- What is the legislation?
The legislation itself can viewed here.
- Is the law in effect?
The legislation has been passed and was brought into effect from 26 January 2009 by a Statutory Instrument.
- Advocates of the legislation maintain that looking at violent sexual images increases one’s propensity to commit violent crime. Does the evidence support this?
No, the Government’s own consultation paper explicitly says that the evidence does not support this. A subsequent hurried Rapid Evaluation exercise conducted by avowed opponents of allowing people to make up their own minds said violent images may in certain circumstances lead to problems.
- Isn’t this legislation supposed to protect women?
From what ? Some supporters of the legislation have talked in vague terms about people being coerced and abused, or even murdered, but no one has cited any actual examples. The sites mentioned by the Government showed staged scenes featuring consenting actors.
- I have heard that the legislation is just “closing a loophole”, that it is merely preventing the viewing of images that have been made abroad which are already illegal to produce in the UK under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act (OPA). Is this the case?
This is very misleading: (a) an OPA conviction is much harder to secure than a conviction under the proposed legislation; (b) the proposed legislation criminalises simple possession of an image, rather than publication, which is far more intrusive. More on this can be found here.
- How does the legislation affect individual privacy?
This legislation will encourage the police to monitor people’s internet activity, sift through their hard disks and examine their credit card bills – all in order to ascertain whether they are viewing images of activities between consenting adults.
- Is the legislation consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights?
Probably not, according to Rabinder Singh QC. It is likely to interfere with an individual’s right to private life as defined under Article 8 of the ECHR and the right to freedom of expression under Article 10.
- Supporters of the legislation say it is aimed at genuinely abusive material, snuff movies, etc, and that the police won’t bother with material featuring consenting participants.
Unfortunately, they almost certainly will bother, as this legislation offers the prospect of upping their conviction rates for minimal effort. The police have even said they will not hesitate in using this new legislation.
- I occasionally enjoy looking at some light BDSM images on the internet but nothing that would fall under the category of “serious, disabling injury”, should I worry that this legislation applies to me?
The problem is that that the proscribed material is defined as: (a) “serious violence”, where this means “acts that appear to be life-threatening or are likely to result in serious, disabling injury”; and (b) “realistic”, where this means “conveying a realistic impression of fear, violence and harm”Â (See the definitions here). These definitions all involve subjective interpretation. So whether you get investigated – with all the damage that entails – will depend on what individual police officers think of some particular image. Whether you get convicted will depend on what a jury thinks of it.Â Could rope bondage be interpreted as likely to cause nerve damage? Could a fantasy scene convey an impression of fear and harm? It will depend on who is judging you…
- If I now stop visiting any sites that might contain illegal images, should I still be worried?
Yes. The crime is “possession”, therefore if you have visited websites containing any illegal images in the past, even if the images were legal at the time, the police could trace you though your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and search your computer. Even if you delete the images, they will still be recoverable from your disk with specialist software, and you could potentially still be prosecuted. Once again, this will depend on the attitude of individual police officers and CPS lawyers.
- Could the legislation affect non-pornographic material?
Yes, potentially. Some advocates of the legislation have argued that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should block access to any websites that feature material defined in the legislation. This could affect BDSM or Goth sites with icons, avatars or profile pictures, such as personals sites, chatrooms and forums. It could even affect sites about horror movies.
- What other consequences might the proposed legislation have?
These unintended consequences are summarised here.
- I oppose this new legislation. What can I do about it?
Write to your MP. Also, if you see an unbalanced or inaccurate news story about the legislation, phone whoever published it and complain.
- Is any material beyond the pale?
Any material whose production were to involve non-consenting participants subjected to real abuse would obviously be objectionable, and Backlash would not in any way defend it. Whether sites showing such material exist or not is another matter. The acts shown would already be illegal throughout the world, so it may be unsurprising that the Government has not been able to cite a single instance of such a site.
- Backlash is an umbrella organisation providing academic, legal and campaigning resources defending freedom of sexual expression. We support the rights of adults to participate in all consensual sexual activities and to watch, read and create any fictional interpretation of such in any media.