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?
Feminist futures: Red Pepper’s feminist special issue: ● Our bodies, our choice ● Is the future xenofeminist? ● Women and the new unions ● Feminists on the anti-fascist frontline ● Plus: Left politics and the generational divide ● Decolonising museums ● Book reviews ● and much more
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