BDSM in the UK: spanking, the media and the law

Posted at 16:49 on 12 Sep 2011 by Pandora / Blake

Tags: BDSMtag, Extreme porn legislation, Fairtrade porn, Kink activism, Northern Spanking, Politics, Videos

Here is the text and video recording of my talk at German fetish advocacy conference BDSMtag. Many thanks to Ludwig for asking the interview questions and providing many interesting conversations about BDSM, society and politics over the course of the weekend.

The first minute and a half of the video is Ludwig's introduction to the German speaking audience, but the rest of the video is in English.

For those who prefer a written version, here are my notes in full. (This is the text I produced while preparing the talk, not a transcript of the video, so there are some discrepancies between the two.)

--

Hi! I'm Pandora Blake, an English spanking performer, blogger and producer. I've been into spanking and BDSM for as long as I can remember, and it's an important part of my sex life. I am polyamorous and happily submissive to two dominant gentlemen, who I've been with for six/seven years now.

How did you get into kink professionally?

I started spanking modelling through doing nude and bondage modelling as a student. I quickly discovered a love of the creative side and started writing my own scenes. I am just getting ready to launch my own site, DreamsofSpanking.com, which will go live later this year.

Dreams of Spanking will focus on punishment and discipline fantasies, with an emphasis on historical storylines, and dominance and submission. I make a point of only working with kinky performers and real couples so that there's genuine enthusiasm and chemistry in the scenes. It will also explicitly ethical and fair trade. My intention is to make a statement that it;s possible to make spanking porn which is respectful to women and spankees, and caters to women's fantasies as well as men's.

Spanking is your primary fetish, and that's quite a big thing in the UK - can you tell us about the UK spanking 'scene'?

I think the UK is unique in having a specific corporal punishment scene which is somewhat separate from the wider BDSM and fetish scene. In other countries, for instance, in terms of professional tops, you mostly see the dominatrix figure offering erotic BDSM services in a dungeon environment. In the UK there are lots of people advertising 'traditional' spanking services, perhaps with a school, judicial or domestic theme, without any rubber or latex. You find spankees and spankers advertising these services throughout the UK, even in small towns and villages. In the cities you see commercial spanking parties as well as private gatherings of likeminded people, who perhaps met through the internet.

Often there isn't much overlap with the BDSM scene - people interested in spanking will not necessarily go to other fetish events. But although it's niche, spanking is a visible part of the cultural landscape and a relatively popular fetish, with a number of porn sites and magazines dedicated specifically to spanking.

Are BDSM practices legal in the UK?

Legally speaking, any activity which results in marks or injuries which are "more than transient or trifling" constitutes actual or grievous bodily harm under UK law, regardless of whether the act was consensual. It is still not possible to legally consent to assault in the UK, even with a written contract.

Not many consensual acts come to court in the first place, as they require evidence to be brought against the partner committing the act - which means someone needs to have a reason to make a report to the police.

There have been two cases concerning married heterosexual couples in which consensual play resulted in one participant being seriously marked. I don't know in what circumstances the charges arose, but I do know that in both cases the Judge ruled that what took place within a consensual private relationship was no concern of the court. However, this does not have necessarily mean the same verdict would be made if the relationship were gay, non married, or a client and a professional.

But police can make life difficult for you even if no charges are brought. From time to time there are raids on play parties, commercial parties and clubs. If everyone is arrested, their personal property might be confiscated, and even if it never reaches court, the whole process is humiliating, stressful, invasive and time consuming. UK law has changed recently regarding pornographic images. Tell us about that.

In 2008 the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act was introduced making it illegal to possess pornographic images which "portrays, in an explicit and realistic way,

a) an act which threatens a persons life, b) an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a persons anus, breasts or genitals."

It also covers necrophiliac and bestial imagery.

This changed the law - previously child porn was the only type of pornographic image that was illegal in the UK.

Under this legislation it's the image itself which is judged, not the conditions under which the image was produced - so consensually produced images, simulated violence and even special effects are included.

Because of the emphasis on "pornographic", it is even not the image itself which makes it illegal, but the fact that it was produced solely or principally for the purposes of sexual arousal. This is to avoid the criminalisation of violent images in entertainment media such as films, TV and video games. It results in a prudish double standard where erotic imagery is held to a different standard than imagery intended to stimulate other emotional or physical responses, such as tears or laughter.

So how did this legislation come about?

The usual reactionary way any censorship is introduced. It was proposed following a campaign by the mother of a murder victim, after 'extreme porn' was found on the killer's computer. The implication is that there is a causal link between looking at violent porn and committing non-consensual violent acts - when in fact evidence suggests no such link between the two, and there is evidence suggesting that the availability of fantasy material offers an outlet for those who have fantasies it would be criminal to carry out in reality. Needless to say, fantasises themselves ought not to be criminalised - only non-consensual rape and assault, which the law already covers.

What effect has it had?

In practice, prosecutions have rarely been brought under this legislation alone, but more often in conjunction with other charges - e.g. illegal filesharing, or possession of child porn. This act provides a tool which permits the police to seize your computer and make life difficult for you if you've come to their attention in other ways; if for instance you are a political agitator, activist or hacker.

There's another piece of pre-existing legislation which has got less attention but which is even broader in implication, which relates to conditions you need to meet in order to work with children or vulnerable people. You can be barred from working in these 'sensitive jobs if you possess sexually explicit images depicting violence against human beings. This is far wider in reach than the extreme porn ban and puts millions of workers on notice that they may have to choose between their sexuality and their career.

Added to this is the cultural prejudice: if you want to adopt or be a foster parent, you'd better never leave any evidence of your kinky tastes anywhere anyone might find it, or you can wave that idea goodbye.

We heard about the scandal involving Max Mosley. That didn't involve the law, did it?

No - although arguably the tabloids are a law unto themselves. In practice it is far more common for people to lose their jobs because of a public tabloid 'scandal' than because of any legal process. You don't have to commit a crime - or even to be as famous as Mr Mosley - to lose your job because a local paper was having a slow news day and decided to write a sensationalistic story about your kinky lifestyle.

Do the tabloids do this a lot?

Paul and Lucy, the owners of Northern Spanking, a UK spanking site with a reputation for being friendly and safe for new models, were "outed" by a local paper a couple of years ago. This resulted in Paul losing his job, and huge amounts of stress and unpleasantness for them both - simply because they produced spanking videos (many of which are fun and light-hearted) with consenting adult models.

The Daily Mail ran a story only 10 days ago "exposing" a 64-yr-old university chancellor as a "sadomasochistic sex dungeon master" after he and his wife published photos and adverts on CollarMe.com seeking play partners - which was considered newsworthy for a UK tabloid even though the university in question was the University of Northern Virginia in the United States.

The tabloid press have come under a lot of criticism recently though in the wake of the Murdoch phone hacking scandal. Do you think that will put a stop to this sort of story?

We can hope that it will help - but in practice it's not just the tabloids. In June the Independent, a reputable left-of-center broadsheet newspaper, published an opinion piece on an abduction and murder case. The commentator supported the actions of the defence team, who subjected the victim's father to invasive, humiliating cross-examination in court because he possessed pornography featuring "fetish, latex and bondage" and some rubber bondage gear. Let me re-iterate: this was the father of a girl who had been abducted, raped and murdered, in the trial of her killer. He himself was not on trial. And yet his sexual preferences were dragged into the public eye and used to cast suspicion on his witness statements, his parenting and his "attitudes towards women" - as if it was impossible that kinky play might be consensual, or that women might enjoy bondage too.

Thankfully, the comments on these articles are usually sensible, suggesting that widespread society is not so closed-minded as the media. But it only takes one newspaper article to destroy somone's career, and perhaps their relationship with their family.

So what can we do?

There are several political organisations in the UK set up to help improve the situation:

Otherwise, continue to practise your kink in an ethical and healthy way, and don't be afraid to speak out against misinformation, and stand up for the right of all individuals to freedom of sexual expression.

Comments

Sup , I am making a site almost like wikipedia and I think your articles would fit the style good. Would you care if I copy your website?

Er, yes, I think she probably would care!

Heh. A kinky channel would be awesome, although it'd be fun trying to get the campaigners and the pornographers to play ball with each other (the ones that aren't the same people, anyway!) It'd never be on network TV though ... but the opportunities provided by the internet bode well, don't you think? ChannelKink.tv? :)

Indeed. I think it's coming one day!

Great interview, Pandora!

I can hardly express how fulfilling it is to see people like us out there, giving intelligent and in-depth analysis and opinions. It made me think that one day the kinksters will have our own network(s) on TV. We have so much to bring to the table in terms of entertainment and discussion etc.

Keep up the great work!

Best Regards,
Quai

Heh. A kinky channel would be awesome, although it'd be fun trying to get the campaigners and the pornographers to play ball with each other (the ones that aren't the same people, anyway!) It'd never be on network TV though ... but the opportunities provided by the internet bode well, don't you think? ChannelKink.tv? :)

Indeed. I think it's coming one day!

Swiped from Sullys Masthead "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle" — George Orwell

Indeed. I think it's coming one day!

That was really interesting, and eloquently expressed too.

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