Friday, 23 January 2009

Extreme Sexual Images?

I'm two days late with this one, but I thought I'd pass comment nonetheless, on this article, relating to an issue I alluded to in a previous post - the legislation against "extreme sexual images" being brought forward in the Scottish Government's Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill.

"DOWNLOADING images of rape and possessing other forms of "extreme" pornography will be punishable by up to three years in prison under new laws to be unveiled next month, The Scotsman can reveal.

Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, has for the first time revealed details of his proposed crackdown on owning hardcore pornography that he claims is sexually and physically abusive and degrading to women."

Admittedly, it almost seems eminently reasonable at first glance. But, of course, the problem is, if "images" of rape or extreme sex are in fact performed or recorded between two consenting adults, this law is essentially interfering with what private individuals choose to do among themselves. If it could be proved that images of "rough" or "extreme" sex were not consensual, then that would be a wholly different matter, but that's not going to happen in most cases.

So the civil liberties question here is that of the Scottish government trying to regulate what individual adults watch in privacy. Are people who are, for example, into bondage, going to be criminalised for their fetish even if no one is harmed by it, with a possible 3 years spent in the nick for their "crime?"

Kenny MacAskill's justification is that of the typical moralising statist:
"We are intending to send out the message that this is frankly totally abhorrent. This is far from a victimless crime. Previously you could close down bookshops; now everybody has access to the internet. What is being portrayed in a number of these sites and DVDs is not erotic art – it's fundamental abuse of an individual and to consort with it is to support it."

It's abhorrent because the government says so. It's not a "victimless crime" either, because the government says so. Actually, it's not a crime at all, because the bill's not been put into law yet, so in his pomposity Mr MacAskill is getting a little ahead of himself, but that's besides the point.

It is, in the main, victimless, in that those who work in the porn trade, whether amateur or professional, do so out of choice. The minority that may be forced into it are undoubtedly suffering terribly and deserve justice, but that is what the police should be there for - as opposed to politicians criminalising the many.

But, Kenny tells us, what is being portrayed is not "erotic art - it's fundamental abuse of an individual." Besides from the fact that I never knew Mr MacAskill was such a keen observer and expert on "erotic art", although I'm sure such knowledge would intrigue the tabloids, he fundamentally misunderstands what constitutes "fundamental abuse of an individual". Abuse of the individual is, pure and simple, when he or she is coerced by external forces, and thus the sanctity of his/her free choice violated. If someone consents to being in a bondage or rough sex scene in a hardcore porn flick, how is he/she fundamentally abused? It's nonsense. Mr MacAskill is justifying this proposed law based on his morals and value-judgements - that this type of erotica isn't "erotic art", that it is "abhorrent". Well why are your morals better than mine, Kenny? I say people should be able to watch whatever images they want in the privacy of their homes, so long as no one else is harmed. If they are, that's a different kettle of fish, but that's the job of law enforcement to sort out, not for the law itself to brand all extreme fetishists as evil criminals.

Ironically, then Susan Smith enters into the article, on the government's side, explaining how it didn't take her long to find "scenes of brutality" on the internet, but proves my point about victimless crime by saying:

"While the videos I found were clearly not of real rapes..."

Before, of course, going on to moralise about how terrible it is that these videos nonetheless are glorifying rape. Firstly, you know what, I think it's pretty nasty myself too. But you know what I'm going to do as a result of not particularly being a fan of extreme BDSM porn (Bondage, Domination and Sado-Masochism)? Here, wait for it, drum roll ...

Not watch it.

Because at the end of the day, it is fantasy, images, supplying a very miniscule niche of (in my opinion - not that it matters) very weird people with what they want, in the vast majority of cases doing no harm to anyone else. I'd rather they spent their time watching imaginary rape as opposed to going out and doing it themselves. And I'd rather the government weren't moralistically claiming the authoritarian right to snoop in on people's homes for what they watch within the privacy of them. Why is imaginary rape worse than imaginary murder? What's next, banning all Jason Statham films because they glorify shooting people and battering them to death?

Becky Dwyer, spokeswoman for CAAN, hits the nail on the head:
"There are sites out there depicting real abuse; evidence of real crimes being committed. Instead of going after those, catching the perpetrators and putting an end to real harm, the government has gone for the easy option of criminalising pictures of mostly legal activity and demonising a bunch of adults whose main crime is the desire to interact with one another in the privacy of their own homes."

Perhaps Mr MacAskill, expert on "erotic art" that he is, can tell us why he hasn't identified the sites depicting real abuse and gone after them to the full extent of the law, as opposed to making our lonely spotty lanky-haired teenagers watching bizarre stuff on the net wanted criminals?

It's depressing how, day by day, the SNP seem to be no less - in fact, probably more - nannying and authoritarian than their Labour predecessors. Why bother with independence? What would be the damn difference?

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