Myles Jackman: Don’t criminalise the selfie-generation

Cross-posted from Myles Jackman

By criminalising young people between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, our political and justice systems show how disconnected they are from technological change and social values, which is especially worrying so close to an election where politicians have been exploiting selfie culture.

After an NSPCC survey claimed, earlier this month, that a tenth of twelve to thirteen year olds had reported the ‘fear’ that they were ‘addicted’ to pornography, the Culture Secretary pronounced that the Conservatives would impose age-restrictions to “protect our children from harmful material”. Three problems presented themselves.

Firstly, Culture Secretary Sajid Javid’s suggested ‘solution’ of credit card age-verification turned out to be unfeasible, since children over the age of fourteen but under eighteen can be added to an adult guarantor’s account as an additional cardholder. Or perhaps simply beg, borrow or steal an adult’s credit card.

Secondly, as Frankie Mullin identified in VICE, the ‘unsettling headlines’ that the NSPCC’s ‘inflammatory findings’ generated were founded on dodgy data. The survey was merely an opinion poll, conducted by OnePoll: a self-proclaimed “creative market research” group, who have been criticised for presenting the type of “dishonest marketing concocted by PR firms” as genuine research.

Finally, as Jerry Barnett of the Sex & Censorship campaign suggested in a letter published in The Independent, the NSPCC had relied on contentious concepts like ‘porn addiction’ to deliberately manufacture “a moral panic”. In his response to these accusations, the NSPCC CEO Peter Wanless did not even attempt to refute them.

Read the rest of the article here

Guardian: Sexting could see teenagers branded as sex offenders

Damien Gayle covers Backlash’s warning that ‘criminalising 16- to 18-year-olds for sending explicit pictures to one another shows how disconnected the political establishment is from changes to technology and social values’.

Read his article here

 

 

Major political parties fail to halt mass criminalisation of young people

Civil liberties campaign opposes labelling teen ‘sexters’ as sex offenders

A politically charged moral panic over young people’s attitudes to sexuality is leading to Internet censorship and the labelling of ordinary young people as sex offenders, civil liberties campaign Backlash warns today.

Backlash will campaign for a change in the law so that prosecutions intended to halt child abuse are not used to instigate the abuse of children through the criminal justice system.

Backlash Action

Backlash is extending its remit to provide legal advice for young people who are threatened with criminal prosecution for possessing sexually explicit images of themselves and shared consensually on digital media.

The campaign will help fund effective defences when support available under legal aid is inadequate, and develop arguments for a judicial review of existing legislation.

Backlash will also disseminate a growing body of robust academic research evidence to policymakers, challenging the current legislative process, which is dominated by a climate of ignorance and hysteria regarding young people’s attitudes to sexual relationships.

This campaign is spearheaded by obscenity law expert and Backlash’s legal adviser, Myles Jackman.

‘Sexting’ – criminalising ordinary young people

Millions of young people exchange explicit texts and images with each other over the Internet. For the most part this is equivalent to the flirting and sexual exploration typical of adolescence in the pre-digital age. There is no evidence that these activities are intrinsically harmful. However, a flaw in existing legislation means that possession of all sexually explicit images of people under 18 is classified as ‘indecent’. This means that people from the age of 16 to 18 are able to consent to sex, but are unable to possess images of their own lawful sexual activities.

A 16 to 18 year old that creates a nude picture of themselves using a camera-phone is, under current law, guilty of the serious offence of creating ‘child pornography’, even though their actions do not plausibly justify such a label.

When the authorities detect these images, teenagers themselves become subject to laws originally aimed at stopping child abuse, even though no abuse has taken place. These prosecutions cause immense mental distress and disruption to education. A prosecution, regardless of the sentencing outcome, severely harms the future life prospects of young people. For example, ordinary teenagers, who pose no harm to those around them, can still be forced to sign the sex offenders’ register and prevented from participating in a broad range of employment, civic and personal activities years after the offence has been recorded.

Inappropriate criminalisation is a significant danger for ordinary young people growing up in the digital age, made worse by the fact that the source of the danger is the criminal justice system.

Porn panic – a cross-party delusion

Instead of tackling this flawed legislation to focus on acts of abuse, major political parties have been caught in an arms race towards more criminalisation and censorship of people’s sexuality. This process has been fostered by knee-jerk responses to pressure groups that ignore academic research evidence into young people’s sexuality and use of sexually explicit media.

An NSPCC survey claimed, earlier this month, that a tenth of twelve to thirteen year olds had reported the ‘fear’ that they were ‘addicted’ to pornography. The survey has since been exposed as unreliable, as it was a developed by a marketing company that offers to produce survey outcomes based on pre-defined conclusions.

Nevertheless, the Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, pronounced that the Conservatives would impose age-restrictions to “protect our children from harmful material”. This pledge was almost immediately matched by the Labour Party. Such an approach ignores alternative approaches, including providing effective sex education to young people.

Myles Jackman commented: ‘By criminalising young people between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, our political and justice systems show how disconnected they are from technological change and social values, which is especially worrying so close to an election where politicians have been exploiting selfie culture.’

For more information, contact:

Myles Jackman (legal adviser): 07791 436 100   law@mylesjackman.com

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. Myles Jackman is a solicitor advocate and expert in Obscenity Law. For more background, visit his professional website.
3. Jackman’s commentary on the criminalisation of teenage ‘sexting’ and moral panic driven legislation can be read here.

Myles Jackman – new website launch

Myles Jackman, solicitor advocate and legal adviser to Backlash, has launched a new website dedicated to advice on sexual freedom and the law. Jackman has frequently provided pro bono work for individuals caught up in laws regulating sex acts, and their depictions, between consenting adults. He also has expertise advising commercial producers on obscenity law.

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

  • 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.