Concerns Raised Over “Child Protection” Conference

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

Jerry Barnett
SexAndCensorship.org

18 November 2013

Open letter to: Julia Hornle, ATVOD board member

Cc: Sue Berelowitz – Deputy Children’s Commissioner

 

Dear Julia,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regards,

 

Jerry Barnett
SexAndCensorship.org

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 UPDATE: the following response was received on 19 November:

Emailed on Behalf of Julia Hornle

Dear Mr Barnett,

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

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

Kind Regards,

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

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

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

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Censorship Laws Used To Attack Homosexuals

In September 2011, a man accessed a legal gay porn site from a hotel room’s computer. A subsequent guest saw the site listed in the browser history and (for reasons best known to herself) complained to the hotel management. Six months later, the man was arrested and his computer seized. Police later charged him with making indecent images of children and possession of an image of a child being abused.

This week, the charges were dropped. The images were all found to come from legal web sites and were of young-looking men, but not of children. What is truly bizarre is that the police had not bothered to carry out the most basic checks on their evidence before presenting the case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Neither had the CPS questioned the poor state of the evidence before deciding to take the case to court. Meanwhile, a man had been publicly linked to child abuse – a slur that ruins lives, whether or not it has any substance.

The case collapsed because the man’s lawyer, Myles Jackman, carried out the basic evidence-checking that the authorities had failed to do, and found that the images came from a site that had retained model identification information under America’s USC 2257 law. Even when he presented this evidence to the CPS, they failed to drop charges for several more months. After two years of having his name dragged through the mud (during which time his father died, never seeing the outcome of the case), the man was exonerated.

Jackman believes there is strong evidence that the CPS uses its powers to persecute gay men. The same appears to apply to the police. Indeed, after homosexuality was legalised, the police continued to raid gay venues, using the Obscene Publications Act (OPA) rather than the previous laws that had allowed them to directly target homosexuals.

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In the infamous Spanner case of 1987, police prosecuted gay men who had videoed their sadomasochistic parties. Although their acts all took place in private, and between consenting adults, they were convicted of causing wounding and actual bodily harm; the judge ruled that a person had no right to consent be assaulted (although this ruling doesn’t seem to apply in TV shows like Jackass, which are deemed suitable for UK TV broadcast).

In the 2012 Michael Peacock case, another gay man was prosecuted, this time under the OPA, for distributing “obscene” gay S&M videos. OPA prosecutions usually result in a guilty plea to avoid the publicity and cost of a trial, but Peacock chose to defend himself (Jackman was his solicitor), and was found not guilty by a jury, in a decision that left the very basis of UK obscenity law in tatters.

Also in 2012, Simon Walsh (who is, you might have guessed, a gay man) was charged under the ridiculous 2008 “extreme porn” law, for possession of images of sex between consenting gay men; again, he was found not guilty, but only at the cost of his career and at huge personal expense.

The state, it appears, has not yet accepted that homosexuality is legal. Furthermore, the existence of a series of badly written censorship laws has given the police and CPS the power to harass people at will, whether for homophobic or other reasons. Laws drafted to protect children from abuse,  and to “protect” the public from obscene material (whether or not the public needs or wants such protection) are used as tools of persecution.

The original British censorship law, the OPA, seems to serve no useful purpose. Denmark scrapped its obscenity laws in 1969, yet Danish society failed to collapse. But in recent decades, an endless stream of new censorship laws have been added to the statute books, most of them more illiberal than the OPA, which at least allows the accused to request a trial by jury.

Somehow, most democracies survive without the weight of state censorship power that the British authorities have at their disposal. Indeed, some of these laws would be unconstitutional in the United States. Perhaps it is time to join the dots: Spanner, Peacock, Walsh, as well as this week’s events, as well as many others. Censorship appears to gain us nothing as a society, but it erodes the rights of law-abiding citizens, and especially those of sexual minorities.

The Sexualisation Panic

As the Russian revolutionary leader Lenin said, “A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth”. So it is with many of the Porn Panic stories that have emerged over the past few years, each designed to frighten us into believing that a free and open Internet is a threat to our children and the very fabric of our society.

In 1984, Britain introduced the toughest video censorship regime of any democratic nation, following several years of media hysteria which is now better known as the Video Nasties moral panic. The British public were told that horror films on video were turning children into potential rapists and murderers. The architects of the panic further claimed that we could not leave parents to decide what their children should watch, because Bad Parents were allowing their children to watch scenes of horrific sex and violence. Therefore, the only possible way to save our society from imminent collapse was to empower the BBFC to censor videos before the public could be allowed to buy them. As a result, even today, British people cannot (legally) buy many DVDs that are available in most of the free world.

Those who are familiar with the Video Nasties panic have seen an almost identical copy of it emerge in the past five years or so: the Sexualisation Panic. We are told that our children and our very culture have been “Sexualised”. This time, the blame is mostly put on online porn, along with lads’ mags and other “Sexualised” media. Although parental control systems work perfectly well, the panic architects tell us that more must be done, because (wait for it…) Bad Parents are refusing to protect their kids!

There is something uniquely odd about British culture. Most countries don’t experience these intermittent panics. Just as Britain was the only European country to scare itself to death over horror videos, now it is the only European country to get itself agitated about online porn (which, don’t forget, has been with us for almost 20 years).

But is there any evidence that Sexualisation is real? In a word: No. The architects of this panic have failed to provide any, opting instead to create a drumbeat of fear via Britain’s newspapers. As with Video Nasties, journalists and editors have simply repeated the scare stories without ever asking for evidence from those who are banging the Sexualisation drum.

The Sexualisation myth originates largely from two government papers; the first was published by the outgoing Labour government, and the second (in 2011) by the new Coalition government. This second report, known as the Bailey Review of Sexualisation and Commercialisation of Childhood, is the prime root source of the panic that has unfolded.

And yet, the Bailey Review is not a study of Sexualisation at all, but merely a study of what the public thinks about Sexualisation. The sex researcher Dr Brooke Magnanti analysed the Bailey Review and found that it contained no evidence to back the idea that children were being Sexualised:

It does not summarise any academic evidence regarding sexualisation…

It does not conduct new evidence seeking regarding the effects of early commercialisation or sexualisation…

It does offer the results of questionnaires and focus groups…

It does make a number of recommendations, purportedly based on the results of the questionnaires and focus groups; however, close examination shows that in many cases, the responses do not support the changes suggested.

It is also worth noting that Reg Bailey is not a child psychologist, but in fact is head of a large, international Christian organisation, Mothers’ Union. Why did the government pick a religious leader to undertake this study? Why has the press swallowed Bailey’s opinions and regurgitated them as fact? Because moral panics don’t exist in a vacuum: they are created to justify censorship, and just as the Video Nasties panic culminated in the Video Recordings Act 1984, so this panic is aimed at legislation to introduce Internet censorship.

We need to also stand up for our children, and ensure they are treated with the same respect as children in the rest of Europe. We do not create caring adults by treating children as idiots who cannot be trusted to use the Internet, or by denying parents the right to control what their children see and hear.

As for Sexualisation? The evidence suggests that teenagers are becoming more, not less grown-up about sex and sexuality. In Britain, teenage pregnancy rates are the lowest since the 1960s. The Internet, with its free and open access to information has created a more sexually mature generation of young people than we have ever seen before.

There is no cause for panic, but there are powerful vested interests that want to close off the British public from the outside world, just as they tried to do when video appeared in the 1980s. This time, we need to stop the panic before Britain loses access to a free and open Internet.

The Hypocrisy of the “Lose The Lads Mags” Campaign

Yesterday, the Lose The Lads Mags campaign – a front group for pro-censorship groups Object and UK Feminista – held a meeting in parliament. Journalist Nichi Hodgson attended, and reports on the hypocrisy and lack of evidence presented by the campaigners to back their claims of harm.

http://nichihodgson.com/lads-mags/

London Meeting: Speaker Details

We have finalised the speaker panel for our public meeting on Monday 23rd September. The meeting will take place at the Radisson Hotel, 9-13 Bloomsbury Street, London, WC1B 3QD. It will start at 7pm sharp, so please arrive early! Click here for the Facebook event page.

The event is kindly hosted by the XBIZ EU conference. Pre-registration is preferred (it’s free). Register here and use the free access code: XEU134TOTA

The confirmed speakers are:

  • Diane Duke, CEO of the Free Speech Coalition (US)
  • Karina Currie, UK Pornstar and Writer
  • Edie Lamort, Stripper and Sexual Freedom Activist
  • Myles Jackman, Obscenity Lawyer
  • Ben Yates, Producer
  • Plus additional video messages

See you on 23rd: The Fightback Starts Here!

Announcement: London Public Meeting Against Censorship

The Sex & Censorship campaign announces a public meeting against censorship. This will take place in central London on Monday 23rd September at 7pm. The flyer below has full details about the location – alternatively please join the Facebook event.

XBIZ EU are kindly hosting the event for us as part of their 2013 conference. If you are planning to come, please register here and use the code XEU134TOTA to gain free access to the meeting.

SAC-Flyer-v3

First they came for the pornography…

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