Proposed changes to UK law on ‘extreme’ pornography

The proposed Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill mentioned in the previous post also criminalises ‘extreme’ pornographic images. Under the new Bill, one may be jailed for up to three years for possessing such an image.  The Bill states that an image is pornographic “if it appears to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal”. An “extreme image” is an image of any of the following –
(a) “an act which threatens or appears to threaten a person’s life;
(b) an act which results in or appears to result (or be likely to result) in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals;
(c) an act which involves or appears to involve sexual interference with a human corpse;
(d) a person performing or appearing to perfom an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal,
where (in each case) any such act, person or animal depicted in the image is or appears to be real”.
A common feminist complaint about laws on pornography is that they are always open to interpretation. The new proposals are no exception. What counts as an act that is or appears to be likely to result in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals? Having sex on a kitchen counter, with one’s bottom perilously close to a lit stove, is surely an act that is likely to result in serious injury to one’s anus. But an image of such wanton activity is surely not what one might call extreme pornography. What about fisting? Doctors often tell us that fisting – both anal and vaginal – can result in serious injury to the anus or genitals. Yet there are (many?) people who regularly enjoy consensual bouts of such activity. Will photographs of their fun be deemed criminal? One may also be puzzled as to why it is only likely injury to the anus, breasts and genitals that renders a pornographic image extreme – why are other body parts excluded?

Also troubling is the reference to images which only appear to be real. Suppose, e.g., that a film depicts a scene of kidnap. Must the viewer think that the scene shows a real kidnapping event? Surely most kidnapping films show actors staging a kidnap, and most viewers of such scenes understand this. Must the scene appear lifelike? But then what if a lifelike scene is entirely computer-generated? 

The Bill also excludes an image from being extreme and pornographic if it forms part of a classified work – i.e., a film which receives a classification certificate from the relevant authority – providing that the image hasn’t been extracted for the sole purpose of sexual arousal. In other words, images that would otherwise be criminalised as extreme and pornographic are allowed, so long as they occur as part of a classified film that has some purpose other than sexual arousal. Notice that it is ok for one to get off on such images so long as this is not the purpose for which they were produced. The implication, of course, is that there is something wrong with producing material designed purely for sexual arousal. One might wonder why this is so.

Further criticisms of the Bill are offered here.

Reintroduction of jail for prostitutes?

Under current UK law, courts do not have the power to jail prostitutes for soliciting, even though it is illegal. However, soliciting could once again become a prisonable offence if the proposed Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill becomes law. The new Bill makes it possible for courts to order persons convicted of loitering and soliciting to attend three, one-hour counselling sessions to: (a) “address the causes of the conduct constituting the offence; and (b) find ways to cease engaging in such conduct in the future”. Prostitutes who fail to attend their counselling sessions may be jailed for up to seventy-two hours. Regardless of how one feels about prostitution, it seems the proposal is laughable. The reasons why people become prostitutes are many and various. Many sex workers are dependent on drugs and alcohol; have little prospect of further employment; and have families to support. Three hours of counselling is very unlikely to make a difference to their lives. To give some perspective: friends of mine who work with homeless drug addicts – many of whom are prostitutes – tell me that two years of support is the minimum required to get someone off the street, into a house, and maintaining control over their drug use. But much more support is needed for that person to get to the point where they are no longer dependent on drugs, have stable accommodation, a steady, legitimate income, and so on. Given this, the counselling sessions and three-day jail term for non-attendance amount to nothing more than legal harrassment of some of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of society. A fact recognised by Napo – the probation service union – which has urged MPs to delete the proposals from the Bill when it is debated in the Commons on the 9th January.