(Cross-posted from Gloria Brame's blog.)
Last September, Gloria wrote about a proposal for a new law in Britain:
Viewing vile images of rape and sexual torture will become a criminal offence for the first time, it was confirmed today.
Possession of so-called "violent and extreme pornography" will carry up to three years imprisonment.....
It would cover, for example, violence that is - or appears to be - life-threatening or is likely to result in "serious and disabling injury"....
One so-called BDSM group - representing people who engage in bondage, domination and sado-masochism - wrote: "The theory that people should be punished for viewing an image that simply involves the idea of sexuality with violence... shows the proposal being made is to introduce a form of 'thought crime'."
The new offence will apply to England and Wales. Plans are being made to extend it to Northern Ireland and the Scottish Executive will announce its plans separately....
In November 2006 the UK Government used the Queen's Speech to announce their intention to create a new criminal offence making the possession of "violent and extreme pornography" punishable by up to three years' imprisonment. The Bill has not yet been brought before Parliament, but the Spanner Trust is concerned that the current proposals do not distinguish between real or staged acts, or consensual versus non consensual activities. Images of consensual SM scenes may well be caught up in the ban.
On the 5th March 2007 a member of the Home Office said that the Bill will be introduced "in the Spring" but also that "nothing was imminent". As soon as the Bill is introduced we would like as many people as possible to contact their MP, by letter, email or telephone but preferably by going along to see him or her personally in their surgery in their constituency, and urge them to object to the new proposed law. For more information on the campaign against the proposals please visit www.backlash-uk.org.uk
As misguided laws often do, this one sprang from a criminal case that excited public outrage:
[Graham] Coutts, 36, of Waterloo Street, Hove, East Sussex, allegedly strangled 31-year-old [Jane] Longhurst, a special needs teacher originally from Reading, Berkshire, with a pair of tights in March 2003.
Her death took place just hours after Coutts viewed internet porn sites such as "necrobabes" and "hangingbitches", his trial heard.
Chief executive of the new Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Jim Gamble, said of today's measures: "Legislation is only truly effective if it develops step by step with technological advances.
"Today starts to answer that need in respect of how the internet can be used to supplement this area of criminality."
Mr. Coutts had his conviction reversed on appeal, and is awaiting retrial, because the original trial did not permit the jury to choose manslaughter, a lesser offense, instead of just murder. Based on my reading of the articles, though, it seems Mr. Coutts did have a necrophilia fetish, and in fact visited Jane Longhurst's corpse several times over a period of weeks before dumping it. All of which has little, if anything, to do with whether S&M porn should be legal, of course.
The British Home Office published a paper (.pdf) that laid out in detail what the ban would cover:
15. In summary, material would need to be:
(c) real or appears to be real act (these would be objective tests for the jury)
16. It would cover:
(i) serious violence*
(ii) intercourse or oral sex with an animal
(iii) sexual interference with a human corpse
*by serious violence we mean appears to be life threatening or likely to result in serious, disabling injury.
The Home Office paper also laid out the objections:
Opposition to the proposals was expressed by a number of sexual freedom organisations (such as the Spanner Trust, Unfettered, the Sexual Freedom Coalition, SM Pride and others), several BDSM-related businesses, anticensorship organisations (e.g. Feminists Against Censorship, Ofwatch, Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties), and some IT-related organisations.
Among the arguments those groups made:
A majority of those responding in detail to the Consultation as individuals opposed the proposals. Many of these referred to BDSM practices, expressing concern that a large number of law-abiding citizens who consensually engaged in such practices in private or in like-minded groups, and who circulated the associated images, would be criminalised by the proposed laws. ...
Most BDSM-affiliated respondents considered that these offences would not only proscribe certain images but would effectively criminalise their sexual lives:
“The theory that people should be punished for viewing an image that simply involves the idea of sexuality with violence (rather than a real instantiation of it) shows the proposal being made is to introduce a form of ‘thought crime’.”
“Criminalising the possession of material relating to a person’s own sexuality amounts to criminalising that sexuality itself by the back door.”
In other words, the kinksters argued, depictions of real violence could be banned, but depictions of fantasy violence was an unwarranted attack on BDSM as a whole.
Arguments for the proposed legislation should sound familiar, since they've been made in the U.S., too:
This imagery provides the cultural backdrop against which the abuse of women is mainstream and endemic. Legislation to strengthen the possibility of prosecution in this area would send out a strong signal of disapproval to the individuals who believe that easy accessibility equals an acceptance of their behaviour.
The director of the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University reiterated this, pointing to its own research, training and consultancy for almost 20 years, and asserted that:
“Adult pornography in its extreme forms should be considered in the same way that child pornography is – a record of sexual abuse…Our interest has never been in ‘proving’ direct causal links between pornography and specific acts of sexual violence, although there certainly is strong evidence with respect to individual cases, but to suggest that the existence and now virtual ubiquity of pornography creates a cultural context which devalues women’s humanity and dignity…Government is right to argue that it does not need proof that images of torture and degradation are corrupting and may affect behaviour.” (Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at LMU)
This is pretty unambiguous: The censors don't care if there is any actual evidence of a causal connection between porn and violence against women, they just "know" it causes it. And even worse, the censors say that depictions of S&M are exactly the same ethically as child porn, because they "know" masochism cannot be consensual.
I don't see any further news on the progress of the bill in the British Parliament. As of May 9th, it was still pending to be introduced in the House of Commons. I will try to find out where things stand from backlash. I would appreciate it if anyone in Britain would comment with any news.