‘Extreme pornography’ ban useless for tackling violence against women, dangerous for civil liberties
Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on Internet pornography, Backlash urges the Government to reject recent unfounded calls to expand the definition of extreme images to cover so called ‘rape pornography’ and to abolish existing extreme pornography legislation.
Backlash notes that pornography of all kinds has become much more accessible in the years 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 mistaken to suggest that pornography is a cause or contributor to violence against women. Serious academic studies of pornography and sexual violence show that increased availability of pornography is, in fact, associated with less violence and abuse.
Backlash notes that fictional and consensual portrayals of rape are a common and popular sexual fantasy, and that fantasising about violent sexual acts does not pose a risk to women, or the general public. Criminalising the intimate thoughts of loving and law-abiding individuals is bad public policy.
Banning ‘rape porn’ exposes women as much as men to having their private sexual feelings examined and shamed in public. This could be psychologically traumatising for women who download pornography, as well as men. Ordinary people could, due to their fantasies, be forced to associate with real sex offenders, either in sex offender treatment programmes, which are inappropriate for people who pose no real harm to the public, or in prison.
The most notable use of the extreme pornography legislation so far was the prosecution of Simon Walsh, a former aide to Boris Johnson, whose practice had included prosecuting corruption within British police forces. His career in public life was derailed by a prosecution that 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.
No evidence has been presented that the thousands of other prosecutions for extreme pornography have contributed in any way to tackling sexual abuse that might in some way justify the manifest harms that the law has caused.
The ban on ‘extreme pornography’, just like the ban on homosexuality before 1967, is an invitation to blackmail. The careers of public officials can be destroyed not by their actions in office, but by their intimate feelings and personal lives. Such legislation also allows ordinary members of the public to be made the victim of malicious allegations that waste police time and prosecution resources.
The ‘extreme porn’ ban poses a greater threat to the morality and stability of this society than the speculative harms of possessing images merely depicting violence.