Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

An extreme insult

Penny, from the campaigning group Backlash, says banning so called 'extreme porn' is an insult to female sexuality

January 21, 2008
6 min read

Some women like rough, kinky sex. They like doing it, thinking about it and looking at pictures of it.

Now, as controversial revelations go, the above ought to be up there with ‘some women like fish and chips.’ Unfortunately, it isn’t. To the British government, among others, the idea of women having varied sexual tastes rather than being an undifferentiated mass of sexual victims seems so inconceivable that they are enshrining their denial in law.

I’m referring to Section 6 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill 2007. The proposals have a long history, but, in summary, unless there are substantial amendments, the resulting law will punish the possession of ‘extreme pornographic imagery’ with up to three years in jail and entry on the Sex Offenders Register. This, we are told, is a move to ‘protect’ women and children (yes, children are mentioned over 30 times in the government’s original proposal, in spite of their total irrelevance to the question of adult pornography).

The whole bill, and every piece of official documentation that I have seen in support of it, is founded on the assumption that in every instance of ‘extreme’ or ‘violent’ porn – and implicitly, in every instance of sex – there is a male aggressor and a female victim. The sole piece of research commissioned by the government to support its proposal was so inadequate that 40 academics wrote to them in urgent protest, condemning the evidence as ‘extremely poor.’

What is extreme porn?

So, what is ‘extreme porn anyway’? Well, the short answer appears to be, ‘anything the investigating authorities decide it is.’ The term ‘extreme porn’ itself has been carefully chosen by the architects of the bill to create maximum shock (and minimum intelligent reflection) in hearers. But the small print tells a different story. It states that the definition of an ‘extreme image’ is a pornographic image of ‘an act which threatens or appears to threaten a person’s life’ or ‘which results in or appears to result (or be likely to result) in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals’. (There are two further clauses about interference with an animal and interference with a corpse, but they are outside the scope of this article).

Right… so what is ‘life-threatening’ or ‘serious’? And what do ‘appears to’ and ‘likely’ mean? Is fisting imagery going to be banned because incompetent fisting can cause tissue damage? If you take a picture of the office lads doing naked skydiving for charity, do you become an ‘extreme pornographer’ based on whether or not you get the parachute in the picture?

Too many grey areas

The Criminal Justice Bill simply ignores these questions. Nobody will know what is and isn’t illegal to possess, until they are up in court defending themselves against accusations of being a sex offender. This is all the worse because there has been virtually no publicity about the forthcoming law. The media has almost wholly accepted the government’s assumption that to disagree with a ban on something as nasty-sounding as ‘extreme porn’ is a moral impossibility,

But that is not actually the case. In 2005, Backlash was set up to coordinate groups and individuals opposed to the law. Many active members are women who fiercely object to the suppression of images of adult sexuality in the name of ‘protecting’ us. We have collected an archive of articles by women from the International Union of Sex Workers to housewives with children, all protesting the proposed law. Some of our supporters practise BDSM (bondage, domination, sadomasochism) in their own lives; some are simply opposed to censorship; all condemn the lie that there is a such a thing as ‘extreme porn’ that can be separated from the rest of human life and the people involved labelled as evil so that everyone else gets to feel nice.

The only possible use for that self-congratulatory impulse is as a distraction from real issues, such as trafficking and the need for regulation in the porn industry. Nobody doubts that a very small minority of porn is made under coercive conditions – but this porn is just as likely to be ‘mainstream’ as ‘extreme’, and a witch-hunt against ‘extreme’ material that is produced by consenting adults for consenting adults can only draw police resources away from the investigation of real crimes.

Many of the police responses to the government’s original consultation document raised grave concerns about the ability of computer forensic units to cope with the workload that such a ban would create. Potentially, a situation in which the creation of real child porn, by abusers who take care to hide their tracks, goes unnoticed and unpunished because the police are swamped trying to arrest every Tom, Dick and Harriet (because yes, Harriet exists) with a credit card subscription to kink.com.

The majority of individual responses to the original consultation document responded with a clear ‘no’ to the question of whether a law was needed at all. Yet the architects of the proposal blundered on. One of the MPs behind the bill, Martin Salter, said during the Commons debate, ‘If people want to do weird things to each other they still can, but I say, “Don’t put it on the internet.”‘

In other words: we probably won’t send the police after you- as long as you keep your head down and are afraid and ashamed of your sexuality.

Coming from a government that prides itself on its support of gay rights and gender equality, this is inexcusable. And it is going largely unremarked, in part because there has been so little publicity and in part because to object is to risk being branded as an apologist for rape, if not a sex offender yourself. But if this piece of moralistic nonsense becomes law, which of our freedoms will be rebranded as a crime and banned next?

More information:

Backlash

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones