Posted at 17:39 on 4 Oct 2016 by Pandora Blake
I'm finally ready to announce some exciting news that I've been working on behind the scenes for over a month - ever since I realised the full extent of the harm that will be done by the Digital Economy Bill. The bill is currently going through Parliament, and proposes to bring in mandatory age verification for online porn without any provisions to safeguard the personal privacy and sexual liberty of web users. The bill has been debated twice by MPs and on 8th October will go through to the committee stage; and yet none of the concerns which I and other civil liberties activists have raised have yet been satisfactorily addressed.
Do you want to have to enter personal identifying details before you're allowed to look at porn - such as your real name, address, or date of birth? Do you trust porn sites to keep this data secure - and do you want a database of your accumulated porn browsing history to be owned by private companies, exploited for commercial gain and at risk of Ashley Madison style data breaches that would leak your personal sexual preferences into the public domain?
I believe that it is a principle of our fundamental rights that consensual adult sex should not be criminalised. This is no less true of consensual fetish activities than it is of homosexual sex, which was only legalised in the UK in 1967 (and the age of consent only lowered to 18 in 1994). The law in the UK is still antiquated when it comes to sex, and has a tendency to run ten or twenty years behind public understanding of what is socially acceptable. The sale of hardcore pornography depicting unsimulated penetrative sex was not decriminalised in the UK until the year 2000 - by which time it was already widely available to UK citizens online.
Now, we find ourselves at another cusp of change, with our out-dated sex laws increasingly in tension with the fast-moving pace of technology and ever-increasing social progressiveness. Consensual fetish practices such as BDSM, bondage and spanking are now widely accepted - as is self-evident from the popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, and the widespread availability of fetish equipment in high street shops like Ann Summers. Most people would agree that what consenting adults get up to in the privacy of their own homes is their own business, and that there is no harm in anyone individual privately enjoying sexy videos that were consensually produced by willing participants. As the saying in the fetish community goes: your kink is not my kink, but your kink is okay.
In 2012, award-winning 'Obscenity Lawyer' Myles Jackman defended two landmark obscenity cases where both juries unanimously agreed that hardcore gay BDSM videos featuring acts like male fisting, whipping and urination were not obscene. The verdict essentially boiled down to the idea that these acts might not be enjoyable to everyone, but if you aren't into them, watching them wouldn't make you more likely to be into them, and therefore they were not likely to "deprave or corrupt". Juries are a pretty good barometer of the grassroots opinion of the British public, and so it's reasonable to assume that most people would find this sort of pornography unthreatening, even if they find it distasteful.
The wording of the Obscene Publications Act is intended to move with the times; that's why the "likely to deprave or corrupt" phrasing is so vague. As with many laws, the detail is worked out by case precedent, and the moving standard of legality is updated with each case that's prosecuted under the law. And yet, four years later, the acts that were deemed not obscene in those cases are still prohibited by the BBFC classification guidelines, which determine what content is too "extreme" to be permissible in the highest category, R18.
Fisting, watersports, squirting, and the binding of all four limbs plus a gag are all acts that are legal for adults to consensually perform in real life, and yet under UK sex laws it is still illegal to represent these activities in porn. The Digital Economy Bill will reinforce this prohibition, by criminalising the publication of any porn online that does not fall within the guidelines of content classifiable as R18. Not only will this infringe freedom of speech, discriminating against sexual minorities by prohibiting them from freely expressing their sexuality, it will also impose a substantial financial burden on low-budget, amateur and niche commercial websites.
Since this Bill is so out of touch with technology and the current sexual values of the British public, myself and Myles Jackman have teamed up to call for a Joint Committee on adult liberty to update our retrograde sex laws. To this end, we are joining forces with Backlash to host the Kink Olympixxx, a playful day out with a serious political message. The Olympixxx will feature surreal and satirical games including Fisting Volleyball, a Spanking Relay Race and a Squirting Waterfight, as gentle parodies of the sexual acts that are legal to perform but illegal to represent.
Myles Jackman commented that:
“Whilst the Kink Olympixxx was conceived as a playful protest, the Digital Economy Bill poses a serious risk of users’ personal sexual preferences being leaked; will adversely affect sexual minorities’ ability to freely express their sexuality; and most frighteningly, imposes State censorship and surveillance of consensual adult sexual content in the UK.
“Chinese State censors and surveillance agents will envy this Hadrian’s Firewall.”
As well as the Games, the Kink Olympixxx will feature speeches from the organisers, representatives from notable civil liberties organisations, academics, legal experts, sex workers and sexual freedom campaigners, including delegates from the Open Rights Group, NO2ID, the English Collective of Prostitutes and the Sex Workers' Opera.
Please join us outside Parliament between 12-2pm on Monday 17th October - that's just under two weeks time. Dress in your kinky best, and come prepared to strut your stuff and show the world that these consensual fetish activities are harmless fun, and not a legitimate excuse for bringing in oppressive State censorship.
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