ONTD Political

Porn Trial: How Consenting Sex May Be Illegal in the UK

3:01 pm - 08/07/2012
Here’s a perfect illustration of how authoritarians make use of moral panics to persuade people that personal freedoms must be monitored and attacked by the state.

In 2003, a Brighton teacher called Jane Longhurst was killed by Graham Coutts. Coutts claimed that she had died during consenting sexual asphyxiation play, but the prosecution suggested that the two had not been lovers, and that she had been raped and murdered. He was convicted of murder and imprisoned. Much attention in the trial focused on Coutts’ interest in asphyxiation, and on his possession of pornographic images depicting this.

Although no evidence was provided to show that the porn had led Coutts to kill Longhurst (and indeed, such porn has become widespread without an increase in such crimes), a moral panic began over “violent porn”. The Labour government, already hugely authoritarian in many ways, first tried to ban web sites carrying “violent pornography”. When this moronic attempt at censorship failed, their next approach was even more authoritarian: to ban the possession of “violent” pornographic imagery. This was put into law as Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, better known as the Violent Porn Law.

Starting from the killing of one woman, and based on unfounded rumours that her killing had been linked to pornography, the UK government had instituted one of the most draconian pieces of legislation in recent British history. Now, a person could be imprisoned for downloading or possessing on video or DVD any pornography that might breach the law, even if they were unaware of the law’s existence.

The key parts of the law defining violent porn are as follows:
  • An act threatening a person’s life
  • An act which results (or is likely to result) in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals
So for example, sexual asphyxiation could be deemed to threaten a person’s life. Although many people enjoy this act, possessing an image of someone enjoying it is now illegal. Note that the owner of the image has responsibility not just to be familiar with the law, but to make the decision as to whether is it “life-threatening” or not. In other words a video of two consenting adults engaging in asphyxiation, and causing no harm to each other, may still be deemed illegal, and result in a prison sentence for anyone possessing it.

The second provision is similarly vague. Anal fisting is an act enjoyed by many people, gay and straight. It’s perfectly legal to fist (or be fisted) so long as the act is consensual. And yet, if a photograph is taken, published on the Internet and downloaded, the person downloading it can be imprisoned.

The New Labour control-freaks have triumphed yet again: viewing of a consenting sexual act has become illegal. The government feels it has a right to decide which consenting sex acts are unsuitable for the British public. And to be clear, the key word here is consenting.

As I write this, Simon Walsh is on trial at Kingston Upon Thames Crown Court for possession of images of anal fisting. The police had raided him, found no imagery on his work computer, but then gained access to his email and found images attached to emails that he had received. The police have no evidence that the attachments were ever opened. By the fact that Walsh had simply received images of consenting sexual activity, the police and Crown Prosecution Service have decided there is a case to answer – and Walsh is facing up to three years imprisonment.

It gets murkier: in his professional life, Simon Walsh has been involved in… guess what? Prosecuting police officers who are charged with disciplinary offences. Perhaps this explains the police enthusiasm in finding pornography in his “possession” – and then proceeding with a prosecution.

I wish Simon Walsh all the best in winning his case, and furthermore hope that his victory will be a first step in revoking this ludicrous, draconian law.

The ongoing case can be following via the Twitter hashtag #porntrial. Walsh’s lawyer is Myles Jackman, who can be followed at @ObscenityLawyer and via his blog.

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alicephilippa 7th-Aug-2012 02:41 pm (UTC)
It has always been thus. 'Ignorance of the law is no defence'.

This stupid law made quite a stir in the kink community. Where we became uncertain as to what exactly the impact of it would be. I still don't think anyone really is certain even now.

It is one of the draconian Nulab laws that need to be repealed.
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confectionqueen 7th-Aug-2012 02:55 pm (UTC)
but it needs to be reformed and the age in which you can enter the industry older

Older than an adult? Is it different in the UK where you can be in porn under 18?
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1carolinabrown 7th-Aug-2012 03:18 pm (UTC)
The way I see things...

"Pornography victimizes everyone—those who are addicted to it, those who live with them, a society that fosters it, a society that is trying to oppose it, even those who create it. It contaminates everyone. Dehumanizing anybody destroys relationships and distorts behavior for all involved parties. In short, it degrades individuals, destroys families, and spoils society." -

Connor Boyack
poetic_pixie_13 7th-Aug-2012 03:23 pm (UTC)
So, way I see it this post will lead to a debate about porn, particularly violent porn, in _p.

girly123 7th-Aug-2012 03:35 pm (UTC)
I was thinking this too, and I'm not sure if I should escape now or continue feverishly refreshing the page.
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girly123 7th-Aug-2012 03:29 pm (UTC)
Yeah...these provisions are pretty bullshit. I don't like how the article is framing this as some sort of Liberal conspiracy to get the government into everyone's bedrooms, but I also think the law is incredibly stupid, hamfisted, and will not actually fix anything.
mephisto5 7th-Aug-2012 03:48 pm (UTC)
Lulz, Labour are very much not liberal. They're as authoritarian as the Tories.
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mephisto5 7th-Aug-2012 03:50 pm (UTC)
Citation needed.

Pretty much the entirity of society feeds the idea that women are objects that it's ok to do things to. Banning certain types of porn is not going to change that.
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mephisto5 7th-Aug-2012 03:49 pm (UTC)
This is bullshit and controls on what images people can have taken of themseleves, once they're adults, is bullshit.
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strandedinaber 7th-Aug-2012 04:09 pm (UTC)

I think this law is bullshit, but it is definitely not the worst piece of legislation introduced in recent years. Not that that should make any difference, but still...
poetic_pixie_13 7th-Aug-2012 04:09 pm (UTC)
But, since I can't shut up, here are My Thoughts On Pornography:

Porn isn't inherently good or bad. How we create, consume and critique it is based on the myrid of ways society teaches us about sex, sexuality, gender, and desire as well as how we navigate those definitions and expectations based on what we want, what we consider acceptable, or forbidden or sinful or arousing or or or.

If we're going to be concerned about violent porn then why not talk about the way that violence is coded to mean sex in every single b-grade slasher movie? How sexualized violence is almost lovingly shown on every cop show ever. About how rape culture is perpetuated though Daniel Tosh and new reports and stories about not going out late at night and those creepy emails abut sexual assault that your aunts forward to you a million times. And, yes, how we shame folks who are into violent sexuality or have violent desires.

Mainstream porn culture is disgusting, I will never claim otherwise nor say that there isn't a deep, pervasive problem in that industry that needs to be addressed. The amount of women who are pressured or outright forced to partake it in, the lack of care in the health and safety of workers in the porn industry, the casual compartmentalization of some of the worst aspects of how we're taught to view sexuality, it needs to be addressed. But banning it won't do anything, prohibition has never stopped anything. Especially with the internets. There will still be people finding and watching this stuff, but it'll be harder to actually have conversations about healthy sexuality and desire.

It's like the chicken and the egg, does porn cause these harmful, dangerous ideas about sexuality or is it informed by ideas that already exist? The answer isn't a simple one or the other. It informs and is informed by the society it exists in. If we're taught that women have no sexual desire or must have an emotional connection to feel desire, then we'll have porn that assumes women won't be watching. If we're taught trans folks are acting out a specific sexual fantasy instead of asserting their own identity we'll get the grossly exploitative stuff that exists now. Various racial assumptions about how poc want and are wanted are obviously going to be found in porn. Etc etc etc

The amount of ways to be sexual (or not sexual) is as infinite as people there are in the world. Some us have desires that fit within what the mainstream says we should want, but most of us, in some way or another, probably don't. For many porn is the only way to explore these desires, or at least have them acknowledged even if what they're seeing is horrifically oppressive. And so you associate one thing with the other and cycle continues on its merry way. Part of the conversations that need to happen is that we all want differently. That what consenting adults do isn't immoral or disgusting, but that at the same time our desires are hugely influenced by the images and ideas around us. It's about recognizing that sex is referenced and talked about and expressed everywhere, not just in porn or other explicitly sexual forms of media. And all of it, from rape culture in society to expectations of what x group of people 'inherently' desire to what types of bodies are considered attractive to everything else, has be be looked at critically if we want to break down and eliminate all these ways that we're taught to hurt and be hurt by sex.

Porn is the symptom and, yes, partly the cause. But that's how all these systems of oppression are preserved and continued. It self-perpetuates by saying that our experiences and ideas and longings are all separate and not a part of a society where everything is connected. Or even by claiming that there is no human condition that takes in the world around us and decodes and remixes and internalizes and rejects.
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mysid "That's not mine, Officer! I have no idea how it got there."7th-Aug-2012 04:21 pm (UTC)
Here's the part that get's me:

The police had raided him, found no imagery on his work computer, but then gained access to his email and found images attached to emails that he had received. The police have no evidence that the attachments were ever opened.

So they have no proof whatsoever that he even knew that someone sent him these photos attached to an email, and yet they are prosecuting him for "possessing" the photos. Wow. I can understand charging him with possessing them if he deliberately downloaded the photos to his computer. I can understand charging him with possessing them if he opened the attachments, saw what they were, and didn't delete the emails from his account. But to charge him with possessing attachments on emails when he never even opened them to see what they are...

A person can't control who they get emails from or what is in them. (You can set controls to ban certain senders, but anyone you haven't deliberately banned might get through.) All people can do is decline to open the suspect stuff and delete the unwanted stuff. Do you really want to get arrested because someone accidentally sent illegal porn to the wrong email address--or deliberately sent you illegal porn you didn't actually want?

I definitely think there should be at least a shred of evidence that he knew the photos were sent to him before he gets charged with possession of them.
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mirhanda 7th-Aug-2012 04:22 pm (UTC)
So if you want to get a British person in serious trouble, all you have to do is email them some "violent porn" and call the police?
jettakd 7th-Aug-2012 04:43 pm (UTC)
I hope there's failsafes against that (the police in this case seemed to have had a grudge against the man), but it is very disturbing precedent :(
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the_glow_worm 7th-Aug-2012 06:03 pm (UTC)
Who commented? It was on 69 comments for such a long time, it was perfect.
thecityofdis 7th-Aug-2012 06:30 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad I'm not the only one who was thinking this. I was like "going to comment... no, I musn't!"
atomic_joe2 7th-Aug-2012 07:42 pm (UTC)
Labour did get pretty authoritarian particularly in their last years in power to appease the right wing press I think in the main (Gordon Brown didn't ditch the ID cards scheme because he thought it would make him look weak on security for example).

Happily now we're in Opposition and everyone hates us again we can forge our own way!
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