The War on Sexting, and Other Cases of Creeping Censorship

Outside the world of free speech advocacy, most people take the default position that some censorship is necessary and acceptable; that sensible lines can be drawn to keep out the bad stuff without affecting free expression in general. This approach naively ignores one of the great problems with censorship: that it is a tool of power, and once granted censorship powers, the state will almost certainly extend them in directions that could not have been predicted at the start. Thus, any censorship measure is a danger to all expression, and should be greeted with great scepticism.

Sadly, the British people appear to have lost track of this important point. While free expression is protected by the US Constitution, the UK has no such protection in law, and free expression here – especially sexual expression – has been deeply restricted as a result.

It’s not difficult to get the British masses behind new censorship: simply create a moral panic over harm to “women and children” (note that women are not considered to be autonomous adults in such situations). And nothing is better guaranteed to rouse the mob than child abuse.

So it was that in the 1970s, a moral panic (led by the Queen of Panic herself, Mary Whitehouse) over “child porn” led to the Protection of Children Act – which ostensibly existed to criminalise the creation of child abuse imagery. But the law went far further than criminalising abusive imagery: its final wording instead referred to “indecent imagery” – a subjective, moral idea.

In taking the step from child rape to nudity in general, the state sent a message: not that child abuse is wrong, but that the depiction of nudity is wrong, and so the state has enshrined into law an old British attitude – that nudity and sex are synonymous with each other, and naked bodies are dirty and shameful. The law has often been misused – perhaps most famously in 1995 to arrest the newsreader Julia Somerville, and her partner, who had taken photographs of their daughter in the bath. Many other, less famous people, have been branded child abusers and had their lives ruined for taking similar photographs – a victimless crime that upsets the nudity-hating moral attitudes of the British establishment.

The law is also dangerous in defining anyone under the age of 18 as a child. So in theory, a couple aged 17 who take naked photographs of each other – even for private use – can be branded paedophiles and criminalised.

But this is more than just a theory: the law has now been used against teenagers for taking photographs of themselves. A few weeks ago, a teenage girl received a criminal record for sending a topless photograph of herself to her boyfriend. Her boyfriend too was criminalised for having received the image, and in a separate case, a teenager who sent a nude photograph of himself to friends received a caution.

And so a law that was supposedly introduced to protect abused children has instead been used to attack teenagers for enjoying consensual sex lives. It has also absorbed vast amounts of police and CPS resource that could instead have been directed at identifying and rescuing genuine abuse victims. Meanwhile, as we now know, the law did nothing to protect genuine victims of abuse from men in power.

Such is the nature of creeping censorship: laws passed in response to moral panics rarely do what they were intended to do. More recently, as the British censorship state has grown in reach and power, more draconian laws have come into being, and each one covers a far greater scope than promised by the politicians.

The “extreme porn” law is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Introduced in response to the murder of Jane Longhurst (which was dishonestly linked to BDSM pornography), it was supposed to be aimed at avoiding further such murders. Yet, as the law was drafted, it was broadened to include a number of categories of content, including animal porn, for which the vast majority of prosecutions have taken place. Given the broad definition of “possession”, this means that even receiving an unsolicited image is a criminal offence. Recently, two Essex men were found guilty – under a law supposedly designed to protect women from being murdered – for having received an animal porn video via WhatsApp. Although they had not requested the video, and had attempted to delete it, copies had remained on their phones, and they were forced to plead guilty to sexual offences.

And most recently, the “rape porn” law looks to catch far more people who pose no threat to anybody.  The effect of the law is to criminalise consenting adults who enjoy BDSM porn featuring consenting adults.

In each of these cases, a seemingly good cause – child abuse, murder, rape – has been appropriated by the state in order to brand all sexual expression as wrong, as perverted, as criminal. One wonders where the real “perverts” are: at home, watching porn and snapping nude selfies; or in the censorship state, endlessly blurring lines between consensual and non-consensual activities.

Censorship is not something that can be harmlessly introduced to hide “the bad stuff” and leave “the nice stuff” alone. It is harmful by nature, and corrosive to the freedom of everyone. All sexual behaviour risks falling within the remit of Britain’s increasingly draconian anti-porn laws. The state has signalled its belief that all sexual activity belongs at home, in private, behind closed doors, and in the absence of recording devices. And thus, child abusers will cover their tracks and walk free, while consenting adults are branded sexual predators and harassed into taking their kinks back underground.


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5 thoughts on “The War on Sexting, and Other Cases of Creeping Censorship

  1. What is obvious is teenage girls are actively engaging in ‘sexting” but the Guardian and “feminist” groups like Object claim they are doing this under coercion from boys.

    The likelihood is this is far from the truth. Feminists and moralists are spreading panic that teenage girls are being pressured to do all sorts of things against their will by evil abusive sex crazed teenage boys.

    This ignores the reality of many teenage relationships and implies again that sex is something that is “done” to women by men.

  2. The two young people from Nottingham, reported above, have been sexually abused by Parliament and the Judiciary. Reasonable people will see the youngsters as the victims and the police as their attackers. What the kids did was entirely normal behaviour. It is not something that should be encouraged, but it is not something that warrants the sexual humiliation and utter terror that the police have inflicted upon them. All people should be ashamed of the police and the politicians for what has happened.
    The general point made by S&C is entirely valid – draconian censorship laws are doing a lot more harm than good.

  3. Sex Spies
    By Michael J Freeman

    After the revolution in Czechoslovakia the people smashed their way into the offices of the secret police and looked at the files and they were surprised to discover that many of their neighbours and people that they had thought were their friends had been spying on them and making reports to the Stasi and one can guess what happened to the traitorous spies.
    Now if we take a trip to Scotland Yard we see a police officer at his computer processing private emails that are coming in from the world’s biggest spy base GCHQ in Milton Keynes, England where they process images sent by email and it works by the amount of flesh displayed in such images! The age of the sender comes up and if the image is of someone under the age of 18 the recipient’s address and IP number is recorded by the police officer/s and a warrant issued for a police raid on that address. The police officer checks on the suspects socio-economic status and if her is poor and a commoner then he gives the go ahead.
    A favourite time for raids is six in the morning when our police squad has stayed up all night after hours in their local pub. Then they drive to the address of often a late teen or young man and converge on his property with squads of Q cars (unmarked police vehicles) sealing off adjacent roads in case our suspected “criminal” tries to escape with his laptop!
    The police surround the house, one rings the doorbell and they wait if the door is answered within a couple of minutes and they rush in and seize all computers and then begin a search, if it is not answered then battering ram at the ready a warning is given to “open the door or we will make a forcible entry.” If it is not opened they smash in the front door and charge in meeting any resistance with “whatever force is necessary!”
    Yes we are living in a police state England 2014 with Draconian laws against our youth enforced by police violence.
    This gross invasion of people’s privacy is to stop teenage girls under 18 “sexting” erotic pictures of themselves to their boyfriends.
    The “sex offender” is dragged through the courts, convicted, sometimes imprisoned and placed on the sex offender’s register for life that requires him to report to the local police station every day.
    These Orwellian laws have led to thousands of our youth being criminalised every year and sometimes the girl is deemed to be in need of “care and protection” and put into “care” or forcibly adopted.
    Why? Because firstly Big Brother believes that if he can control, as early as possible, the sexual energy of the working classes, particularly girls, he will be able to control them for them for the rest of their lives. Years ago this was done by the state working hand and glove with the Church to instil shame and fear into our youth in order to convince them that if they sinned and were not sexually chaste then they would go to hell. Now in a secular society we have Big Brother’s thought police as predicted by George Orwell in 1984- a must read for all our youth.

    Secondly it is a big money making racket for the legal profession where professional loser solicitors and posh upper class Queen’s Counsel (QCs) represent both sides in the adversary game in the theatre of our courts earn rich pickings from the legal aid system…
    Everyone’s sex life, including sexy pictures sent to show boyfriends how desirable and beautiful they are by young people in love, should be private and this massive intrusion into the lives of young people in love is a crime against them.
    Young people’s lives are ruined forever and the mainstream media and local press report sexual offences that are cheap pornography for a vicarious and hypocritical public.
    These laws are enforced by a corrupt government that ironically is protecting many paedophiles in its ranks some even guilty of torturing and even killing young children.
    Something has to be done to stop them and as they are above the law with our endemically corrupt police controlled and taking orders “from above” the only solution is to bring them down by a popular people’s revolution.

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