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?
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill