Category Archives: News

Keith Vaz, Brothel Clampdowns and Dark Clouds

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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”.

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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).

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John O’Neill: The British Man Banned From Having Sex

This blog has long documented ways in which the British anti-sex movement has set out to stigmatise legal, consensual sex between adults. By establishing a series of porn-panic concepts, from the odd idea that we’re all being “sexualised” to the recent insistence that porn is a “public health crisis”, the movement has laid the groundwork for politicians and police to begin rolling back recent advances in sexual freedom. The story of John O’Neill is among the most bizarre of all recent cases.

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O’Neill was accused of rape, but swiftly found not guilty in court. Nonetheless, the judge requested that police continue to treat him as a threat to women. O’Neill must now give police 24 hours notice before having sexual contact with anyone; this apparently includes flirting or kissing. It appears that John O’Neill’s “crime” was nothing more than an interest in BDSM with consenting adults.

This excellent article in Reprobate magazine explains this unprecedented attack on an innocent man’s human rights.

Ofcom’s Internet Power Grab is Finally Underway

Yesterday, the UK government released the result of its consultation into (yet again) protecting children from online pornography. Predictably, the finding was that children DO need even more protection, and so Ofcom must be granted additional powers to censor online content.

This process has been so long and treacle-slow that it’s been clear for many years where it is leading. Stripping away the various convoluted steps that brought us here, one simple fact has always been obvious: Ofcom and the government were always going to act against a free Internet which undermined their powerful censorship controls over the mass media, and especially over sexual content.

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So what will the new law – the Digital Economy Bill – say? It cements and the significantly extends the existing AVMS regulations which have been in place since 2010. So, as before, adult video-on-demand sites based in the UK are required to verify the ages of their visitors before revealing adult content to them. Failure to do so can (as before) result in a fine of up to £250,000. This regulation is the reason the UK adult industry has been decimated in the past few years.

Here’s the new stuff:

  1. The law no longer applies to “TV-like” video-on-demand services, but to all content, including still photography. This will close the loophole which a handful of websites have used to evade the regulations.
  2. Apps are to be included as well as websites.
  3. Ofcom will put pressure on payment companies as well as “advertising companies, web hosting services and others” to ensure that “the business models and profits of companies that do not comply with the new regulations can be undermined”. This enables Ofcom to target overseas content that breaches UK regulations.

Note the vagueness in this last point: this could easily include, in future, requiring ISPs to block services. So here is the law that I’ve warned of for some years: one that will allow Ofcom to manage – and close – our digital borders. The great firewall of Britain is coming.

Unless I’ve missed it, I can’t find any definition of “porn” in the report. The consultation hinted that soft content – non-explicit nudity and erotica – may be included, at Ofcom’s discretion.

It’s Not About Porn

Here’s a point I’ve made repeatedly. In my book Porn Panic!, I argue that the war on porn has been merely a symptom of a deeper intolerance to free speech that has long been rising in British society. Ofcom will not, of course, stop at targeting commercial porn sites, or even all sexual content. The British state considers myriad forms of content to be unsuitable for under-18s, and will now grant itself the powers to deal with it.

Brexit

And finally, a note on Brexit. It is likely that “undermining” (i.e. blocking or forcing to close) a legal, EU-based adult service would breach EU trade regulations. Sadly, should we leave the EU (as looks likely), we lose any legal recourse against this rising state censorship. Here, as in so many other ways, the EU has protected the British people against the excesses of our own government. Just as we will lose the free movement of people across borders, so we are beginning to lose the free transmission of information across borders.

UK Committee Recommends Sex Work Decriminalisation (Kinda)

British sex workers are jubilant as the parliamentary sex work inquiry, led by Labour MP Keith Vaz, has recommended scrapping laws restricting the sale of sex in the UK. While sex work is legal, sex workers have long called for complete decriminalisation.  In particular, sex work activists have pointed at the brothel-keeping law which effectively prevents two or more women working together for safety.

The statement includes a quote from Vaz which strongly recommends the scrapping of these laws:

“Treating soliciting as a criminal offence is having an adverse effect, and it is that sex workers, who are predominantly women, should be penalised and stigmatised in this way. The criminalisation of sex workers should therefore end.

The current law on brothel keeping also means sex-workers can be too afraid of prosecution to work together at the same premises, which can often compromise their safety.”

This is fantastic for those who have campaigned to make life safer for sex workers. There are caveats, however:

“There must however be zero tolerance of the organised criminal exploitation of sex workers, and changes to legislation should not lessen the Home Office’s ability to prosecute those engaged in exploitation.”

So, for example, it is unclear whether a partner of a sex worker who works from home might still be criminalised. Such a statement suggests that full decriminalisation is not, in fact, on the cards – rather a loosening of existing laws. Nonetheless, life is set to become easier and safer for sex workers in general.

However, this is an interim statement, and there is a huge omission: the committee has yet to determine whether sex buyers will be criminalised under the so-called Nordic Model, which has been implemented in Sweden, Northern Ireland, and most recently in France.

“The Committee will evaluate a number of the alternative models as this inquiry continues, including the sex-buyers law as operated in Sweden, the full decriminalised model used in Denmark, and the legalised model used in Germany and the Netherlands.”

As I reported in my article about France, the introduction of the Nordic model was dishonestly presented as decriminalisation. A Twitter user suggested to me that:

“France is not banning prostitution actually quite the contrary. We are banning the buying of sex and de-criminilising prostitutes” [sic]

So the language of decriminalisation is malleable and slippery. Since “decriminalisation” has become a popular word, so prohibitionists have adopted it and changed its meaning. Shifting the legal burden from workers to clients is not, of course, decriminalisation – it just uses different tools to achieve the same ends; it would also make a mockery of a new law that allows brothels to be kept, but doesn’t allow anyone to visit them.

So there is certainly great cause for celebration, but perhaps the most important decision has been left to a later date. We await with interest.

Britons Light Fuse With Brexit

This article was first published at XBIZ.com on Friday.

In my new book, Porn Panic!, I recount the rise of a new British fascism. What began a few years ago, for me, as a campaign against anti-sex feminists who were trying to censor pornography, grew gradually into a realisation that free speech and other fundamental underpinnings of liberty were under fierce assault from all sides. This new authoritarian movement, which is taking over both wings of politics, has been slowly gaining ground over the past 10-15 years. But with yesterday’s Brexit vote, the way is clear for an explosive rise in fascism across Europe – and beyond.

Having stayed up most of last night to watch, with increasing incredulity, the EU referendum results, I’m still reeling. It’s not that the result was especially unexpected; but the scale of the catastrophe that is now – in real time – engulfing the UK and European economy is staggering, and dwarfs the 2008 meltdown. And if the economic fallout is massive, the political implications will be even more so. Yesterday, the British people lit the fuse. The explosions are only just beginning.

For months, most people with any understanding of what has been unfolding have just looked at each other and said “But we’d never actually vote to leave the EU, would we?”, and we’ve reassured each other that, no, when it comes to the crunch, the British people would pull back from the brink. And so this morning’s news – that the UK population voted by 52% to 48% to exit the EU – is hard to stomach.

From the perspective of the goals of my campaign, Sex & Censorship, the news is very bad. Many of the protections of free speech, net neutrality and human rights that exist in British law have been passed down to us from the EU. EU law offers a good deal of protection against the anti-sex and anti-free speech laws and regulations that I’ve campaigned against. Now, those protections risk being stripped away. The British state, restrained in many ways by the liberalising influence of the EU, may shortly get free rein to pass laws that would not have been acceptable in a western democracy during the liberal postwar era. It’s probably fair to say that yesterday, that era came to an end.

The fact that the resignation of the Prime Minister is one of the more minor stories in today’s news helps illustrate the scale of events. It’s hard to find a comparison on a historical scale. Certainly, this crisis of European politics looks to be every bit as significant as that of the 1930s. Nationalism, which has been slowly rising in Europe (as well as globally) since 9/11, has now been unleashed in a way that few living Europeans have seen in their lifetimes. The European Union has presided over the longest era of peace in European history; the British people just voted to burn it down.

The global significance of the referendum was underpinned by the fact that Donald Trump chose today to fly in and visit the UK (he quietly pre-announced the visit a few weeks ago). Trump understands the nature of fascism, and has shown a far deeper understanding of the threat to western democracy than most of the established political class. This morning, he hailed the referendum result. Simultaneously, the odds of a Trump win in November were cut sharply. Nationalism begets nationalism, and today’s Europe provides Trump with all the nationalistic sentiment he needs to further his authoritarian bandwagon. Elsewhere in Europe, fascists are celebrating. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders celebrated the British poll and called for one to be held locally. In France, the far-right leader Marine Le Pen did the same. Those with a knowledge of WWII history will know that the Netherlands and France were deeply infected by the fascist bug in the 1930s/40s. It is not so surprising that the anti-immigrant backlash is growing rapidly in those same countries today.

Amidst the chaos, it seems churlish to ask what this means for the adult industry. But as has been so often pointed out, sex is the canary in the coalmine of liberty. Sexual and political freedoms have always gone hand-in hand; an attack on one is an attack on the other. And so surely we all – on both sides of the Atlantic – are in for a huge battle in the coming months.

 

Jerry Barnett is an author and campaigner, and runs the Sex & Censorship campaign and blog. His book, Porn Panic!, will be published in August, and is available now for pre-order on Amazon.

BBC Seeking Young People to Talk About Porn Use

Calling 15-30(ish) year olds! BBC Newsbeat is making a documentary about young people’s experiences with porn. Of course, they will have no problem in finding people who will claim porn, in some way, damaged them. But it’s important that these stories are balanced with positive or simply neutral ones: did porn help you come to terms with your sexuality, your body, or simply enhance your sex life?

If you’re interested, contact the BBC direct. Their message follows:

“BBC Newsbeat, the news service for BBC Radio 1 and 1xtra, are currently developing a documentary on the impacts of pornography on 15 – 30 year olds in the UK. They are looking for real life experiences and by contacting them you are in no way obliged to take part in the final piece; at this stage they are simply looking to talk to people to make sure they are developing a realistic representation of all opinions, not just those opinions from people who are outspoken either way.

If you have an opinion, a story or simply feel like talking about this topic then they’d love to hear from you. You can either call Hannah or Toby on 0203 614 1120 or email hannah.moore01@bbc.co.uk and/or toby.sealey@bbc.co.uk.”

Pornographer Pandora Blake Wins Battle, but Free Speech is Losing the War

First, here’s the good news. Porn-maker Pandora Blake announced yesterday that her fetish website, Dreams of Spanking, will be switched back on, following a decision by Ofcom that it did not, after all, fall within their remit. The site had previously been targeted by the video-on-demand regulator ATVOD on the basis that it lacked age verification controls, and contained content that was harder than would legally be allowed under the UK’s insipid DVD regulations. In January, ATVOD was closed down, and its powers brought within Ofcom, the UK’s media regulator and censor.

Blake’s appeal was one that has been successfully used a number of times since the video-on-demand (AVMS) regulations were introduced in 2010. AVMS is an EU framework designed specifically to regulate TV-like video-on-demand services. ATVOD, however, attempted to stretch the definition of “TV-like” as far as possible, in order to shore up its own income and power. Its first overreach, in 2011, was an attempt to define newspaper websites as TV-like, and thus bring news content within its remit. A raft of publications, led by the Sun, appealed that their content was not TV-like. Ofcom agreed with them, and ATVOD was forced to back down.

Playboy TV attempted to make a similar appeal with regard to its websites, but lost. The first porn site to successfully appeal was Urban Chick – Supremacy Cell (UC-SC – listen to my podcast interview with the site’s owner). So UC-SC became the only porn site legally allowed to remain in the UK without having to meet ATVOD’s stringent rules. Dreams of Spanking now becomes the second such site. So we have the bizarre situation where exactly two websites are legally allowed to operate in the UK without Ofcom’s oversight. Can this continue? No.

Here’s the not-so-good news. Blake’s site is probably the last porn site to wriggle through the “not TV-Like” loophole, and its reprieve is a temporary one. Yesterday’s media celebrations are overblown. For example, in Broadly: Feminist Porn Director Gets Big Spanking Win for Fetish Sites. But this isn’t true. It is extremely unlike that any more fetish sites will be following UC-SC and Dreams of Spanking into libertarian paradise. And furthermore, those two sites have only won a short stay.

Ofcom, along with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, has long been lobbying for greater powers to censor the Internet. One of its gripes has been the “TV-like” loophole which Pandora Blake and others have successfully used. The government’s consultation on “protecting children”, issued earlier this year, made clear that government plans to remove this restriction, extending Ofcom’s jurisdiction from video-on-demand services to all forms of adult content, even including still imagery.

Ofcom’s loathing of pornography is well known, and it hasn’t suddenly seen the light. To refuse Blake’s appeal would have opened up the regulator to challenge and scrutiny: its existing powers have dubious legal status. Far better to wait a few months until the new Digital Economy Bill is passed into law; at that stage, it can happily pull the plug on all the adult sites it chooses, without the risk of legal challenge.

So while this is a wonderful personal triumph for Pandora Blake, nobody should believe this represents a movement by the authorities, who now have victory within their sights. Ofcom and DCMS have quietly put the pieces into place for Internet censorship, and will hardly get distracted now by a couple of small fetish websites that have – for the moment – evaded their net. Nothing of significance will happen until Ofcom’s new powers are set in stone by the Digital Economy Bill – and then Blake’s site, along with many other porn, webcam and erotica sites will become illegal, and begin to vanish from the web.

The Sex Worker and the Man with the Bionic Penis

When he was six, Mohammed Abad (“Mo”), lost his penis in a road accident. It is hard to imagine how an accident like this might blight a person’s life: what the effects on his self-confidence and his adult life might have been. Years later, modern medicine provided him with a “bionic penis” and he could finally think about having sex for the first time.

Mo’s Eight-Inch Bionic Penis

This week, now aged 44, Mo lost his virginity; this was met with an accompanying fanfare of media coverage. The story is a touching, feel-good one, but with hidden depths. It’s also a story of triumph for our National Health Service, which equipped Mo with a new, “bionic” 8-inch penis (Eight inches? One suspects the NHS will be bombarded with demands for the things from men who have perfectly functioning, but average willies).

But the part of the story that most piqued media interest was that Mo’s first sexual experience was with sex worker Charlotte Rose. Charlotte is Britain’s best-known prostitute, and has won multiple awards for her campaigning work. The story of the man with the bionic penis is a reminder of something that is so often overlooked in the debates over sex work: sex workers don’t just provide hedonistic pleasure. They are often the only option for men – and sometimes women – who, for a wide variety of reasons may not be able to find sexual partners.

Many sex workers, including Charlotte, provide services to disabled men with few other realistic options. Sex workers can provide a caring, non-judgemental service to people like Mohammed, who may understandably be terrified about how their unusual bodies might be received by a less experienced sexual partner.

I would challenge those people who seek to ban sex work to meet with people like Charlotte and Mo; to explain to them why people like him should not have the right to pay for sex, when sex is such an vital part of a happy and healthy life for everyone. Not everyone is lucky enough to have the confidence, ability, charm or social network to find regular sexual partners. Why should such people be denied the right to a sex life?

Pornstar Professor Nick Goddard Quits Job – or Was He Pushed?

Today we learned that Nick Goddard, a lecturer in chemical engineering at the University of Manchester, has quit his job of 25 years. This follows the revelation that Goddard had appeared in porn films; he had been outed by students who recognised him.

If any story highlights the hypocrisy over pornography in Britain, it’s this one. As Goddard himself pointed out: “There is such hypocrisy with people watching porn then complaining about those who act in it”.

What Goddard did was legal; it didn’t affect his ability to teach chemical engineering; and if there is a clause in his contract preventing such behaviour, I’d love to see it.

In rational terms, it is impossible to explain why Goddard should have had to resign. The real charge against him is as follows: he had sex. But that  accusation could probably be levelled at 99% of the University of Manchester’s staff. The only significant difference between Goddard and the rest is that there exists proof of his sexual activities, and not of everyone else’s. He allowed his carnal behaviour to be recorded, they didn’t. Therefore, Goddard’s real crime is one of honesty; or perhaps failing to acknowledge that sex is basically shameful.

It’s disappointing that Goddard resigned (presumably, not voluntarily); but not surprising. Academia has become increasingly hostile to free expression of any form that might offend anyone. And yes, there might, in theory, exist a student so profoundly delicate that Goddard’s very presence on campus might reduce him or her to screaming hysteria. But by tailoring our society to the most fragile, we end up suppressing liberty in many forms. Goddard’s treatment is a sign of the censorious times we live in. Now that everybody (or at least, privileged university students) require “safe spaces”, then individual liberty must take a back seat.