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The BBC reports that the bill outlawing the possession of “extreme pornography” becomes law this week. The law forms part of a new Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, and defines extreme pornographic images as those which include 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 perform 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.

I’m divided on this one. While I do think that much pornography that could come under the category of extreme as defined above will no doubt promote misogyny, could well harm those used to make it and, to be honest, is totally unnecessary and antithetical to civilised society, I agree with those campaigning against it that the definition set out in a) and b) above is open to a whole range of interpretations and could therefore criminalise consensual and non-exploitative imagery and those who possess it. Having said that, I really can’t see the predictions of Backlash’s spokeswoman ever coming true:

How many tens or hundreds or thousands of people are going to be dragged into a police station, have their homes turned upside down, their computers stolen and their neighbours suspecting them of all sorts?

Do you really think the police have the time, resources or inclination to undertake this kind of operation? I seriously doubt it.

While I fully sympathise with the mother of Jane Longhurst, who campaigned for this bill after her daughter was murdered by a man who compulsively watched porn depicting women being abused and raped, and while I don’t think it is unreasonable to suggest that perhaps his use of porn influenced his actions, I think there is so much misogyny (and potential for exploitation and abuse) in so much porn – as well as in other areas of the media – that I’m not sure whether this bill would really make any difference. As I wrote a few weeks back, I do believe that porn use can have a number of very negative effects, but these effects certainly aren’t restricted to “extreme porn”, so if criminalisation is the route to be taken it makes no sense just to target this category.

But I’m not convinced that censorship is the answer. Misogynistic porn won’t go away because patriarchal law says it is illegal; it will only disappear when there is no longer a demand for it, when society and sexuality changes, when male dominance no longer reigns supreme. In the current climate, if porn were suddenly banned, people would still want it, continue to make it, and those involved, particularly women, would be subject to even more unscrupulous and abusive practices than many already are.

Red Pepper has a series of responses to the law from a number of perspectives, all of which are worth reading, though I really must take issue 1) with Backlash’s assertion that only a very small minority of porn is made under coercive conditions and 2) with the apparent need for writers on lefty sites to earnestly point out that they aren’t prudes if they make a statement that could in any way be interpreted as anti-porn. Sex, sexual freedom and porn are NOT intrinsically linked, and this need to make it clear that one is not a prude when speaking out against porn reinforces the assumption that they are.