A criminally misguided and irresponsible law

And so back to extreme porn. Yesterday was a milestone in two senses. First, after long and uninformed gestation, the Scottish Parliament finally followed in Westminster’s footsteps, and passed its own law against extreme porn.

Like its English counterpart, it breaks new legal ground, making it a criminal offence to possess pictures of adults doing things they are perfectly entitled to do to one another with mutual consent – thereby scoring the remarkable own goal of making it less risky, legally, to act out fantasy than to limit oneself to reading about it.

It is “tougher” than the English version, adding provisions around realistic rape scenes. However, if the English experience is anything to go by, it will rapidly turn into an act for the prosecution of animal lovers (and I do mean “lovers”!).

The inclusion of dead animals brings to mind a story reported some years back in the Times, in which a man was reported to have been discovered having sex with a frozen chicken. Since said bird was later destined to become Sunday lunch, this act therefore became grounds for divorce – though it was not otherwise illegal. However, owning a picture of that act is now a criminal offence in England – and very soon in Scotland too.

Yesterday I sent off a briefing note to MSP Patrick Harvie – almost the sole voice of reason on this issue in the Scottish Parliament. In putting together my note, I was struck by how the argument has moved on. A year ago, it was all theory and civil rights. Now, with 18 months of cases to look at – I possess what is probably the UK’s only database of such – some patterns are beginning to emerge.

Remember the outward reason given for this law? That this would be a suitable memorial to Jane Longhurst by deterring asphyxiation porn? Sorry: such cases appear to be vanishingly thin on the ground. In fact, with nearly 50 cases now through or in the system, it is clear that one category of porn NOT being prosecuted much is human-on-human porn.

Over 90% of prosecutions are in respec t of bestial imagery. Over 90% are add-on charges, where an individual is already in the frame for far more serious offences. Most are not defended. Where they are – as incidents in Mold suggest – they are embarrassing for the authorities.

Talking to lawyers and legal experts, it is clear that a major breach of civil liberties has been effected – yet next to nothing of what was intended has been achieved. On the plus side, there appear to be only a few instances of police and prosecution abusing the law – though on the evidence to date, there have been such cases.

Meanwhile, some web sites providing safety advice for what is essentially a dangerous sport (bdsm) have packed up. In a week when the media are salivating over the possibility of a bdsm-related death in Belgium, the idea that we need LESS safety in this area is just bonkers.

The sane and safe thing for the Scottish Parliament to do was wait and review the evidence that now exists. That they haven’t says a lot about the recklessness of the politicans involved.

Secondly, I feel increasingly sorry for Liz Longhurst, who campaigned for this law. The more one reads her views, the more she seems to have been co-opted unwittingly by Labour’s control-freak tendency. There is a good example of this in yesterday’s Reading Post – one-time cheerleader for Liz and her law – conflating extreme porn and child porn, as well as reporting approvingly on police seizure of cartoon images.

Note to editor: it is not actually illegal to possess such images. Is this appallingly mis-leading piece due to ignorance on their part – or deliberately wrong and inflammatory. I shall ask. Or is this, perhaps the next “loophole” the moral majority intend to go after?

Having outlawed the possession of realistic images of legal acts (because this was a “loophole”) , the last parliament then outlawed unreal (cartoon) images of illegal acts. This, of course, creates a new “loophole” – and it wouldn’t be surprising if this is next target on the list.

Meanwhile, I remain thoroughly puzzled as to why the Reading Press should bring in Liz Longhurst to pontificate on the nature of a man who appears to have been into child abuse and animal porn – neither of which categories are believed to have featured much – or at all – in the murder of her daughter.

Sorry, Liz. You suffered an immense tragedy – but that does not make you a legal expert. It is very clear, from what you now write, that you don’t quite grasp what you and your fellow-censors achieved.

You’ve stopped nothing: but you have made the world a far more dangerous place.

That is not the sort of memorial I would wish on anyone.


About janefae

On my way from here to there
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4 Responses to A criminally misguided and irresponsible law

  1. Lisa says:

    An interesting read Jane, but you do realise that journalists report on the court case factually, it’s highly unlikely that there is anything in the article that is due to ignorance on the law on the part of the journalist. If you disagree with the verdict and whether or not it’s within the boundaries of that particular law, I suggest you take it up with the judge, rather than point the finger at the paper?

    • janefae says:

      Ye-es. Since i also report on court cases, i am well aware of the protocols here. The bit that is misleading – and possibly deliberately so – is the conflation of child porn and extreme porn. These are two totally separate areas in law and the journalist, if they have covered this issue before (or even the parliamentary debates on the topic) should be well aware that the difference between the two is a highly contentious point.

      That is: some proponents of the extreme porn law would argue a linkage; opponents would say that there is no proven link whatsoever and that to link the two is simply propagandising for the censorship lobby.

      Now re-read the piece. The lede par refers to “extreme child porn photographs”, which is at least a confusing meld of the two laws. Child porn – or rather, as both police and IWF guidelines request it be referred to – “child abuse material” comes graded according to five levels of seriousness, with level five the most serious or most extreme.

      Since the piece later states there were “714 child sex photos, some at level four”, i am inclined to suspect that the claim of hundreds of extreme child porn photos is suspect. If there were hundreds, i would write “many” – not “some”.

      In essence, the law makes a distinction that the Reading Post has failed to observe. It refers to “child porn”, even though journalists are asked not to do so: it then brings Liz Longhurst in to talk about the case – although what child porn and bestial images have/had to do with her daughter’s murder i do not know.

      Given the local interest, the Post obviously have a bee in their bonnet about ep: they and their readers would be better served if they returned to straight factual reporting, rather than bending the case to fit their prejudices.


  2. Pingback: Scottish Parliament passes “extreme porn” law

  3. Laura says:

    Hi Jane, I am a student currently writing my dissertation on the extreme pornography legislation. Your work has been a great help to be so far but I was hoping you would be able to point me in the right direction to finding more information on prosecutions that have taken place so far (numbers, outcomes etc)? Thanks, Laura

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