Sunday, September 24, 2006

Extreme Pornography

Here's a cause that is close to my heart, and incorporates both sex and death nicely. The death was that of Jane Longhurst, a schoolteacher in Brighton, England. Ms Longhurst was strangled with a pair of tights by a man named Graham Coutts, a sales rep and neck fetishist.

Coutts claimed that her death was accidental, and had been caused during a bout of breath play while they were having sex, a practice that he had performed with previous sexual partners. He hid the body for 5 weeks and then burned it, which didn't help his case much.

Another thing which seems not to have helped his case much was his predeliction for web sites showing images of asphyxial sex and strangulation which was brought up during the trial.

He was duly sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 30 years. You can read the local paper's version here.

However, when referred to the House of Lords, the conviction was judged unsafe, as the option of finding him guilty of negligent manslaughter hadn't been offered to the jury in the first trial. The trial has therefore restarted. You can read the pop version of it here or the official version, here. The wheels of justice grind slow, but they grind exceeding fine.

Enter Mrs Liz Longhurst, mother of the deceased. Mrs Longhurst firmly believes that it was the violent internet porn that Coutts was interested in that caused him to murder her daughter. Mrs Longhurst duly set about lobbying the government to prevent people in Britain from looking at these sort of images on the web. She even presented the government with a petition with 50,000 signatures on it, agreeing with her.

So far so good.

The British government responded with a consultation on a new law which would outlaw images of sexual violence, necrophilia and beastiality (a.k.a Extreme Pornography) on the web. In essence it proposes a prison sentence of up to 3 years for even looking at an image of this type, with worryingly vague definitions of what 'this type' of image might be. Even if it's legal to actually do. Even if its been faked up, or the participants are acting. Even if it's you and your wife.

So what's wrong with this?

Firstly the consultation document is deeply flawed. It asserts that there is no causal link between viewing images of Extreme Pornography and actually performing illegal acts. It then proposes to make them illegal anyway.

It consistently and deliberately proposes an equivalence between Child Pornography and Extreme Pornography, when none exists, as a justification for the new law.

Lastly, even though the majority of responses to the consultation were against the proposal, the government claims that most people were in favour of it. Mind you, the government won't actually post the responses on the web. My full response to the consultation can be found here.

Now you may not be the sort of person who is interested in necrophilia, beastiality or sexual violence. To be honest I don't suppose anyone is interested in all of these. But a lot of people are interested in BDSM. A 1981 study from Indiana University states that 4.5% of the straight population are into BDSM, 26% if you're gay. In Britain, that's around 2 million adults.

A lot of them will have pictures of their activities. If this law goes through, all these people, who have harmed no-one, and merely engaged in lawful, consensual sex will be threatened with having their homes raided, their computers seized, their liberty removed, and their names permanently on the sex offenders register. This matters, even if you're not personally interested in Extreme Pornography.

Mind you, If you're John Beyer of Mediawatch, you think this doesn't go far enough. That's a whole other story.

Lots of discussion about this on the web. A group of concerned citizens have started up Backlash to give the government a spanking. Other good starting points are the activism board on informed consent, and I like melonfarmers.

Update: Today is Blogging for Backlash day, and this post is linked on their site. Check out all the other blogs and discussions.

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