Tag Archives: extreme porn

Adam Smith Institute Questions “Extreme Porn” Law

This blog recently published a paper by Nick Cowen on the UK’s extreme porn law. This paper now forms the basis of a briefing from the Adam Smith Institute (ASI), which is available here.

The UK Will Block Millions of Sites
Install a VPN

As someone who, until recently, considered myself left-wing, I am ever bewildered and anguished by the fact that the defence of individual liberty, once a cornerstone of the left, is now the preserve of the free-market right: the Adam Smith Institute being a good example. Meanwhile, the left has become increasingly intolerant to free expression in many forms, of which porn is merely the most obvious: I document this strange reversal in political polarities in my book Porn Panic.

The word “extreme” in “extreme porn law” refers to the porn, though may be better used to describe the law. The law is odd for at least two reasons: first that it outlaws the depiction of acts that are popular between consenting couples; second that it targets the consumer rather than the producer.

The first aspect is strange: numerous acts such as whipping and fisting are perfectly legal to do in the privacy of one’s own bedroom. Yet the moment they are recorded, the video becomes illegal to possess.

The second aspect is dangerous: millions of people (including, probably, you) have broken the law and risk being imprisoned and listed as sex offenders. If you have looked at porn without using your browser’s incognito mode, your browser cache will be full of images from the pages you looked at. To merely have an “extreme” image on one’s phone or PC, or stored somewhere in a cloud email or storage account that you own, makes you a possessor of extreme porn. And who knows what constitutes extreme? Nick Cowen does, I do, and possibly a couple of thousand other people in the UK. To create a law that most people will never understand, yet carries heavy penalties, is draconian.

The law originated with a moral panic following the killing of a teacher, Jane Longhurst, by a man who had an interest in BDSM pornography. Clearly, nobody had explained to the government that correlation does not equate to causation: that the fact that a violent person might watch violent porn doesn’t mean that porn causes violence.

The Home Secretary who signed the law into force was Jacqui Smith; yet when I interviewed her, she was unaware of the law’s detail, or of its consequences (over a thousand people a year are now arrested for possessing extreme porn). To find that such a dangerous and unnecessary law could come into being without any serious political opposition or thought was a depressing realisation as to the nature of politics.

Nick’s ASI paper is worth reading; for those short on time, here is its executive summary:

  • The ban on possession of ‘extreme pornography’ was introduced in 2009 and extended in 2015. The law, as drafted, bans depictions of some sex acts that can be conducted safely and consensually between adults, with a specific risk of prosecution posed to LGBT minorities.
  • The Crown Prosecution Service reports more than a thousand offences prosecuted each year, implying significant enforcement costs that could be deployed effectively elsewhere.
  • A significant minority of the British population enjoy sexually aggressive fantasy scenarios but do not pose a specific risk of committing violent or sexual offences.
  • Access to pornography has increased dramatically in recent years, yet social harms imputed to pornography (especially violence against women) have reduced moderately but significantly.
  • While some survey evidence claims a correlation between individual use of pornography and sexual aggression, econometric evidence suggests this is not a causal relationship and that, if anything, increased access to pornography can reduce measurable social harms.
  • The ban itself represents a potential risk to political integrity. Like the ban on homosexuality in much of the 20th century, prohibitions on private sexual conduct can be used to silence, blackmail and corrupt individuals in positions of authority and responsibility.
  • There are better policies for reducing violence against women in the dimensions of criminal justice, education and economic reform.
  • The prevailing free speech doctrine in the United States shows that it is realistically possible to simultaneously tackle damaging forms of expression and maintain strong protections for innocuous forms

Liberalism and Extreme Pornography

Nick Cowen is a PhD student, who has recently published an academic paper on Millian Liberalism and Extreme s200_nick.cowenPornography. In this, he argues that apparently ‘liberal’ justifications for banning ‘extreme porn’ in the UK are misguided. The Sex & Censorship campaign agrees: trying to justify censorship from a liberal perspective is a contradiction in terms. Below, Nick explains his argument in brief. His full paper can be downloaded here.

In August 2012, Simon Walsh, a prominent lawyer and former aide to London mayor Boris Johnson, was prosecuted for possession of ‘extreme pornography’. The alleged crime was possessing digital photographs depicting ‘fisting’ and ‘urethral sounding’ taken at a private all-male sex party where Walsh was a participant.

The prosecution claimed that the acts depicted were extreme because they could cause serious harm. The jury heard expert evidence from a surgeon that the acts, which are relatively commonly practiced within the LGBT community, could be conducted safely. It took the jury just a few minutes of deliberation to reject all charges.

Despite the ‘not guilty’ verdict, the trial came at personal cost to Walsh. Intimate details of his sex life were exposed in a public forum. Moreover, the Crown Prosecution Service continues to argue that the grounds for prosecution were sound and that the images were ‘extreme’, leaving open the possibility of continued prosecutions. This suggests a particular legal vulnerability for gay men and other sexual minorities. This is a perverse result for a law that was originally intended to address violence against women.

The British government banned extreme pornography in 2008. There are now more than 1000 prosecutions a year in the United Kingdom. We know comparatively little about the circumstances of most cases, possibly because, unlike Walsh, most defendants accept a sanction to avoid public attention and the greater risk of a prison sentence.

Prosecution statistics indicate that many cases involve depictions of bestiality. While bestiality raises real concerns with animal cruelty, many images may amount to harmless (if poor taste) jokes. For example, one failed prosecution in Wales involved possession of an image of a man having sex with a woman while wearing a tiger costume.

I argue that this approach to regulating pornography is disproportionate to any notional public benefit, and cannot plausibly protect women’s interests or improve their social status.   My article highlights some illiberal aspects of the ban. First, ‘extreme’ is defined in terms of what the image appears to depict, rather than any actual harm done in creating the image. This means that records of acts safely performed by consenting adults can nevertheless be criminalised. Second, the law bans possession, not publication. This means that the law respects no boundary between private and public, and does not consider the context in which an image is found or displayed.

These features would have a strong chance of rendering such a ban unconstitutional on first amendment grounds if the law were passed in the United States. It is somewhat less clear whether it infringes European human rights law. Regardless of where positive law stands, I argue that liberal defences of privacy and free expression extend to extreme pornography.

I argue instead that images used to expose or harass individuals (or ‘revenge porn’) are legitimately prohibited.  On my account, consent to view or be depicted should be the key test of legality, a test that the current definition of ‘extreme pornography’ sadly ignores.

The UK Will Block Millions of Sites
Install a VPN

Nick Cowen is a PhD student in political economy at King’s College London and a volunteer policy researcher for Backlash

Tiger Porn: “Extreme Porn” Law to be Challenged

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the dangerous proliferation of content possession laws that have sprung up in the UK. These have resulted in a series of draconian rulings, including one that decided a teenage girl was a sex offender for taking a photograph of herself naked. This conviction was made under a law designed to prevent child abuse. Such badly drafted laws surely do nothing to achieve this, and plenty to tie up police resources that could be better directed elsewhere.

Theresa May is Watching You
Install a Secure VPN

Content possession laws are dangerous, regardless of what they criminalise, because content possession is such a vague idea. How many people realise that receiving a photograph by email or WhatsApp constitutes possession, whether or not you even look at it? Or that browsing to a web page containing a banned image will store that image in the web browser cache, making the user a criminal? And most important, how can members of the public know what images might or might not be considered “extreme” by the prurient British state?

 The “extreme porn” law, introduced by the last Labour government in 2008, is perhaps the most dangerous of them all, criminalising a vast array of content, from bestiality to acts that might “result in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals” – this would cover consensual and legal acts like fisting or the use of a large sex toy.

One of the most ludicrous prosecutions to arise from this law was the infamous “tiger porn” case, in which Andrew Holland was prosecuted for possessing a video of – it was claimed – a woman having sex with a tiger. This would certainly represent a dangerous sex act!

The police and prosecutors decided there was a case, and proceeded. When the case finally reached court, the judge requested that the video be played with sound – something the police hadn’t thought of doing. During the scene, the “tiger” turned to the camera and said “that’s grrrrreat!”, in the style of Tony, the Frosties tiger. It’s clear that police and CPS training doesn’t include the skills to distinguish between a real tiger and a pretend one. Holland was acquitted.

But during the legal process, he had been branded a sex offender, experienced vigilante attacks, and been prevented from seeing his daughter for a year. He suffered a heart attack during this time.

The obscenity law specialist Myles Jackman announced yesterday that Holland would be launching a judicial review against the extreme porn law.

This is good news indeed; besides potentially overturning an atrocious piece of legislation, it may also help disrupt yet another bad law, the impending “rape porn” legislation, which, rather than criminalising porn featuring rape (as it sounds), will leave police and a judge to decide whether a sex act looks like it might be non-consensual, and would thus criminalise bondage and other non-standard – but consenting – sex acts.

In the mean time, millions of people risk being branded sex offenders simply for receiving a message from a friend (or enemy) or browsing the web. They can, to some extent, protect themselves by using private browser settings, and asking their friends not to share any kind of sexual imagery. But it is ludicrous that they should have to.

Criminalised For Receiving “Extreme Porn” Via WhatsApp

Two UK men in their twenties have been convicted of possessing extreme pornography in a case involving the distribution of images featuring beastiality.

Despite the judge accepting that that the two men had not solicited the images Gary Ticehurst, 28, of Canvey Island, Essex, and Mark Kelly, 25, of Romford were both given a two-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay £500 costs.

Both pleaded guilty to possessing the images on their smartphones. Kelly pleaded guilty to one count of “possessing an extreme pornographic image likely to cause injury”, and three counts of possessing pornographic images involving animals. Ticehurst admitted one count of possessing an extreme pornographic image as well as two counts of possessing pornographic images involving animals.

The images were found after Police had stopped the two men for unrelated matters and a routine inspection of their phones was carried out.

Both men defended themselves in court. Kelly said he had deleted the received videos from his WhatsApp, adding that he was unaware that images were saved to his camera roll. “I didn’t even watch the full content of the video. It was very sick and disturbing,” he told the court.

Judge Paul Worsley told the court that his was imposing a “lenient” sentence, accepting that neither man had solicited the content nor had attempted to share it with others.

“You have pleaded guilty to possessing truly disgusting images,” Judge Worsley said adding “It makes a big difference if someone goes out of their way to seek it, or if they’re sent it by some mischievous colleague.”

Even after the judge’s leniency and appearing to have accepted the indirect means the duo were sent the offending images he still imposed a significant punishment.

These kind of cases are always frustrating for me to listen to or read about. Yes I find beastilaity disgusting, yes it’s currently a crime HOWEVER i’ve had random WhatsApp messages from people i’ve met once or twice, or on occasion never, there is no telling what content is in them.

It is literally like trying to convict someone of possessing an e-mail selling illegal viagra. There will be lots of truly innocent individuals caught up in these kind of charges.

My mind is pondering the demo sex and censorship held outside the UK launch of Stop Porn Culture. It would have been so easy for the Police to have stopped and searched any one of us on the basis that we were demonstrating and who knows how many of us the could have detained on these ambiguous, spurious and damn right silly charges.

That is the kind of abuse these laws, coupled with heavy handed powers can fuel.