Recently, the #PornTrial created a storm on Twitter and then in the British mainstream media. Simon Walsh was on trial under a draconian law that criminalises the possession of so-called “extreme porn”. This law outlaws images and videos of many sex acts, including many that are perfectly legal. I met Myles Jackman, Walsh’s solicitor, to discuss the trial and its implications.
Here’s a perfect illustration of how authoritarians make use of moral panics to persuade people that personal freedoms must be monitored and attacked by the state.
In 2003, a Brighton teacher called Jane Longhurst was killed by Graham Coutts. Coutts claimed that she had died during consenting sexual asphyxiation play, but the prosecution suggested that the two had not been lovers, and that she had been raped and murdered. He was convicted of murder and imprisoned. Much attention in the trial focused on Coutts’ interest in asphyxiation, and on his possession of pornographic images depicting this.
Although no evidence was provided to show that the porn had led Coutts to kill Longhurst (and indeed, such porn has become widespread without an increase in such crimes), a moral panic began over “violent porn”. The Labour government, already hugely authoritarian in many ways, first tried to ban web sites carrying “violent pornography”. When this moronic attempt at censorship failed, their next approach was even more authoritarian: to ban the possession of “violent” pornographic imagery. This was put into law as Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, better known as the Violent Porn Law.
Starting from the killing of one woman, and based on unfounded rumours that her killing had been linked to pornography, the UK government had instituted one of the most draconian pieces of legislation in recent British history. Now, a person could be imprisoned for downloading or possessing on video or DVD any pornography that might breach the law, even if they were unaware of the law’s existence.
The key parts of the law defining violent porn are as follows:
- An act threatening a person’s life
- An act which results (or is likely to result) in serious injury to a person’s anus, breasts or genitals
So for example, sexual asphyxiation could be deemed to threaten a person’s life. Although many people enjoy this act, possessing an image of someone enjoying it is now illegal. Note that the owner of the image has responsibility not just to be familiar with the law, but to make the decision as to whether is it “life-threatening” or not. In other words a video of two consenting adults engaging in asphyxiation, and causing no harm to each other, may still be deemed illegal, and result in a prison sentence for anyone possessing it.
The second provision is similarly vague. Anal fisting is an act enjoyed by many people, gay and straight. It’s perfectly legal to fist (or be fisted) so long as the act is consensual. And yet, if a photograph is taken, published on the Internet and downloaded, the person downloading it can be imprisoned.
The New Labour control-freaks have triumphed yet again: viewing of a consenting sexual act has become illegal. The government feels it has a right to decide which consenting sex acts are unsuitable for the British public. And to be clear, the key word here is consenting.
As I write this, Simon Walsh is on trial at Kingston Upon Thames Crown Court for possession of images of anal fisting. The police had raided him, found no imagery on his work computer, but then gained access to his email and found images attached to emails that he had received. The police have no evidence that the attachments were ever opened. By the fact that Walsh had simply received images of consenting sexual activity, the police and Crown Prosecution Service have decided there is a case to answer – and Walsh is facing up to three years imprisonment.
It gets murkier: in his professional life, Simon Walsh has been involved in… guess what? Prosecuting police officers who are charged with disciplinary offences. Perhaps this explains the police enthusiasm in finding pornography in his “possession” – and then proceeding with a prosecution.
I wish Simon Walsh all the best in winning his case, and furthermore hope that his victory will be a first step in revoking this ludicrous, draconian law.