Category Archives: Moral Panic

Jameela Jamil’s Porn Panic

On Thursday evening, BBC3 showed a whole hour of porn panic, hosted by Radio One presenter Jameela Jamil. The programme’s title, Porn What’s The Harm, suggested an open-minded enquiry into the question of whether porn is harmful to teenagers who view it. But this was never going to be an unbiased look at the issue. Jamil has long made clear her dislike of pornography. And the programme was as full of misinformation and panic as we expected.

Jamil’s opening words set the scene: “Porn is everywhere!” Um… is it? Of course it isn’t – this is a standard porn panic statement. And it wasn’t alone. Barely a minute passed without Jamil making clear her shock, horror and disgust: “UNBELIEVABLY explicit sex acts”, “In the homes, in the minds, in the lives of our children”, “This is unbelievable!”, “Ordinary families have to deal with this every day”, “Countless children have already been exposed to shocking images”, “I’m horrified!”, “Bombarded with these pornographic images”, and on and on and on…

According to the Internet, Jamil is 28. Yet I wondered at times if she is perhaps in her 50s. Although Internet porn has been freely available for a full generation, Jamil seems to believe she grew up in an innocent, porn-free age, and that young people today are growing up in a different world to the one she did. The web has been widely available for about 20 years, and porn has always featured very heavily, and has been easy to access. And porn on video has been widely available since the 1980s. Anybody under 30 has had easy access to Internet pornography since their early teens, and most people under 50 will have had some exposure to porn as a teenager.

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There was a genuine laugh out loud moment for me, when Jamil describes seeing porn at 15, a scene involving a woman and a cucumber, and says: it “…made me not eat a salad for 12 years!” So now we know: porn is responsible for Britain’s unhealthy diets as well as every other bad thing that’s ever happened.

When talking about teens “sexting” images to each other, she again appears to be far older than she actually is. “I’m so glad that every boyfriend I’ve had until now was before picture messaging”, she says. And since picture messaging has been around for a decade or so, poor Jameela has clearly been single since she was 18!

The programme conducts a survey of teens and finds the average age of first accessing porn is 14 – so no great surprise. It then goes on to look at the effects of porn on teens. Rather than speak to experts, the teenagers themselves are asked how they are affected. Such self-report evidence is of little value. How can teens compare themselves to the person they would be if they hadn’t watched porn? How can teens today compare themselves to the teenagers of the 1970s who didn’t have easy access to pornography?

Predictably, although she claimed to be interested in the effects of porn on teens, Jamil didn’t interview any psychologists. If she had, she’d have discovered there is little evidence that pornography is harmful. Instead, there was a brief appearance by two “experts in sexualisation”. And as has already been covered here, sexualisation is simply another keyword designed to invoke moral panic.

Undaunted by the lack of evidence of harm, Jamil goes into full-blown moral panic mode. She raises the case of an 11 year old boy who raped his 8 year old sister after – we are told – looking at porn. And she interviews a rape victim who is “convinced pornography played a part in the attack”.

Of course, if porn really was causing people to commit sexual violence, there would have been a steep rise in sexual crime in the past 30 years, as porn consumption has increased – and as is now well known, the reverse has happened. There is a reverse correlation between porn consumption and sexual violence.

In linking porn to rape, Jamil is playing a trick that has been employed by morality campaigners since at least the 1980s. And like those campaigners, she is guilty of switching the blame for rape away from the rapist, and giving rapists an excuse for their behaviour: “the porn made me do it”.

And then, like all good purveyors of panic, Jamil casually adds child abuse imagery to the equation, helping blur the line between consenting adult sex and the rape of children.

She throws in several other tried-and-tested panic tools for good measure, such as blaming porn for women who have cosmetic surgery on their labia. According to this idea, all vulva in pornography are neat and small, and this makes women seek surgery to copy the pornstars. In fact, porn has taught people that vaginas are not all the same, and some scenes (link NSFW!) positively worship generously-proportioned female genitalia. Her evidence that this is happening? “I often see reports in the media linking porn to labiaplasties”. You mean the same media that allows dishonest, moralistic documentaries like yours to be broadcast on TV, Jameela?

It is disappointing that such propaganda is still broadcast by the BBC in the place of informed, panic-free comment. And of course, there’s an agenda. While pretending to be naive of all things porn, Jamil throws in some very current political soundbites. When browsing porn, she expresses shock that she has not been asked to verify her age, thus fitting in surprisingly neatly with ATVOD’s recent campaign aimed at giving ATVOD statutory powers to censor the Internet. If she had tried to access the same sites from a PC on which child protection software was installed, she wouldn’t have been able to access the images that so shocked her.

So come on BBC: this discussion is welcome, but let’s have some honest, evidence based programming, rather than endless panic aimed at building public support for Internet censorship.

The Bad Taste Police Censor the Internet

When the government rolled out the Great Firewall of Cameron – the nickname given to the porn filters now provided as default by most residential broadband providers in the UK – they asked us to think of the children. Think of the shattered lives we can save by blocking child pornography, they said. And who would argue against that intention? Not the ISPs, certainly.

But like all major changes which forego public scrutiny, the filters are now stepping beyond their original remit, seeping into parts of the internet that shouldn’t be of governmental concern. According to comments made recently by James Brokenshire, the minister for immigration and security (a somewhat inflammatory departmental conflation), the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU) have been spending much of their time flagging “unsavoury” content on sites such as YouTube, in an effort to avert the “radicalisation of individuals.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I will point out that CTIRU has been performing this public service – the flagging of what Brokenshire refers to as “unsavoury” material – since at least 2010, and has in fact flagged 29,000 videos since February of that year. However, with the new filters for explicit material already set as default for most UK households thanks to pressure on private companies, and Brokenshire calling for further government interference in restricting online content, it seems only sensible to have concerns over the future of these restrictive practices.

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By one branch of government, we’ve been told it’s for child safety; by another, we’re told it’s a counter-terrorism effort. The fact is, if the government is so keen on the idea of persistent online censorship it’s willing to wrap the package twice, we should be worried.

Let’s be clear about something else here: we’re not talking about illegal content, or even arguing about what legal restraints should or should not be placed on online content. Brokenshire’s proposal for extended restrictions, in his own words, would be applied to content “that may not be illegal but certainly is unsavoury and may not be the sort of material that people would want to see or receive.”

And I’m sure the British population is just thrilled that the minister has deemed himself fit to make that decision on their behalf.

As Danny O’Brien from the Electronic Frontier Foundation says aptly, “politicians have proved to be terrible arbiters of taste. If you don’t think much of their suits and haircuts, you’re not going to think much of what they think acceptable or unsavoury for public consumption.”

This is another unfortunate mask censorship often wears: that of the bumbling do-gooder trying to sanitise the world and make it seem like a much nicer place. Unfortunately, whilst this tactic might work fantastically for your eight-year-old – keeping the magic of childhood alive – when applied to a population of adults, all it does it attempt to curb rogue behaviour, or (arguably the most disturbing word Brokenshire has used), “radicalism.”

Being politically radical is not the same as being violent; Hitler might have been a radical, but so was Ghandi. Radicalism in politics can mean many things. It can mean chaining yourself to railings to get votes for women, or taking a machete to a soldier in the street. It can be the biggest push for change, whether towards a progressive vision of the future or a draconian era of surveillance and the curtailing of civil liberties. What it isn’t, however, is intrinsically threatening, which is why there is no just cause to censor politically radical content on the internet – especially when the mainstream is supporting censorship.

17 Anti-Porn Arguments

It’s difficult to pin down and deal with all of the anti-porn arguments flying around. They seem to mutate constantly, and often contradict each other. For those of us who regularly encounter anti-porn activists, it’s hard to explain to others the sheer lack of intelligence in the anti-porn movement. Just as in the climate-change “debate”, there isn’t really much of a debate at all – just facts clashing with dogma to create noise.

So I’m indebted to the anti-porn campaigner (well, anti-porn entrepreneur is probably more accurate) known as One Angry Girl, who seems to be a minor celebrity in the puritanical feminist community, and even has a testimonial on her site from a member of our favourite UK anti-sex group, Object.

OAG has kindly pulled together 17 “pro-porn” statements, and her rebuttals, into one handy crib-sheet. And since I was in the mood for a blogging marathon, here are all 17, with my own comments. Her points are made using a “They say”/”You say” formula, and feature a high venom/fact ratio.

OAG is very, very angry that some women take off their clothes for money. She’s so livid, she’s determined to stop them from doing so. Because that will make her feel better, for some  reason which she never explains. So here it is: proof that porn is evil.

 1) They say: But they’re enjoying themselves

You say: If they enjoy it so much, then they would be willing to do it for $7.50 per hour.

I say: How do you know they wouldn’t? Some do it for free – check out all the amateur porn that people upload themselves.

Or: Women in porn are often screaming with joy, but sometimes they are also screaming in pain. Which should we believe? If their pleasure is real, and not faked, then their pain is also real, and not faked.

I say: Have you tried asking the women how they feel during a scene? No? Why not? Shouldn’t you learn something about how this art-form actually works behind the scenes, before dedicating your life to hating it?

Or: Once Jenna Jameson got very powerful in the industry, she began refusing  do scenes involving anal sex. This suggests to me that she doesn’t actually enjoy anal sex. Yet Im sure if you investigate her earlier movies, you can probably find a scene or two where she is appearing to enjoy it. Why? Its called acting.

I say: Some pornstars I’ve met choose not to have anal sex on camera; some choose to do it. Agencies will ask girls up-front what their “levels” are: anal, boy-girl, girl-girl, solo, etc. The girl gets to choose. The key thing isn’t whether anal sex hurts, or if you find it icky: it is the C-word: Consent. For somebody who sells anti-rape bumper stickers on your site, you don’t seem to care much about consent.

2) They say: Strippers are empowered

You say: If they’re so powerful, then why do strip clubs have security guards protecting the dancers? Why do women working bachelor parties have to take security with them?

I say: Erm… in my experience, they don’t.

Or: How is it empowering for women to give men exactly what they’ve come to expect from us?

I say: I find it empowering when I make a woman cum. Likewise, I know many women find it empowering to give a man a hard-on.

Or: How is it empowering to grovel and compete for male attention and cash…like a trained seal doing flips in a tank to get his fish reward?

I say: You could ask strippers that question. But since you don’t actually care what they think, you won’t. Your comment about being a “trained seal” simply reveals your disdain for the stripper. So be clear: are you trying to rescue them, or do you merely hate them?

3) Porn/prostitution have always been around, they always will be, so what’re you gonna do?

You say: Rape, murder, and incest have always been around too. Should we be okay with those things?

I say: Porn and prostitution involve consent. Rape, murder, incest do not. Consent good, coercion bad. Got it yet?

4) They say: Porn-stars and strippers are celebrating their sexuality

You say: Why does celebrating your sexuality always seem to happen in public for strangers and a paycheck? Does anyone ever get to celebrate their sexuality in private with their partner?

I say: Yes, pornstars (and most of the rest of us) also fuck in private. Many of them are in relationships, and many are married. They’re real people with minds, feelings, and lives beyond the porn set. And they also choose to earn money fucking on camera. And you choose to obsess about it.

5) They say: My partner and I both enjoy using porn, so what’s the problem? Who’s getting hurt?

You say: Some people like to wear fur coats, or eat veal, or shop at Wal-Mart. Your enjoyment of a product does not erase the suffering that went into creating that product.

I say: I’m pretty sure animals don’t surrender their fur or their meat consensually. When pornstars are skinned to make coats or killed for their meat, I’ll join your anti-porn crusade.

6) They say: Ok, maybe some of the women in porn didn’t freely choose their careers, but lots of them did.

You say: If you have a comprehensive research survey of all current and former porn workers, I’d love to see it. There isn’t one available. However, there are major studies involving prostitutes around the world, which found that 90% of them wanted out immediately, but didn’t have the resources.

I say: There’s plenty of research into porn – but you’re clearly not interested in seeing it. For example here’s a study covering 10,000 pornstars, which is around 10,000 more than you’ve researched. But then, facts and prejudice don’t sit well together.

7) They say: Ok, well not everyone who uses porn becomes a rapist/addicted/fucked-up

You say: Not everyone who smokes cigarettes gets lung cancer, and cigarettes still come with warning labels.

I say: Porn use correlates with declining rates of sexual violence. So if porn is creating rapists, why do the statistics not show this?

8) They say: If you hate porn, just don’t watch it

You say: That’s like saying if you hate air pollution, dont breathe. I’m surrounded by porn everywhere I go whether I like it or not. Where’s my free choice not to see it?

I say: If you think you’re surrounded by porn everywhere you go, you might be confusing “porn” with “everything”. You are clearly unusually sensitive to displays of sexuality. Perhaps – as this article in Psychology Today suggests, porn isn’t the problem: You are!

9) They say: Nobody is forcing them to do it. It’s their choice.

You say: The word “choice” implies that there was at least one other viable option available. What was their other option?

I say: They could do a job that doesn’t involve getting naked, but for less money, like the rest of us do. Or are you implying that pornstars are too dumb to do anything else? Who forced you to design and sell shouty T-shirts? It surely wasn’t your choice. Let me rescue you!

10) They say: Pornography and prostitution are different.

You say: Not really, pornography is just prostitution plus a camera.

I say: No, doing porn isn’t exactly the same as prostitution, but for sure they both involve money and sex. And since you don’t seem to be anti-money, you’re quite clearly anti-sex.

11) They say: Porn has always existed. Look at Pompeii.

You say: Three wall paintings in Pompeii do not compare to the multi-billion dollar global industry we have today. That’s like comparing a caveman’s smoke signals to the iPhone.

I say: Pompeii didn’t just have a few wall paintings: it had many explicit statues on public display like the one recently shown in the British Museum of Pan having sex with a goat. Quite possibly, your Roman ancestors were selling angry T-shirts (in Latin).

12) They say: You just hate sex.

You  say: Porn is not sex, but a distorted, for-sale, fictionalized version of sex. If I told you I don’t eat at Burger King, would you tell me I hated food?

I say: No, but if you became upset by pictures of flame-grilled Whoppers, I might think you’re crazy.

Or: I like sex just fine. But I prefer to have sex only with someone I actually know and like, for free, in private with no strangers watching. Why is that weird to you?

I say: It’s not weird to have sex in private. Most people (including pornstars) do that. Nobody is telling you how to conduct your sex life. Why are you so determined to tell other people how to lead their sex lives? Perhaps you’d make a good dominatrix.

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13) They say: You’re just jealous because you’re not as pretty as a porn-star

You say: Even porn-stars don’t look like their original selves. After a few rounds of surgery, a dye job, and some makeup I could look exactly like them.

I say: You clearly haven’t looked at much porn. Porn is far more accepting of non-standard ideas of beauty than most other forms of performance. I’ve met pornstars from 18 to 70, and every shape, size and race. You too could be a pornstar, without the need for surgery or a dye job (and don’t worry, makeup will be provided for you on-set). Of course, the only person who can decide whether you should be a pornstar is you.

14) They say: You’re just jealous because men like them better than you.

You say: It’s been successfully proven that just about any naked woman can get any straight man’s attention pretty quickly. It’s not hard to do, and it doesn’t make you special.

I say: Meeeeee-OW!

15) They say: I’ve watched porn and I’ve never raped anyone.

You say: I guess you are arguing that words and images paired together do not have the power to influence human behavior. If that is your argument, then kindly explain:

[1] the multi-billion dollar industry called ‘advertising’
[2] kids learning their ABCs from Sesame Street
[3] people learning to make a meal by watching Martha Stewart
[4] public service announcements telling us not to drink and drive
[5] (insert your own example here)

I say: And horror films make people murder each other with chainsaws, and Grand Theft Auto makes people run over old ladies for fun. Except they don’t. Because the human mind is a little more complex than you think.

16) They say: The women in the industry make more money than men, therefore it’s empowering to them.

You say: It’s true that pornography and prostitution are the only industries where a woman can out-earn her male counterparts. What does that say about our economy, or about women’s power, that the only way for a woman to outearn a man is to get naked and fuck strangers?

I say: So when male bankers earn more than women, women are oppressed? But when female pornstars out-earn male ones, that also means women are oppressed? In fact, you (finally) raise an interesting question. And there are interesting answers. But why aren’t you campaigning for women to earn more in banking rather than attacking the one trade where women do earn more?

17) They say: You want to censor all porn!

You say: I haven’t ever mentioned censorship, which doesn’t address demand for porn. You’re saying that to shut me up and it won’t work.

I say: It’s true, you haven’t mentioned censorship, though most anti-porn campaigners are pro-censorship. In fact, you haven’t mentioned any solution to these “problems” at all. Funny that… perhaps you don’t actually give a damn, and you just want to sell more angry T-shirts? According to your site, you’ve sold 24,000 of them. Yay capitalism!

‘Rape Porn’: Our Response to Parliament

Parliament is currently considering, as part of the upcoming Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, criminalising the possession of what the government refers to as ‘rape porn’. Sex & Censorship have submitted a response to oppose this new law (Clause 16 in the new bill).

The response was written by Jerry Barnett of Sex & Censorship, and Dr David Ley, a psychologist specialising in sexuality. We raised seven issues, which are summarised below (Dr Ley’s response formed point 5).

  1. The proposed law results from a moral panic over ‘rape porn’ rather than any evidence of harm.
  2. Although headlined as ‘rape porn’, the wording of the law would criminalise consenting (but perhaps non-standard) sexual activity.
  3. The law blurs the distinction between consensual and nonconsensual sex, and so may hinder, rather than help, attempts to reduce sexual violence.
  4. There has been no evidence presented that viewers of the content in question may be driven to commit sexual violence as a result of viewing it.
  5. Conversely, there is evidence that such content may serve as an outlet for people who are prone to sexual violence and may reduce rather than increase their likelihood to commit harm.
  6. In general, possession laws are draconian as they place an impossible burden of legal and technical knowledge on members of the public.
  7. Censorship itself is harmful to free expression. Censorship laws should, therefore, only be introduced in response to compelling evidence of harm rather than on the basis of moral values alone.

The full response document (PDF) can be downloaded by clicking this link: S&C parliament rape porn submission.

The ‘Feminists’ That Cried Wolf

Stripper Edie Lamort writes about snobbish and prudish attacks on strip clubs made in the name of feminism.

This Friday 28th February, Labour MP Diana Johnson, will be reading her proposals for a new bill on Sex Entertainment Venues (SEVs) for the second time in the House of Commons. She is the MP for Kingston-Upon-Hull and the striptease venues near her are Honey Trap and Purple Door. Her bill aims to increase regulations of Sexual Encounter Venues (SEVs) despite these being very heavily regulated anyway. Currently a council can consult with the public on SEVs and ask if it wishes to see a nil policy introduced. Effectively banning striptease in that particular borough. However this is not mandatory and this new legislation seeks to make it mandatory for all councils to go through this procedure, whether they believe it relevant or not.

Along with being an admirer of extremist lobby group Object she states: “As well as the specific concerns about the links between the sex entertainment industry and coercion and human trafficking, there is a widespread view that lap-dancing clubs can contribute in a negative way to the general character of an area and detract from the residents’ quality of life, especially if the clubs are located in residential areas or near schools.”

This is the usual line given and is not supported by any evidence. In terms of human trafficking; the very idea of allowing legal licensed venues is to prevent such things. You have to show your passport to the club to prove that you can legitimately work in the UK therefore making it impossible for undocumented or trafficked persons to get a job. Copies of passports must be held by the club as they can be checked by the local council at any time.

Tied up in the ‘concerns’ about coercion is the patronising attitude that good girls couldn’t possibly choose such a job and those who do must be damaged, drug addicts and therefore coerced.

In terms of them contributing negatively to the character of the area one thing I hear frequently, when attending debates on the subject, is the phrase ‘I had no idea these places existed in my borough, but they must be banned.’ So if they had no idea they existed then they weren’t causing that much trouble in the first place. There have also been very strict regulations on the kind of signage and advertising clubs can do for many years now. No club is allowed to display obscene or overt advertising or flyer passers by.

Finally clubs are not usually open during school hours and children do not attend school in the nighttime. But hey, why let the facts get in the way of a good moral panic?

She also uses quotes from three concerned local residents who do not like striptease venues. They say they fear the customers of such clubs and feel vulnerable. As much as their fears are real to them we must ask if they are founded. Is this fear real or imagined?

The three residents quoted by Diana Johnson may not like the dancers and dislike the customers. They may find us all slutty and trashy for dancing naked but I find their snobbery distasteful. They are welcome to their opinion but I and many others are also entitled to our freedom. The argument of finding customers of strip pubs rowdy and unpleasant could also be used against football supporters, clubbers or rock fans going to a gig.

A few weeks ago, in the club I work in, we had a group of girls in celebrating a birthday. They were great fun, respectful to all and are most welcome to come again. These women were not afraid of dancers or customers. Not all women are quaking with fear because of striptease.

The Stripping the Illusion blog recently put in a freedom of information request to the Kingston-Upon-Hull City Council to see if they too were of the same mind as the three upset residents.

“Freedom of Information Act 2000 – Information Request – 000304/14

With regard to your Freedom of Information request received on 7 February 2014, please find our response below.

‘I am making an enquiry under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, and I would grateful if you would provide me the following information:-

• Details of premises within the city currently licenced for striptease (either under the Police and Crime Act 2009, or the Licensing Act 2003);

• Details of any premises which were licenced for striptease (under the Licensing Act 2003) over the last ten years, i.e. from February 2004;

• Records of any official complaints made against the above premises, either to Kingston-upon-Hull City Council or Humberside Police.’

The only two premises that have been licensed for striptease are Fantasy Bar (now the Honey Trap) and Purple Door. There have been no official complaints made against either of these premises.

We hope that you will be satisfied with our response and should you require any further information then please do not hesitate to contact us.”

It is very easy to criticise and condemn something you don’t understand but the main question here is do we want to live in the prison of other people’s fears? Fears that are not your own but simply those of a tiny yet vocal minority. Whilst their fear is of significance to them we cannot let them dictate to the more courageous majority and have the richness of our lives censored or limited.

This does not only affect dancing venues. If we continue to put the opinions of the local busybody, someone with a grudge or perhaps the interests of a property developer over and above the enjoyment of the rest of society we will all be poorer. This nimbyism doesn’t stop at strip clubs. More and more the objections of a tiny minority of residents are causing venues and arts projects to close.

The Wapping Project in East London is closing due to the complaints of three awkward residents. It will now be turned into ‘luxury’ flats. The George Tavern music venue in Stepney is threatened due to a development of ‘luxury’ flats. The Coliseum is closing, all the clubs by London Bridge have been closed and the Raymond Revue Bar was closed in the disgraceful Soho land grab just before Christmas.

This all amounts to nothing more than a conservative attack on communities and the arts. Hundreds of pubs and venues are closing up and down the country every week. Mostly to make way for ‘luxury’ flats that are bought off plan by foreign investors. Whole areas are being cleansed and sold, not just Soho, but also the Elephant and Castle redevelopment.

Do we wish to live in society full of unaffordable ‘luxury’ flats, in a cultural wasteland, or do we want to keep music, dance (including pole dance) and the arts as part of our lives? A friend of mine who has been a successful club promoter for over two decades now, gave a wry smile recently and said, ‘I don’t know why they are planning a 24 tube service in 2015. At this rate there will be no more clubs in central London to go to.’

Not only is this bill part of ‘the feminism that cried wolf’ syndrome, taking offence to everything, but it’s also the feminism that is the handmaid of property developers.

Another question this raises for me is why are ‘feminists’ such cowards and why do they seek to blame others all the time for their issues? I know the world is not perfect but my formative years were during the 90s where everyone went a bit hippy. People went travelling and ‘found themselves’, people did Yoga, meditation and therapies of all kinds. Essentially people took responsibility for themselves. They therapied themselves silly, sometimes with charlatan gurus admittedly, but the over all philosophy of the time was, ‘if you have personal issues you can deal with them, gain power over them and be happier.’ A flotation tank and some crystals do not solve all problems but this was an overall healthier mentality than today’s finger pointing.

Now people do not look to themselves to see why they are afraid or if their fears have any foundation, they instead they accuse the other. They point the finger and say ‘it must be banned’. Whether the narrative is ‘porn makes me feel bad’, ‘men who’ve looked at other women may gaze lustfully at me’ or even ‘she’s prettier than me, I feel bad, it’s her fault’. They need to ask themselves questions first before blaming the other. It’s not always someone else’s fault and it’s very important we get the balance right.

Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates recently attacked Helen Grant MP when she dared to suggest girls who don’t like traditional sports should try other types. A reasonable suggestion in my opinion and as someone who enjoys ‘feminine’ dance as well as ‘masculine’ British Military Fitness I appreciate the differences and the benefits of varied forms of exercise. Apparently teenagers can be awkward and say they don’t want to mess their hair. Err ….. well of course and hasn’t this always been the case? I don’t think difficult teenagers are a modern phenomena. This is just another way that people abdicate personal responsibility by pointing the finger at external factors.

Are today’s young women really so feeble minded? I know my nieces aren’t. I’m sure our athletes or cheerleaders aren’t, I know my pole dancing friends aren’t. This modern strand of feminism really is in danger of being the feminism that cried wolf and simply makes a mockery out of a once honorable movement. Laura Bates and Everyday Sexism being a good example of this. Some of the stories published on the website are of actual sexism and some even of criminal acts, these are valid complaints. However there are a great deal that are simply small-minded whining and these will only serve to damage the movement.

Whether it be your local pole dance venue, your local music venue or arts project; these should be saved and not closed down on the whims and complaints of a tiny handful of residents. This bill should set a threshold, a minimum number of complaints, before a successful business can be closed. These complaints should also be backed up by police evidence. Thus preventing the local busybody from ruining everyone else’s fun.

Diane Johnson MP is using hashtag #peoplepoweronstripclubs‬‬‬ if you wish to join the debate.

Censoring Self-Harm Sites

One of the categories of content that is blocked by BT and other ISPs relates to self-harm. BT promises that its filters will block ‘sites that promote or encourage self-harm or self-injury’. But as ever, real life is far more nuanced than the headlines. One might be immediately repelled by the idea that THE INTERNET IS MAKING TEENAGERS CUT THEMSELVES (as the Daily Mail might express it), but does this reflect reality? Self-harm is an upsetting idea, but why do people do it, and can it blamed on websites? Alternatively, could sites that provide a forum for openly discussing the subject be therapeutic to those who use them? And are there really sites that exist simply to ‘promote or encourage’ people to self-harm?

One site related to self-harm is Safe Haven, a forum dedicated to discussing related issues, and a quick view of the site seemed to indicate this was an important resource to those who used it. Thread titles such as ‘I Want To Stop Self-Injuring Because…’, ‘To Every Soul That Suffers’, ‘How to deal with relapsing?’ and ‘I don’t know what to do’ indicated that this is a place for troubled people to find company and share their pain. Yet I found the site to be blocked on at least one network (EE).

The very idea that happy, stable people might find such a forum and thus become self-harmers seems (to me as a layperson) to be unlikely. More likely is that this is a classic example of shooting the messenger, which is an impulse that so often underlies censorship: perhaps if we can hide the bad things, they will no longer exist.

But I am no expert, so I approached Dr David Ley, a psychologist based in New Mexico and occasional blogger at this site, and asked him for his views on the site, and the wisdom of blocking it. He responded that, while some people fear that self-harming could escalate to something worse – even to suicide – the evidence appears to contradict this.

‘Although self-harming behavior is quite frightening and concerning, there is actually very little solid evidence that such behavior leads to suicide. In fact, it may be the exact opposite. We often intuitively expect that such behavior is “on the road” to building up to a suicide attempt. But, in fact, there are many reasons why people engage in such behaviors, and many of them are in fact, quite adaptive. For instance, over the years, I’ve had patients describe to me that such behavior can help them “ground themselves in reality,” when they are feeling psychically distant from themselves or the world. Others have told me that the pain can help themselves distance themselves from emotional pain.’

And as to the wisdom of trying to prevent troubled people from accessing such information:

‘It is unfortunate and likely counter-productive, to use filtering to try to prevent people from exploring all sides of this issue. It smacks of the old “Just say no” attempts to prevent drug use in children. Such efforts invariably fail, because children and teens know very well that such issues are not as two-dimensional as they are presented. By restricting access to information on sites such as this, which might glorify or encourage self-harming behaviors, filtering is also preventing access to dialogue and ideas from peers who are also attempting to control these desires. Such dialogue and ideas are much more likely to resonate with individuals who are struggling with self-harming desires themselves. Further, there is a great deal of information presented on the site that might be characterized as “harm reduction,” describing how to prevent infection, increase healing, and prevent serious injury. Again, a black and white presentation of the self-harm issue, as reflected by the filtering, actually may increase the dangers of such consequences in individuals who self-harm, and don’t have access to this information.’

I contacted Safe Haven to let them know that their site was being blocked. The site is based in the United States, and the owner seemed somewhat bemused to learn that her site had been censored in Britain. She pointed out that sites like hers are often the first place that troubled teenagers go to when they decide it is time to talk, and can be instrumental in helping them gain the confidence to speak with parents or health services:

‘Young people usually feel safer first reaching out online and getting support and advice from others in similar situations, or who can at least empathize. I feel some people might think young people should only be confiding in trusted adults like their parents or educators, or those manning helplines, but self-harm and mental health issues are taboo and cause such feelings of shame. Sites like mine allow young people to talk freely without worry that people will look at them askance for mentioning self-harm, or without worry they’ll be bullied for being a self-harmer. I see a lot of the members of the forum telling young people to reach out in real life.’

As in so many cases, the impulse to censor something that appears harmful may itself be harmful. The same applies to another blocked subcategory, ‘sites that encourage suicide’, which is, for some reason, tucked away within BT’s Weapons and Violence category. It seems highly unlikely that a non-suicidal person would find such a site and become suicidal; and it seems likely that a suicidal person may find the ability to share their feelings with others to be beneficial, and even life-saving.

The British are famous for our stiff-upper-lip culture, and yet according to the Mental Health Foundation, we also have among the highest self-harming rates in Europe. Perhaps the idea that difficult things are best not seen, heard or discussed is a dangerous one; but this is the driving force behind the UK’s Internet filters.

Letter to MPs on Criminalising “Rape Porn”

This week, the following letter was sent to a number of MPs and Lords, to raise concerns over the planned “rape porn” legislation. This was sent on behalf of Sex & Censorship and an alliance of other sexual freedom campaigns: Backlash, Consenting Adult Action Network, Campaign Against Censorship and the Sexual Freedom Coalition.

We write to express grave concern regarding S16 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill which will extend the existing ban on extreme pornography (S63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act). This section is poorly defined. It will have the unintended consequence of criminalising the possession of material that depicts consensual sex, bondage and power-play fantasies common to millions.

Pornography of all kinds has become much more accessible since the Internet has become available to the general public. In that time, the prevalence of sexual abuse has not increased in the United Kingdom and may have decreased. It is simplistic & mistaken to suggest that pornography is a cause of violence against women. Correlation is not causation. Serious academic studies of pornography and sexual violence (1) show that increased availability of pornography is, in fact, associated with less violence and abuse.

Fictional and consensual portrayals of submission and domination are a common and popular sexual fantasy, as recently illustrated by the Fifty Shades of Grey novels. Indeed one of the largest surveys ever undertaken in Britain (2) indicated that nearly a third of us have fantasies about elements of forced sex, with approximately 2.2 million men and women having violent sexual fantasies. With around 90% of men and 60% of women viewing pornography, and with so many enjoying fantasies of this nature, the danger is that this poorly defined legislation will have a huge impact.

The Bill’s Impact Assessment suggests that the number of cases cannot be predicted. When extreme material was criminalised (by S63(7) CJIA 2008) government ministers predicted there would only be 30 cases a year, but the reality was very different. In the last year for which the MoJ has provided data (2012/13), there were 1,348 prosecutions. Given that the number of people who enjoy material that features sexual bondage and power-play is so high, we fear government will create thousands of new sex offenders, most of whom will be entirely harmless law-abiding citizens.

There is also a problem with government guidance for the public and prosecutors. Just prior to the enactment of S63(7) CJIA 2008, in response to reservations, the House of Lords was promised that meaningful guidance would be issued to explain those categories that were difficult to define. This never happened. In fact prosecutors were so unsure of the meaning of the law that there have been some trials of material which we are confident Parliament never intended. For example, the prosecution of barrister Simon Walsh, a former aide to Boris Johnson, whose legal practice had included investigating corruption within British police forces. His career in public life was ruined by a prosecution. It was rejected by a jury after 90 minutes deliberation. Prosecutors failed to prove that images depicting consensual sex acts between him and two other gay men were ‘extreme’.

The prosecution also threatened the reputation of the Crown Prosecution Service as an impartial public servant by showing that gay men risked having their lives destroyed in court over intimate acts which were consensual, safe and commonly practiced within the LGBT community. Bad laws do not harm only the individuals prosecuted; they also harm the institutions tasked with enforcing them, and increase even further the costs of the justice system to the taxpayer. This proposed law will also traumatise large numbers of women and men by having their private sexual fantasies examined and shamed in public.

It is therefore vital that S16 of this Bill be refined to limit the scope of the ban to images that are produced through real harm or lack of consent. Fantasy portrayals of forced/power-play sex are too commonly enjoyed to be reasonably subject to prohibition.

We appeal to you to refine this legislation. We also ask to be permitted to put detailed evidence to Parliament at the committee stages. Finally, we ask if you would be willing to host an event in Parliament, at which representatives could speak, so that members of both Houses can better understand what is at stake.

References.

1. Pornography, Public Acceptance and Sex Related Crime: A Review: 2009: Milton Diamond
2. British Sexual Fantasy Research Project: 2007. ISBN 978-0-713-99940-2

Sex work, job creation and the latest moral panic

The headline from the International Business Times was a moral panic classic: “UK Government Pays Sex Clubs To Employ Teenage Girls.” But it is a headline that is misleading and it misses the point. It conjures up sordid images of underage girls being plucked from schoolyards by evil government sex traffickers to work as prostitutes.

What has actually happened is that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has paid cash incentives to a range of employers in the adult entertainment industry to hire unemployed people aged 18-24. Yes, if you are 18 you are a teenager – but you are also an adult in the eyes of the law and when you are an adult, you can work in for any legal employer in the adult entertainment industry. You may disapprove of the adult entertainment industry but if that’s the case, you can go and do something else for a living.

The DWP distributed a list of the employers that can benefit from at least £2,000 in incentives funded by UK taxpayers. Here is the list:

1. Those involved in the sale, manufacture, distribution and display of sex related products;
2. Auxiliary workers in lap/pole dancing clubs – e.g. bar staff, door staff, receptionists or cleaners;
3. Auxiliary workers in strip clubs – e.g. bar staff, door staff, receptionists or cleaners;
4. Auxiliary workers in saunas/massage parlours e.g. bar staff, door staff, receptionists or clearers;
5. Glamour model photographers;
6. Web-cam operators;
7. TV camera operators, sound technicians, producers/directors for adult channels on digital TV;
8. TV camera operators, sound technicians, producers/directors for pornographic films.

Like it or not, these are all perfectly legal ways to earn a living.

DWP rules stipulate that such employers can offer young jobseekers full-time work for up to 26 weeks as long as the jobseeker is not a performer nor performing sexual acts. Given the laws surrounding the legality of prostitution in the UK are rather muddy (and frankly ridiculous), this rule seems fair enough.

But it’s not the morality of working in the adult entertainment industry that is the real problem here. The problem is that the UK government is turning the employers into welfare recipients in a scheme that doesn’t do a damn thing to create long-term jobs. It doesn’t matter if it’s Sainsburys or Spearmint Rhino – this policy is stupid.

There is nothing to stop any employer from simply hiring someone for 26 weeks, getting rid of them and then hiring someone else for another 26 weeks to do the same job. This is not real, long-term job creation. This is simply a way for employers to hire staff at the expense of the taxpayer. Sure, the experience might lead to another job, or it might lead to another 26 weeks of temporary work elsewhere or it might lead to nowhere but long-term uncertainty. If any employer has work that needs to be done, they should hire staff and pay a living wage. This way, people have some financial security, they are less likely to be dependent on benefits, they pay tax and they are economically active consumers.

Similarly, if people are forced to do any job under the threat of losing unemployment benefits, whether it’s in the adult entertainment industry or not, that is problematic. This harks back to the case last year of Cait Reilly, the graduate who had to forego work experience in a museum to work in Poundland or face losing fairly meagre unemployment payments. The museum experience would have helped her get a better-paid job relevant to her degree. Instead, she has ended up working in a Morrisons supermarket.

There is nothing wrong with working in a supermarket but there is plenty wrong with a system that is focused on number-crunching. This is all about forcing people in any job at taxpayer expense to make the unemployment figures look more attractive in time for the 2015 election. There is nothing in this policy that focuses on creating real jobs across a range of industries, looking at the individual situations of unemployed people on a case-by-case basis, or regional development so that jobs are not just created in expensive, crowded London. But none of that makes for a good headline.

In short, the pearl-clutching article from the International Business Times is simply another excuse to slag off the adult entertainment industry.

[Article originally published on Georgia’s blog, The Rant Mistress]

Beyoncé’s Bum and the World’s Lamest Outrage

Is there really a mass outcry across Britain about Beyoncé’s divine and gyrating bum at this week’s Grammy Awards? As far as I can tell, it is, once again, an attempt to manufacture an outcry by a couple of media outlets and busybodies.

Predictably, the Daily Mail led the charge with some pearl-clutching editorialising  in the headline: “Is this really what little girls should aspire to, Beyoncé? Parents attack ‘vile’ display at Grammys“.  By outraged “parents”, the Mail means one quote attributed to an unnamed parent who finds it “sad when our children can’t even watch the Grammys.” And “hundreds of others who took to the internet to express their disgust.” Hundreds. Out of how many viewers?

Latter-day Mary Whitehouses, Pippa Smith of SaferMedia, and Vivienne Pattison of Mediawatch-UK, were also quoted with tedious “won’t someone think of the children” moans.

Beyoncé dancing with her husband in a “really skimpy outfit” means boys could have trouble relating to women as anything other than sexual beings, according to Pattison. And, weirdly, Smith is complaining about “a husband and wife … behav[ing] in such an obscenely sexual manner.” Imagine that, boys and girls. A couple who have conceived a child together are sexual beings. Well, I never…

Metro, meanwhile, shared a few snippets of social media reaction and didn’t bother to run the story on their clickbait Facebook page, and the Guardian (despite leading the charge on assorted Lose the Lads’ Mags and No More Page 3 campaigns) and the Telegraph both seem to be refreshingly nonplussed about it all. The Daily Mail article only attracted 172 comments. By Daily Mail standards, that is a mere drop in the ocean of bile, a disappointing response to something which fits their confused agenda of creating outrage while still running plenty of sexy pictures just so you know exactly what you’re meant to be outraged about.

I don’t buy that there is an outrage in Britain about Beyoncé’s bum. Hell, there isn’t even a storm on Mumsnet. People may be raging about Beyoncé in the US but it’s just not happening here.  This is a good thing. This gives me some hope that we’re not descending into a nation of sex-scared prudes who seek to hide all flesh from public view for the good of the children.

It’s great we’re being so chilled out about Beyoncé’s bum – but it means we are sleepwalking through the government’s plans to censor the internet, with very few voices in Parliament speaking out about the absurdity of this. We are also sleepwalking through telecommunications companies already doing the censorship for the government. Companies such as O2 are blocking websites – including my blog – and then making adult consumers jump through stupid hoops to access perfectly legal content. This is despite O2 offering parental control filters so kids can’t access adult content.

I’ve lived in a country with absurdly filtered internet. It doesn’t just mean that adult websites are banned. It means that websites which might cause political dissent are banned too. As long as we merrily let any government do the same thing in Britain, we will be faced with a situation far more damaging than Beyoncé twerking for her own husband.