics, being a celebration of her famously rounded backside, and featuring the line, delivered as a parody of a prissy, white girl: “Oh. My. Gosh. Look at her BUTT!”
Prudish anger mounted, with article headlines such as “Don’t call Beyonce’s sexual empowerment feminism” trying to create a faux-liberal case for demanding that the singers cover themselves up. But there was no contest: three of the world’s most confident and talented black female performers could easily handle whatever the bloggers and journalists could dish out. Commentators were reduced to whining, inaccurately and patronisingly, that the singers were the ‘victims’ of a white, male-dominated capitalist music machine. The women, and their millions of fans, paid little attention.
Given how deeply rooted the Big Panic was in the political left, and that the anti-sex movement was dominated by white, middle-class women, endless overt attacks on black performers would begin to look suspiciously racist. A white target for the rage was needed. Enter Miley Cyrus.
Cyrus had committed multiple sins in the eyes of moralists. She had been a child star, and now had the nerve to grow up and become an attractive young woman. She appeared naked in the video for her single, Wrecking Ball, and, most outrageous of all, during a 2013 live TV performance, she twerked.
Although twerking was a fairly new term, it described a dance move that had been around for decades, if not centuries. Nobody who has seen videos for hip hop, dancehall, R&B or other black music styles could be unaware of the ways in which some black female dancers could move their hips, buttocks and thighs. I had been a happy witness to this at least since I started attending London’s Notting Hill Carnival and West Indian parties in my teens. It is hardly surprising that twerking provoked the backlash it did among so many commentators: the link between dance and sex had never been more obvious.
Now the anti-sex movement could finally take aim from the moral high ground. Object teamed up with black feminist group Imkaan, created an astroturf campaign to censor music videos called Rewind and Reframe, and, with help of the ever-supportive Guardian, began to insinuate that Cyrus’s twerking was not just sexist, but in some way racist too. Guardian journalist Hadley Freeman ludicrously complained that Cyrus had ‘culturally appropriated’ black people by daring to move her buttocks in a certain way, and having apparently worked herself into an angry froth, described the performance as a ‘minstrel show’. Under the guise of anti-racism, here was a white ‘liberal’ journalist doing what racists had done in the Deep South decades earlier: trying to stop black culture from being adopted by white people. In place of an exhortation not to buy ‘negro records’, the new left had found new language to express their discomfort that white kids were copying the dance moves of black artists.
Freeman’s real problem was revealed in the article when she wrote of Cyrus “…adding in a racial element while she copied the dance moves of strippers and bellowed her love of drugs”. Black people, nudity and drugs: the triumvirate that has upset white conservatives for centuries. She even dared to invoke (or appropriate, perhaps) Martin Luther King, ending the article by stating that she ‘had a dream’:
“I have a dream that female celebrities will one day feel that they don’t need to imitate porn actors on magazine covers and in their stage acts. I have a dream that the predominantly white music world will stop reducing black music to grills and bitches and twerking. And I have a dream that stupid songs about seducing “good girls” will be laughed at instead of sent to No 1.”
Freeman’s dream, of a world free of strippers, porn, drugs, good girls doing bad things, and white people doing black things, is hardly a progressive one. She could have found her dream in Selma, Alabama, in 1963, where King made his famous speech. If any article summed up the 21st century collapse of the left into ugly conservatism, this one did.
If it had appeared alone, Freeman’s article might have simply been a one-off piece representing her own views. But it was not: the Guardian was in campaign mode. The piece was handily followed and supported a couple of months later by an article from Imkaan’s Ikamara Larasi titled ‘Why must we accept the casual racism in pop videos?’, putting the boot in on Miley Cyrus once again, and adding the ‘authenticity’ of a black voice to Freeman’s messy argument (albeit a black voice with close links to Object). And in case we did not get the message, a month later Larasi wrote another Guardian piece, ‘Sexed-up music videos are everyone’s problem’. Beyond her two attacks on music videos, Larasi was not again seen in the Guardian; her work was done.
In addition to Freeman’s and Larasi’s contributions, the Guardian carried a surreal ‘news’ piece on the story that 73 year old Christian singer Cliff Richard also disapproved of Cyrus’s behaviour, and he “just hopes she grows out of it”.
However clumsy and quasi-racist it might have been, the Guardian’s attack on ‘sexualised music videos’ helped do the trick. It was never about convincing Cyrus fans – the goal was to put pressure on the UK authorities. Just one month after Larasi’s second article, in January 2014, the Guardian wrote in approving terms that the BBFC wanted to regulate (i.e. censor) music videos in the same way it did feature films. Of course it did: the BBFC, let us not forget, is a private business.
“Following the issuing of new classification guidance from the BBFC on Monday, the organisation’s assistant director, David Austin, said it was responding to pressure from parents who were concerned about the sexual imagery freely available to children who had access to the web…”
And a few months afterwards, in August 2014, the Prime Minister, David Cameron announced in a speech on (ominously) The Family that the government was backing censorship of music videos:
“From October, we’re going to help parents protect their children from some of the graphic content in online music videos by working with the British Board of Film Classification, Vevo and YouTube to pilot the age rating of these videos.”
The Big Panic had claimed a an important cultural scalp. Without any genuine public discussion or outcry, and certainly without any research showing that ‘sexualised music videos’ were causing any harm to anyone, music – and especially black music – would be subject to prurient censorship controls. The old Citizens Council of Greater New Orleans would be proud.”
We received news today that Fetlife.com, a cornerstone of the global kink community, has been forced to remove vast amounts of content in order to stay in business.
My book Porn Panic!, published last year, warns of an imminent attack on sexual freedom and free speech. These things don’t exist in a vacuum: they are proxies for liberties that have been taken for granted in the western world for decades. The sexual expression I defend isn’t that important in its own right: what’s important is that sexual expression is the stone on which wannabe dictators sharpen their knives.
Now, with the authoritarian Trump administration taking power, and the promise of Internet censorship coming to the UK this year, there can be little doubt where things are going. Only a couple of weeks ago, Backpage.com was bullied into closing down its adult services advertising in the United States. Now, the assault on Fetlife confirms the direction of travel. Hold onto your hats, because this is going to get very very rough, very very fast. To support this campaign against censorship, please donate or buy Porn Panic! and help spread the word.
Below is the full announcement issued by Fetlife this week:
John Baku @ Fetlife posts:
I have a lot to apologize for; I apologize for the cryptic announcement I made last Tuesday. I apologize for the deletion of 100s of groups and 1,000s of fetishes without any warning, let alone sufficient notice. I apologize for not making this announcement earlier and leaving everyone in the dark, and most importantly, I apologize for letting many of you down.
I wish we could have done things differently, but even upon reflection, I believe we did what we had to do to protect the community and FetLife with the information we had when we made each decision along the way.
Before making any decisions, we consulted with multiple parties. We consulted with the team, partners, financial institutions, the NCSF (National Coalition for Sexual Freedom), the FSC (Free Speech Coalition), lawyers, and anyone else we thought might have insight for us.
So, why did we make the announcement last Tuesday? Why did we remove some of the content we removed over the last 3-4 days? And, why didn’t we delete some of the content a lot sooner?
Everything falls under one of three categories: financial risk, legal risk, and community risk.
Let’s first talk quickly about the financial risk and get it out of the way because I don’t want it to detract from the high priority issues i.e. the legal and community risks.
The Financial Risk
A merchant account is what allows us to process credit cards on FetLife. The ads you see on FetLife covers the cost of approximately 1/2 the cost of our servers and bandwidth – that’s it.
Your support pays for the other half of the servers, plus the team that keeps FetLife up and running, lawyers, accountants, software, etc. So your support pays for the vast majority of FetLife’s monthly expenses.
Hence, without a merchant account, FetLife runs at a loss every month – and we are not talking a couple of dollars a month, we are talking significant losses.
Last Tuesday we got a notice that one of our merchant accounts was shutting us down. One of the card companies contacted them directly and told the bank to stop processing for us. The bank asked for more information, but the only thing they could get from the card company was that part of it had to do with “blood, needles, and vampirism.”
Like me, you are probably thinking, but they have to give you a good reason? No, no they don’t. The only thing they have to do is protect their interests sadly.
Because we couldn’t get any more information than that, we had to act quickly and preemptively protect our other merchant account by making changes to our content guidelines. But since we were very much in the dark, we didn’t think it would be a good idea to go into any more detail than we did at that point.
Three days later, we get another notice, this time from our other merchant account. They got a similar call from the same card company, and they were asked to close our account. This time they were told it was for “Illegal or Immoral” reasons.
Both of the bank’s compliance departments thought it was prudent to close our accounts down even though they were only contacted by one of the card brands so not to risk being fined from both card brands.
The banks maintain a shared list that contains all merchant account closings. The card brand also required the banks to add us to the list which will make it tough for us to ever get a merchant account again, at least for the foreseeable future.
Hence we can no longer process credit cards on FetLife and will most likely not be able to for a while.
The Legal Risk
Over the last five days, we’ve had the opportunity to speak to multiple organizations, each with part of the puzzle.
There are numerous things at play here:
A highly publicized rape case in Australia involving a member of the community;
An organization that participated in the anti-porn bill that wants to see sites like FetLife taken off the internet;
Talk of reviving the obscenity task force in the US;
The Digital Economy bill in the UK that’s being debated currently;
BPjM in Germany; and
We’ve been one of the most liberal, if not the most liberal, adult site on the web which makes us the perfect target;
We can put our heads in the sand, but that is both naive and irresponsible. All of the above have real legal risks attached to them with potentially equally real consequences. Maybe not to you directly but it does to FetLife, the team behind FetLife, and myself.
The Community Risk
The one thing that bonds us all together is our love for the kinky community. Without the kinky community, without sites like FetLife, many of us would not have a place to call home, a place in which we are accepted and understood, and dare I say a place in which we feel free to be ourselves.
If we hope to win the war, if we want our society to be more accepting of us, then we can’t give them a reason to vilify us. People always need someone to blame, and we need to stop making ourselves the easy target.
On what seems like a daily basis, we hear of another atrocious sex or hate crime committed against a fellow friend. And for every story we hear, there are tens of thousands we never hear about. As a community, we need to stop turning a blind eye.
One of the ways to do that is through defining a better list of guidelines that we live by as a community.
At first, it bothered me that we would have to tighten our rules because I felt I was letting people down. But after discussing potential changes with the NCSF, CFP, lawyers, and our merchant providers, I couldn’t help but be excited for the community and FetLife’s future.
Maybe I’m just a naive optimist, but I believe this is an opportunity for us to set the bar higher. These changes affect many of us, to one degree or another, but I think the sacrifices some of us will have to make will be worth it in the grand scheme of things.
Both FetLife and the NCSF believe that the proposed changes will give us the opportunity to flourish as a community while better protecting ourselves from outside attack.
With the help of the NCSF, lawyers, partners, and merchant providers, we came up with the following pillars that will make up our guidelines:
Nothing non-consensual (abduction, rape, etc.)
Nothing that impairs consent (drugs, alcohol, etc.)
No permanent or lasting damage (snuff, lacerations, deep cutting, etc.)
No hate speech (Nazi roleplay, race play, etc.)
Nothing that falls under obscenity (incest, etc. )
These guidelines aren’t intended to be a negative comment against your kink or your fantasies. Some things we believe can be done ethically, like CNC or hypnosis, but they can also be considered nonconsensual in a legal context, and we have to take into account the opinions of the authorities and merchant accounts as well to not only survive but thrive as a community.
Non-Consensual Deletion of Content from FetLife
Why did we act without first announcing changes and without first notifying anyone who would be affected? I know many of you might not believe me when I say this, but it was for our protection.
Yes, it was mainly for FetLife’s and my protection, and we had to act swiftly. One could easily argue that we didn’t move swift enough and that I shouldn’t even make this post because something in it might incriminate FetLife or me.
It’s always been a delicate balancing act. We try our best to balance the needs of individual members, the community as a whole, the team, and FetLife itself.
Everyone’s needs are not always balanced equally. Historically we’ve sided more with individual members needs, but what we’ve learned from recent events is that we need to start putting more weight on the safety of the community, FetLife, and the team behind FetLife – including my personal safety.
We are still going through FetLife to see if anything else needs to be removed or cleaned up. While going through this exercise, we are using the different situations we encounter to help us better define where we need to draw a line.
We hope to be able to publish our new content guidelines shortly as well as implement changes to caretaking so that we don’t ever find ourselves in a similar situation again.
After that, we need to work to repair any relationships we might have ruined with members both inside and outside the community.
The UK state will begin censoring the web in 2017 – and almost nobody has noticed. Online free speech as we’ve known it for over 25 years is about to come under fundamental assault. The Digital Economy Bill, currently going through Parliament, will become law in 2017. It contains a little section about “protecting children from pornography”. And who could disagree with that? But this isn’t about porn, or child protection: it’s a power grab by the state, which wants to control the Internet as it does TV and video.
From next year, a state-approved private company (the BBFC), funded with £millions of taxpayers money, will have the power to block websites that it considers pose a “threat to children”. Initially, this related to sites containing sexual or erotic images, video or even audio. But we know it won’t stop there. Porn is the testing ground for one of the greatest attacks on free speech in British history. This campaign has worked for three years to inform the press and public about a disguised threat to Internet freedom.
It is vital that we continue to educate journalists, politicians and the public on what this law is actually about: censorship. I can’t continue this work without your help. Please donate to support Sex & Censorship – donations above £20 will receive a signed copy of my book Porn Panic!, which documents how the “porn threat” is used as an excuse to attack sexual freedom and free speech in the UK.
Taken in isolation, Jeremy Hunt’s suggestion that teenage “sexting” should be banned might seem like one of those quaintly out-of-touch things that fuddy-duddy Tory ministers tend to say. After all, a generation of teens have had access to camera phones and smartphones, and have (unsurprisingly) used them to share photos and videos of their naughty bits. And teens were the first adopters of SMS 20 years ago, and (also unsurprisingly) used the technology to send each other dirty messages. Hunt’s target group, everybody under 18, is an odd suggestion, given the age of consent is 16.
And then, when you take a moment to consider how such a ban could be implemented, you realise just how ludicrous the suggestion is. Does Hunt seriously think that mobile phone networks, WhatsApp, Apple, Facebook, Gmail and a plethora of other platforms should all install technology to ensure that under-18s don’t send each other sexual content? And if they do, then what happens when they catch a repeat offender? Do the morality police arrest them, and perhaps take them away for a programme of modesty and decency training?
But although the temptation is to gently mock politicians who say such silly things, such outbursts should be taken seriously, especially in the current authoritarian climate. As I outline in my book Porn Panic!, sex is regularly used as an excuse to justify attacks on both privacy and free speech (terrorism being another favoured excuse). The Snoopers’ Charter represents the greatest attack on online privacy in any democratic country, ever. And the recent announcement that porn sites are to be blocked is also unprecedented in a “free” country. Britain is trying its best to become China.
If you’ve been paying attention for the past few years, you’ll have seen multiple government attempts to spy on, or block, Internet communications, using a variety of excuses. Perhaps the first example came during the 2011 riots, when the government and police blamed services like Blackberry Messenger and Facebook. Then in early 2015, in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, David Cameron threatened to block encrypted services like WhatsApp and iMessage. Twitter, a popular platform for free speech, regularly comes under attack by assorted moralists and control-freaks for not censoring its users enough. So far, these companies have – to their credit – largely resisted UK government attempts at intrusion, and even strengthened their encryption. They are mostly US-based, and protected by the US Constitution. This infuriates the UK authorities.
To implement Jeremy Hunt’s apparently simple anti-sexting proposal would require wide-scale automated spying using intelligent text-recognition and image-recognition technology. Such technology would, of course, be able to spot a far broader range of thoughtcrime than sexting. And once in place, of course mission creep would set in. Why not use it to identify drug users, tax evaders, or racists?
Some would argue that this is desirable: after all, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide, right? But if we are to introduce automated policing of speech and behaviour, and erode our right to privacy on this scale, we need a serious discussion in Parliament and beyond. Instead, our rights to privacy and free speech are being eroded step-by-step, in a series of small, quiet nudges.
When, a few weeks ago, a parliamentary committee – chaired by Keith Vaz MP – declared its support, in an interim report, for decriminalising sex workers, I was sceptical. My scepticism was based, not on inside knowledge of the committee, but on two main things:
The declared purpose of the inquiry was to determine whether clients should be criminalised for paying for sex. But this point was ignored in the interim report. So why was an interim report issued before even considering the most important issue? This remains unclear.
Over recent years, I’ve documented a rising ultra-conservatism which is permeating society, and is prevalent across the entire political spectrum (see my book Porn Panic! for details). Could it be, just as the pendulum is so clearly swinging away from liberal values, that we are about to see sex work fully decriminalised? Much as I’d like to believe that, it seems unlikely.
In the mean time, a couple of things have happened. The sudden downfall of Keith Vaz, following a tabloid sting, has led to him stepping down from the committee. The sting (which involved recording his alleged encounter with two young Romanian men), exposes him as a potential hypocrite (MP IN HYPOCRITE SHOCKER!) and has led to him stepping down from the committee. This was immediately seized upon by abolitionists, who called for the entire review to be scrapped.
Whether it is, in fact, hypocritical to pay sex workers while chairing a committee on sex work, will be left for another discussion. Can one imagine “Hypocrite MP who chaired football enquiry discovered to be Arsenal fan!”? Me neither.
Even more creepy than the carefully planned sting on Vaz was yesterday’s call from the “anti-slavery commissioner” (ugh) for Londoners to shop suspected brothels to the Metropolitan Police. The “sex trafficking” narrative has been escalated to a “sex slavery” one. The new campaign has been accompanied by hysterical language: “…sex workers in the capital were being beaten, raped and sometimes starved by the men controlling them in a form of human slavery that was blighting the capital”.
The coverage neglected to mention the almost total failure of the police to find “sex slaves”. In fact, raids on brothels have been used to arrest and humiliate sex workers, bust them for drug possession, and identify (and then deport) illegal immigrants. In short, the sex slavery hysteria is yet another new cover for the recently merged anti-prostitution and anti-immigration movements. “Rescuing” has become code for “harassing, criminalising and deporting”.
This new, Stasi-type attempt at citizen spying also ignores the fact that Vaz’s parliamentary committee has recommended the decriminalisation of brothel keeping. The police are ramping up anti-brothel raids under a law that is now widely seen – including by parliamentarians – as outdated and redundant.
Not only have illegal immigrants been targeted in this way, but even legal migrants have been targeted for deportation. In May it was reported that Romanian sex workers – EU citizens – are facing deportation on the basis that they are criminals. And their crime? This is unclear, as prostitution is legal in the UK.
So while we appear to be looking at isolated incidents, these events take place in an atmosphere of rising authoritarianism, anti-sex prudery and xenophobia. While Keith Vaz is in no way a libertine, one can predict with confidence that he will be replaced (on the Home Affairs committee) by somebody more socially conservative.
As I document the rising fascism in British society, I frequently check myself: am I cherry-picking to fit my narrative? Have I been swayed by conspiracy theorists? I’d like to discover that my pessimism about the state of society is misplaced. But sadly, I don’t think it is (feel free to reassure me in the comments section below).
An inquiry is currently under-way in the British Parliament into the laws governing prostitution, and last week Dr Brooke Magnanti (aka Belle de Jour) and Paris Lees – both former sex workers – gave evidence.
There are two broad forms that a change in the law might take: either towards full decriminalisation – as has been the case in New Zealand since 2003 – or towards the criminalisation of clients (the so-called Nordic model). While the vast majority of sex workers favour decriminalisation (96% according to a recent survey), the inquiry made clear from the start that it is inclined towards the Nordic model:
“The Home Affairs Committee is looking at the way prostitution is treated in legislation. In particular, the inquiry will assess whether the balance in the burden of criminality should shift to those who pay for sex rather than those who sell it.”
So from the outset, the inquiry appears to be slanted towards a legislative model that is opposed by sex workers: an approach that signals moralistic goals, rather than a desire to reduce harm.
Judging by The Mirror’s account, the discussion was somewhat surreal. Labour MP Keith Vaz, who seems to have a particular, long-term issue with sex work, appeared reluctant to believe the accounts of women who had actually been sex workers:
“Mr Vaz expressed disbelief at when Ms Lees said she’d never met anyone who had felt pressured into becoming a sex worker.”
It is well-known that prohibitionists claim to have met countless women who have been forced into prostitution, but these victims tend to remain invisible, and are apparently never able to speak for themselves. As Lees responded:
“It seems to me you’ve had people at this inquiry who’ve got absolutely no business talking about sex work. Whose only qualification seems to be that they write for the Observer.”
“It has long troubled me that Object are prepared to make endless claims of rape and sexual abuse against the sex entertainment industries; and yet, to my knowledge, you have filed no police reports.”
Those interested in the issue should carefully watch the inquiry unfold in Parliament. Any truly open-minded exercise would doubtless come to the same conclusion as Amnesty International did last year: full decriminalisation is the only way forward that is backed by evidence. But, I suspect, this is not the recommendation that this particular inquiry will reach.