Tag Archives: porn panic

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.’

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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.

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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.

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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]