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

Dominatrix beats online video regulator into submission

Ofcom spanks its internet video agency, ATVOD, for treating a small independent erotic website like a competitor to TV.

A dominatrix and performance artist dealt a blow to the Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD) this week when Ofcom ruled that her website was not subject to their regulation. Itziar Bilbao Urrutia is a producer of The Urban Chick Supremacy Cell (UC-SC), a website that publishes video performances mixing erotic scenarios with social commentary. Scenarios include contrived scenes of kidnapping corrupt bankers and other high-powered businessman.

In June 2013 she was threatened with legal action and fines if she did not pay a fee to ATVOD, a private company with delegated authority from Ofcom to regulate online videos. Ms Urrutia was advised by sexual liberties campaign Backlash and their legal adviser, obscenity law expert, Myles Jackman.

ATVOD persisted, so Backlash via Hodge Jones Allen partner Daniel Godden instructed Ligia Osepciu of Monckton’s to prepare a formal appeal to Ofcom. The appeal was successful. In a decision released this week Ofcom sided with Ms Urrutia, slapping down their own subordinate and limiting ATVOD’s jurisdiction to websites that provide more obviously ‘TV-like’ content.

ATVOD’s legitimate area of regulation remains a value judgement, continuing a worrying level of uncertainty for Britain’s media producers.

Ligia Osepciu, the barrister who drafted the appeal, commented: ‘Ofcom’s carefully reasoned decision gives proper effect to the AVMS Directive as an instrument of economic and competition regulation rather than a vehicle for moral legislation’.

UCSC producer Itziar Bilbao Urrutia said: ‘I’m so glad we won after such a stressful year. In Britain authority is usually so uptight about sex, especially these days, with the shock of the new that still surrounds technologies such as the internet’

‘We’re also delighted to have had Atvod’s endorsement as being a site of significance. We are militant female supremacists, but I must concede that the patriarchy has its uses’.




Notes for Editors:

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

2.    Myles Jackman specialises in sexual obscenity cases and is the legal adviser to Backlash. He was the Law Society’s Junior Lawyer of the Year in 2012. He blogs as Obscenity Lawyer.

3.    Myles Jackman’s commentary on the case has been published here.

4.    Ofcom’s judgement is available in full here.

5.    ATVOD is the independent co-regulator for UK video on demand services. Its powers derive from the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive via the Communications Act 2003, as amended by the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2009 and the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2010.

6.    The Urban Chick Supremacy Cell is an art project designed, produced and created by real life dominant women where all violence and speech are part of a fictionalized dystopian Femdom fantasy. It is an adults-only website that is accessible here. A non-explicit splash image for viewing and re-use is here.

7. Ligia Osepciu specialises in competition law, public procurement, telecommunications and utilities regulation. In the telecommunications field, she has advised and represented a number of private parties in relation to challenges against the regulatory decisions of PhonepayPlus and ATVOD. She also recently acted for the successful appellant in the BT plc v Telefonica et al (2014) UKSC 42, a case concerning the scope of Ofcom’s powers under section 185 of the Communications Act 2003.

Index on Censorship: Criminalising Kink

Jonathan Lindsell provides an excellent overview of recent moves to extend the extreme pornography ban and other attempts to stifle freedom of sexual expression by the current Government. Backlash is quoted as follows:

[C]ampaigners contend the draft law’s language is too ambiguous. A policy researcher from anti-censorship organisation Backlash argues: “The law will cover much more than the legislators imagine or intend.” Passing this law as an appendage in a “bumper bill (that includes) lots of legitimate concerns – a radical overhaul of probation and legal aid – (means this) very delicate matter isn’t getting appropriate democratic oversight”.

Backlash legal adviser, Myles Jackman, also discusses the problems with the proposed amendment:

Solicitor Myles ‘ObscenityLawyer’ Jackman, who represented Walsh, highlights the dangerous subjectivity of judging pornography “realistic”, plus the “absence of any evidence proving…a causal link” between such material and Cameron’s “normalise(d) sexual violence against women”.

Backlash submits written evidence to Criminal Justice and Courts Bill Committee

Backlash has submitted expert evidence in response to an amendment in the new Criminal Justice and Courts bill expanding the definition of extreme pornography to include fictional portrayals of rape. The summary argument is as follows:

The amendment to ban ‘rape pornography’ risks criminalising more than a million otherwise law-abiding people in the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, there is no evidence of any corresponding public benefit from the proposed prohibition. Conversely there is a strong risk (based on our experience with the present extreme pornography offences contained within S63 (7) of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008), that any such prosecutions will be disproportionally deployed against sexual minorities; at significant cost to public funds that could be spent investigating crimes that provably harm the general public.

There is a significant amount of bondage themed material catering for those who enjoy submissive fantasies. Fantasy and fictional portrayals of ‘forced’ sex, which are likely to be the vast majority of images criminalised under the proposed amendment, are too commonly enjoyed to be reasonably subject to prohibition.

Hence we propose the amendment should either be rejected, or limited in scope to only prohibit images that are provably produced in circumstances where there is an absence of consent (either to the acts portrayed in the images or dissemination of the images themselves).

Should the legislation be enacted, we would therefore appeal for absolute clarity in the meaning and operation of the law: to enable the public to identify the difference between an “act which ‘realistically’ depicts rape” and the huge quantity of material that depicts sex and bondage.

The full submission can be read at Parliament’s website.

Letter to MPs on Criminalising “Rape Porn”

This week, the following letter was sent to a number of MPs and Lords, to raise concerns over the planned “rape porn” legislation. This was sent on behalf of Backlash and an alliance of other sexual freedom campaigns: Sex & Censorship, Consenting Adult Action Network, Campaign Against Censorship and the Sexual Freedom Coalition.

We write to express grave concern regarding S16 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill which will extend the existing ban on extreme pornography (S63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act). This section is poorly defined. It will have the unintended consequence of criminalising the possession of material that depicts consensual sex, bondage and power-play fantasies common to millions.

Pornography of all kinds has become much more accessible since the Internet has become available to the general public. In that time, the prevalence of sexual abuse has not increased in the United Kingdom and may have decreased. It is simplistic & mistaken to suggest that pornography is a cause of violence against women. Correlation is not causation. Serious academic studies of pornography and sexual violence (1) show that increased availability of pornography is, in fact, associated with less violence and abuse.

Fictional and consensual portrayals of submission and domination are a common and popular sexual fantasy, as recently illustrated by the Fifty Shades of Grey novels. Indeed one of the largest surveys ever undertaken in Britain (2) indicated that nearly a third of us have fantasies about elements of forced sex, with approximately 2.2 million men and women having violent sexual fantasies. With around 90% of men and 60% of women viewing pornography, and with so many enjoying fantasies of this nature, the danger is that this poorly defined legislation will have a huge impact.

The Bill’s Impact Assessment suggests that the number of cases cannot be predicted. When extreme material was criminalised (by S63(7) CJIA 2008) government ministers predicted there would only be 30 cases a year, but the reality was very different. In the last year for which the MoJ has provided data (2012/13), there were 1,348 prosecutions. Given that the number of people who enjoy material that features sexual bondage and power-play is so high, we fear government will create thousands of new sex offenders, most of whom will be entirely harmless law-abiding citizens.

There is also a problem with government guidance for the public and prosecutors. Just prior to the enactment of S63(7) CJIA 2008, in response to reservations, the House of Lords was promised that meaningful guidance would be issued to explain those categories that were difficult to define. This never happened. In fact prosecutors were so unsure of the meaning of the law that there have been some trials of material which we are confident Parliament never intended. For example, the prosecution of barrister Simon Walsh, a former aide to Boris Johnson, whose legal practice had included investigating corruption within British police forces. His career in public life was ruined by a prosecution. It was rejected by a jury after 90 minutes deliberation. Prosecutors failed to prove that images depicting consensual sex acts between him and two other gay men were ‘extreme’.

The prosecution also threatened the reputation of the Crown Prosecution Service as an impartial public servant by showing that gay men risked having their lives destroyed in court over intimate acts which were consensual, safe and commonly practiced within the LGBT community. Bad laws do not harm only the individuals prosecuted; they also harm the institutions tasked with enforcing them, and increase even further the costs of the justice system to the taxpayer. This proposed law will also traumatise large numbers of women and men by having their private sexual fantasies examined and shamed in public.

It is therefore vital that S16 of this Bill be refined to limit the scope of the ban to images that are produced through real harm or lack of consent. Fantasy portrayals of forced/power-play sex are too commonly enjoyed to be reasonably subject to prohibition.

We appeal to you to refine this legislation. We also ask to be permitted to put detailed evidence to Parliament at the committee stages. Finally, we ask if you would be willing to host an event in Parliament, at which representatives could speak, so that members of both Houses can better understand what is at stake.


1. Pornography, Public Acceptance and Sex Related Crime: A Review: 2009: Milton Diamond
2. British Sexual Fantasy Research Project: 2007. ISBN 978-0-713-99940-2

The Moral Panic Film Club – Event Program

The Moral Panic Film Club, February 7th 2014

Where? At The Hackney Attic, 270 Mare Street, London E8 1HE. How to get there: directions.

Tickets are £15 and are available on the Hackney Attic website. Buy your tickets here.



7 pm – Doors open. Welcome, by the Backlash team.  The Hackney Attic comprises a screening room and bar. Meet us and our supporters and allies, while enjoying a drink.

7.30 Video Nasties: Moral panic, Censorship and videotape (2010). Directed by James West. A documentary that analyses the 80’s “moral panic” created by the popularisation of home video and the imagined horrors of making porn accessible to children. The threat of VHS in 1983, the horrors of he internet in 2013… how the shock of the new creates moral panics and absurd legislation in the name of “protecting the children”.

8.45. Panel: with Julian Petley, Ms Tytania, Jerry Barnett and Sarah Harman. Chaired by Myles Jackman, aka Obscenity Lawyer. Scroll down to the bottom of this page, to find out more about the speakers on the “about the speakers” section.

9-30: Break and drinks at the bar.

9-45: Film: The Devils (1971). Starring Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Reed, directed by Ken Russell.

Ken Russell’s controversial take on XVIIth Century witch trials. Never shown in its original, uncensored version, the film suffered substantial cuts by the BBFC, and even more by its distributors, Warner Bros, due to its graphic scenes of a violent, sexual and religious nature.

We will be showing Mark Kermode’s restored version, the closest to the original, uncensored version.

11.30: Music, DJ and drinks.



Jerry Barnett


Jerry Barnett began working with Internet technologies since the 1980s. In the mid-1990s he built one of the first commercial online adult websites, and in 2004 he launched Strictly Broadband, the UK’s most popular adult streaming video service of its time. As he became more concerned about censorship in the UK, he started campaigning to defend free speech and sexual expression. He was forced by new regulations to sell his own sites in 2012, and then founded the Sex & Censorship campaign, which he now runs. He is currently writing a book, Porn Panic, which documents the censorship of sexual expression in the UK. He is also a blogger and photographer.


Sarah Harman


Currently a film PhD candidate at Brunel University’s Screen Media Research Centre, Sarah Harman’s research has the working title of Returning to Roissy: Female Submission and Masochism in adaptations of the Story of O. She is assistant editor of Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media, contributing co-editor of Screening Twilight: Critical Approaches to a Cinematic Phenomenon (I. B. Tauris, forthcoming), contributing co-editor of Sexualities 16 (8) ‘Reading the Fifty Shades Phenomenon’ and editorial board member for Porn Studies.


Julian Petley


Julian Petley is Professor of Screen Media at Brunel University, Chair of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, and a member of the advisory board of Index on Censorship. His recent publications include Film and Video Censorship in Modern Britain, and The Media and Public Shaming. He was interviewed for the Video Nasties documentary, where he appears, because he was involved in campaigning against the Video Recordings Act right from the start, and against its amendment in the wake of the murder of James Bulger.

Ms Tytania


Ms Tytania is a London based fetish performer and producer and also a writer and visual artist, with an MA from Goldsmith College and 12 years experience in the adult industry. She established herself as an independent video producer with her project The Urban Chick Supremacy Cell (warning: NSFW) in 2010. This project, an adult members’ website,  is a fictional female supremacist terror cell that combines Femdom and feminism and uses the fetish porn genre to challenge the traditional, male-centred representation of female sexual dominance in the adult industry. Ms Tytania is currently in the research stages for a PhD proposal on the invisibility of female sexual dominance in the realm of culture. She has also spoken conferences such as:

Performing Porn – After the computer became boring. Organised by Sarah Harman, 2013.

Eroticon 2013 – Sex bloggers Conference organized by eroticnotebook.co.uk.

Sex on Trial – Organised by Meg Barker and Lisal Downing. London, 2011.

Porn Cultures – Regulation, Political Economy and Regulation, University of Leeds, 2009.

She has had her work as a visual artist exhibited at several major museums and galleries.


The talk will be chaired by

Myles Jackman 


Law Society Junior Lawyer of the Year. Solicitor-Advocate specialising in Obscenity and Extreme Pornography @HodgeJonesAllen Pro sexual liberties. Defended #PornTrial #ObscenityTrial #TigerPornCase http://bit.ly/rP7FCd Blogs own opinions. Pro sexual liberties. Follow me on twitter – @ObscenityLawyer and facebook – Obscenity Lawyer.

Backlash’s Moral Panic Film Club – 7 Feb 2014

BL MPFC Banner 2

Update, 19th January – The full event program can be found here: The Moral Panic Film Club – Program

Did you know that you could potentially be prosecuted for taking consensual, private pictures of yourself or your partner, if the government deems them to be obscene?

Join us in an evening of disgust and moral panic to raise funds to support Backlash UK’s academic, legal and campaigning resources defending freedom of sexual expression and the right to personal privacy.

The evening will consist of film, talks and round table discussions by specialists including our solicitors, external campaigners and academics, then music and drinks until closing time!

When: Friday, February 7th 2014, form 7pm till late.
Where: Hackney Attic, 270 Mare Street, London, E8 1HE

Tickets: available on the Hackney Attic website shortly.
Regular: £15

Buy your ticket online here: http://www.picturehouses.co.uk/cinema/Hackney_Picturehouse/film/Backlash_Moral_Panic_Film_Club

Why a fundraiser? As Backlash becomes better known, more people are turning to our solicitors for help. Court cases are costly but important affairs, because they ensure that our defendants get a fair trial by being represented by specialist lawyers who defend adult’s freedom of sexual expression; their right to participate in all consensual sexual activities and to watch, read and create any fictional interpretation of such in any media. All money raised will go the increasing amount of court cases that Backlash has been asked to assist with.

The current moral panic has resulted in Backlash’ solicitors’ expertise being increasingly on demand to advise and often, represent, people charged with crimes that go from the possession of extreme images of consenting adults, to OPA charges of creators of artistic content and sexual discrimination at employment tribunals.


(you can vote by posting on the event wall, via Facebook message, email or via Twitter).

1. A Serbian Film
2. Caligula
3. Deep Throat
4. Freaks
5. Dawn Of The Dead
6. Henry – Portrait Of A Serial Killer
7. L’Empire Des Sens (In The Realm Of The Senses)
8. Salo
9. The Devils
10. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
11. Tenebrae
12. The Human Centipede 2

David Cameron: Censorship Creep


2014 will see the roll-out of Cameron’s Interner Filter. Billed as blocking porn, the policy is already being used to restrict access to LGBT health and lifestyle material, child protection websites and other forms of political expression. This was predictable because there is no settled definition of what constitutes pornography. So it is inevitable that the material selected for ‘filtering’ is simply anything perceived to be politically sensitive or deviant. The move is typical of authoritarian regimes that want the power to shut down opposition and alternative voices at a moment’s notice. There is no underlying justification for the policy as there is no good evidence that access to sexually explicit material is harmful to individuals or society.

Laurie Penny has an important round-up in the Guardian. She notes that while governments are keen restrict information access for the general public, they claim unlimited powers to spy on the public‘s viewing habits.

  • 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.