Lord Chief Justice Thomas mistaken: Internet porn does not turn people into murderers

Lord Thomas has claimed that Internet pornography was ‘a contributing factor in one of the most gruesome murder cases he had to rule on last year’ (see also the Daily Telegraph). As someone who has to sit in judgement over some of the worst offences committed in the United Kingdom, his position is understandable. But it goes against the best evidence we have: Internet porn does not cause more violence against anybody. While convicted murderers often have large collections of violent images, pornography does not turn people into murderers. A great many ordinary members of the public, including men and women, with no interest in harming anyone possess images that have violent themes.

We can be confident of this claim in the United Kingdom because Internet use has expanded significantly over the last two decades while homicide rates, and other related crimes of domestic violence are significantly down. Figure 3 (page 10) of the Home Office’s report, Focus on: Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, 2011/12, shows that many of these key crime types peaked in the early 90s, well before the Internet was a significant cultural phenomenon. Note that these statistics are probably best at identifying trends in offences because they are comparable from year-to-year but are not necessarily as good at estimating underlying prevalence for which there is still much uncertainty because of the difficulty of interpreting survey results.

Correlation does not imply causation, but dis-correlation is a strong count against causation. When Internet use (including porn use) is going up significantly, and the murder and assault rate is going down, we can be confident that the Internet is not a contributing factor to the murders that do take place. This position is backed up by academic scholarship that looks at crime trends the world over.

Evidence of pornography use plays two key roles in murder trials. The first is by prosecutors attempting to establish a motive for the killing. The inferences here are difficult but potentially legitimate if they help to bring a murderer to justice. The second, much less justified, is by defence counsel in mitigation in order to argue for a lesser sentence. Defences sometimes claim that (fictional) media bears some of the responsibility for the murder. Sometimes they claim that the offender started by suffering an addiction to pornography, a diagnosis with no scientific basis, to suggest that porn impaired the judgement of the offender, or provoked them in some way.

The statistical evidence suggests that these claims are unjustified: a murderer stands alone in the dock. They cannot claim that their actions were commissioned by the media they consumed. So on this count, it was right that the murderer Lord Thomas was hearing lost his appeal against a whole life tariff.

Opposition to censorship from left to right and everywhere else

“Currently, the BBFC bans video featuring female ejaculation. It seems ludicrous that in 2014, we could be criminalising people who record and distribute video of a healthy anatomical event” – D H Kelly, The F Word

“Why anyone in their right mind would hand any more power to the state over what they can see is utterly beyond me. If feminists think that government has women’s interests at heart, they are deluded. Most of what we all find immoral is already illegal, and it can’t be made any more illegal.” – Suzanne Moore, the Guardian

“I have never read a set of rules, not even the changes to legal aid, that so flagrantly omitted to discuss principles with the people to whom they would apply. Functionally, the regulations kick in only when you are contacted by ATVOD, asking you to apply to be registered with them. If you refuse, they shut you down, and if you accede, you then have to abide by their rules.” – Zoe Williams, the Guardian. See full interview (note: explicit images) with Itziar Bilbao Urrutia on her website.

“It’s a textbook case of something we should have been rid of by now – the bureaucratic moral panic about something harmless, flimsily justified by an appeal to protect children. A closed-door body has banned something they think anyone will be ashamed to defend – they assume that because they think it is wrong and “immoral”, everyone else does too. Although if anyone could explain the rationale for depictions of female ejaculation being “immoral” or “dangerous”, while leaving the male equivalent legal, I’d be amazed.” –  Willard Foxton, the Telegraph

The UK now has some of the most draconian laws on the production of porn in Europe. Mary Whitehouse might smile approvingly from beyond the grave, but for today’s warm-blooded Brits this is a real kick in the nuts.” – Charlotte Bowyer , Adam Smith Institute

 

Media coverage of new censorship of VoD services

The new Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014, coming into force attracted widespread coverage in the popular press criticising the move, and suggesting general popular support for Backlash’s stance against censorship.

New powers to censor digital media are a threat to free expression

Backlash launches challenge against attempt to shut down British websites with adult content

Today, the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014(1), a new law governing online media, comes into force in the UK. Backlash(2) will challenge the legality of this new regulation as a new threat to free expression.

The law applies to Video on Demand (VoD) services which are regulated by the Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD). It restricts the types of sexual content that UK VoD providers can provide for their consumers to BBFC R18 classification level.

British digital media producers are now subject to some of the most severe content restrictions in Europe. The regulations will shut down websites and criminalise producers of content that remains legal to produce throughout the European Union. This will have a chilling effect on freedom of sexual expression in the UK. It also makes British media uncompetitive within the EU. This will lead to job cuts and lost revenue for the Treasury.

The regulations will have a disproportionate impact on producers of content for sexual minorities. For example, depictions of many forms of anal sex, including “fisting”, are banned under the regulations, even though such activities are popular and practised safely within the LGBT community. Bondage and sado-masochistic scenarios, commonly practiced by people of all sexual orientations, will also be censored.

The EU AVMS directive states that content that “might seriously impair minors” should be restricted in order to protect those under 18. However, when considering the research of 20 European States(3), Ofcom found that:”No country found conclusive evidence that sexually explicit material harms minors”. As a result, the regulations have been introduced under the aegis of “child protection”, without any evidence that the regulation will contribute to child welfare. It will, however, have an adverse impact on the sexual choices of consenting adults and on the British media industry.

Backlash’s legal advisor, Myles Jackman(4), said:

“Pornography is the canary in the coalmine of free speech: it is the first freedom to die. If this assault on liberty is allowed to go unchallenged, other freedoms will fall as a consequence. Today, Backlash has launched a campaign to challenge this regime of State censorship disguised as regulation.

This declaration of State censorship will affect millions of consenting adults who choose to view British pornography. It will impose an unnecessary trade barrier, which has already caused independent UK producers to shut down and result in a significant loss of revenue to the Treasury. It is practically unworkable as it can be circumvented by proxy servers. It has implications for all forms of freedom of expression on the internet.

Of particular concern in terms of loss of freedom is the underlying intent to allow undesirable foreign websites to be blocked under UK ISPs’ filtering systems. This has serious implications for freedom of information. The fight back must start here”.

Contact: Myles Jackman, Backlash’s legal advisor on 07791436100 or law@mylesjackman.com

1. The Statutory Instrument enforcing the AVMS Regs 2014 can be found here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2014/2916/pdfs/uksi_20142916_en.pdf
2. Backlash http://www.backlash-uk.org.uk is a campaign defending freedom of sexual expression.
3. http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/internet/explicit-material-vod.pdf
4. Myles Jackman is a consultant solicitor at top-tier civil liberties law firm Hodge Jones and Allen LLP; former winner of the Law Society’s Junior Lawyer of The Year excellence award 2012; blogs at http://obscenitylawyer.blogspot.co.uk/ and tweets at @obscenitylawyer; and successfully acted in the notable obscenity cases: #PornTrial #ObscenityTrial and #TwinkTrial as well as challenging the law with #TigerPorn.
5. More details of the regulation can be read in this note on an ATVOD briefing. This includes discussion of explicit sexual acts. http://www.backlash-uk.org.uk/beyond-r18-verboten/

Judicial Review of ‘extreme images’ law

Backlash Media Information: Monday 27th October 2014

“Tiger porn” victim requests human rights review of “extreme pornography” law by Crown Prosecution Service

The law penalising possession of “extreme pornography” faces judicial review by a defendant previously charged with having a video of woman having sex with a tiger.

It was revealed in Court that the tiger was actually a man in a tiger-skin costume.

Yet the former defendant, Andrew Holland, of Wrexham, North Wales, suffered significant disruption to his life and widespread public ridicule.

Solicitor Myles Jackman at Hodge Jones & Allen LLP acting on behalf of Mr Holland, said:

“Mr Holland does not want others to go through the ordeal that he has faced. Mr Holland wants to ensure that others are not prosecuted unnecessarily in the manner that he was. He remains subject to the risk of further criminal charges in the event that he is in possession of similar joke images in the future.”

Consequently Backlash have written to the Prime Minister, and HJA have written to Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions asking her to review the implementation of this law: Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.

“Something has gone badly wrong when Parliament were told there would be thirty cases a year yet there have been thousands of costly prosecutions” emphasised Backlash Chair Hazel Eraclaeous.

If this review is not forthcoming, the law will be challenged by way of judicial review in the Administrative Court of the High Court.

Jon Fuller, spokesperson for Backlash, said:

“This law threatens anyone with a sex life they want to keep private. It threatens ordinary members of the public who exchange dirty jokes by phone and over the internet. Potentially criminalizing millions of people is a disproportionate consequence of a law not based on harm and with no clear benefit.”

Contact

Myles Jackman, Backlash legal adviser & solicitor at HJA: 07791 436 100 – law@mylesjackman.com

Jon Fuller, Backlash spokesperson: 07951 570 784 – contact@backlash-uk.org.uk

Notes for Editors:

1. Backlash is an umbrella campaign providing academic campaigning and legal resources in defence of freedom of sexual expression.

2. Hodge Jones & Allen LLP is a Tier 1 firm for civil liberties and criminal defence.

3. A commentary by Myles Jackman aka @ObscenityLawyer is available here:

http://obscenitylawyer.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/tiger-porn-victim-bites-back.html

4. The full text of the letters are available here:

To the Prime Minister

http://www.backlash-uk.org.uk/pm141024/

Letter before Action to CPS

http://www.backlash-uk.org.uk/cpslba141020/

5. Andrew Holland’s case can be read here:

http://www.backlash-uk.org.uk/press/appearances-and-statements/tiger-porn/

6. More details of the “extreme pornography” ban can be read here including currentCPS guidance:

http://www.backlash-uk.org.uk/the-law/

Ofcom Spanked

Dominatrix Beats Regulator into Submission; Ofcom deliver judicious spanking to ATVOD.

A rattling good yarn. And a good laugh. If you’re being zealously regulated, contact Backlash. More coverage of ATVOD can be found at The Independent and Wired

Employment issues

Margaret Corvid in the New Statesman examines what can happen when kinky private lives are made public. More details here

On Cultural Harm and Pornographic Diversity

Jude Roberts has a significant post on the problematic concept of ‘cultural harm’, which is frequently used as a justification for censoring pornography, especially in the absence of evidence that pornography is associated with more concrete harms against people. Part of her argument links ‘cultural harm’ to the disproportionate focus of censors on media produced by women and sexual minorities, citing a recent victory against Atvod supported by Backlash:

While most pornography does in fact strive to represent women’s sexual pleasure (realistically depicted or otherwise), the censorship of pornography is disproportionately levelled against women (alongside gay men: see for example, the disproportionate prosecution of representations of gay male sex for breaching the Obscene Publications Act) who are working explicitly to bring women’s sexual pleasure to the fore.

A good example of this is the recent (ultimately successful) battle by Itziar Bilbao Urrutia, creator of the Urban Chick Supremacy Cell (UC-SC), against the Authority for Television on Demand (ATVoD). ATVoD’s role is as a regulator of video-on-demand content, delegated by Ofcom. They are responsible for ensuring that on-demand content doesn’t breach the Communications Act 2003, as amended by the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2009 and the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2010. Interestingly, ATVoD’s Chief Executive appears also to see their role as enforcing the Obscene Publications Act and having been overruled by Ofcom in their attempted regulation of Playboy TV (on the basis of most of the editorial work taking place overseas) seem to have firmly committed themselves to the pursuit of Femdom (female domination themed) pornography. Urrutia’s work blurs the (supposedly) clean-cut category boundaries between art and pornography (and according to ATVoD, between internet pornography and video-on-demand services like BBC iplayer), but crucially UC-SC focuses primarily (even exclusively) on women’s sexual pleasure, deliberately deconstructing precisely the kind of fantasies so often identified as problematically underpinning mainstream pornography (whether they do or not is a whole other question).

Read the whole post here.

New Statesman: The allure of the closet: is kink only sexy when it is underground?

Margaret Corvid discusses the kink closet, and Backlash’s work protecting the employment rights and family lives of people with a kinky private sex life:

“People who are outed risk losing their professional and social status; access to their children; and, in extreme cases, going to prison for having engaged in consensual adult activities in private. This raises significant civil liberties issues regarding the right to a private life, as guaranteed by law,” says Myles Jackman, an incisive, eloquent barrister who frequently advises Backlash, a campaigning group which fights for the right to freedom of sexual expression. In speaking to Backlash, I heard about employees hounded out of their jobs and parents losing their children. Backlash regularly hears from those affected by discrimination, and has been able to help many of them, but even those who have won their struggles have been traumatised, and many still require medication for stress; most wouldn’t talk to a reporter.

Read the full article here

Independent: Web dominatrix wins David and Goliath battle with regulators

A dominatrix whose website provides paid-for bondage and sadomasochistic content has won her David-and-Goliath battle against a quango’s attempts to regulate her site in the same way as ITV Player.

Lawyers representing Ms Itziar Bilbao Urrutia, who runs the website The Urban Chick Supremacy Cell (UCSC), declared the ruling “a massive victory for freedom of sexual and artistic expression”.

Read more at the Independent

  • 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.