I very much enjoyed the SCL (Society for Computing and Law) event on Sextech, porn and the law last week. It was hosted by lawyer Neil Brown, and chaired by Daniel Cooper. There was a sizeable audience and four speakers in total; in addition to Neil and myself, Sarah Jamie Lewis and Dr Kate Devlin.
Dr Devlin kicked things off with an engaging talk about sex robots, one of her areas of research. She shared some of the hype and misinformation that the media tends to indulge in around sex robots, and why a lot of it is hyperbolic and sensationalist. She talked about what sex robots can and can't offer; including a preview of the Harmony bot which is being developed in California at the moment. Dr Devlin went to visit the lab working on this project, and she describes the robot as a beautifully crafted silicon sex doll with an animatronic face and a recorded voice controlled by AI. They've got an in-house AI team and the AI is apparently remarkably good; you can chat to Harmony. The robot head mounts onto the standard sex dolls, meaning the body is poseable, but doesn't move independently. Read Engadget's report on meeting Harmony here.
It's two days until the UK general election, and the English Collective of Prostitutes have organised a drive to write to MPs and party candidates urging them to support the decriminalisation of sex work. Austerity, benefit sanctions and rising poverty are forcing more people into prostitution, particularly women and mothers. The UK's prostitution laws make it harder for sex workers to stay safe. People who lack other options shouldn't be penalised for making the best choices they can to survive and feed their families. When our government is letting down people with disabilities and mental health problems, defunding and selling off the NHS, cutting welfare and funding to public services, more of those people are likely to turn to sex work as a last resort - and the UK's deeply unjust prostitution laws make it illegal for sex workers to support each other to stay out of harm's way. I've just filled out the form to email my candidates, it's a model letter and only takes a minute or two.
It's too late for them to write back before the election, but it's not too late to take the opportunity to make candidates aware of this issue - and put pressure on whichever of them gets elected to support the recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee to decriminalise prostitution. If you have any time today or tomorrow, please take a second to contact your candidates and put sex work decriminalisation on their agenda.
The ECP have also finally released the evidence report from their parliamentary symposium on sex work law at the House of Commons, which took place in November 2015. I was there; it was an amazing day that brought together academics, activists and sex workers from all over the world to to give evidence on the social and health impact of prostitution laws. It delves into the real world consequences of the criminalisation of clients (the Nordic model), full criminalisation as in the US, and full decriminalisation (the New Zealand model). It's an amazing resource which is available in the parliamentary archives for MPs to access - if you email your MP using their lobbying tool the link is included to encourage them to have a read. Do take a look and educate yourself, there's a lot of misinformation about sex work but once you look at the evidence it's really clear.
I'm really pleased to be featured on a newly-launched site, ethical.porn, a fantastic timely addition to the conversation about the politics of porn production - click here to read my contribution. This is a really important issue to me: as a producer and director my production ethos is always performer-centric, and prioritises transparency, explicit performer consent, and equal pay for equal work. My work as a performer has informed my politics about porn working conditions and I hope that even when I'm directing, I still see things from a performer's perspective.
I look forward to following the conversation - there are some fantastic contributions on the site, including by feminist porn pioneers such as Shine Louise Houston and Ms Naughty. I hope this will have some influence on the often overly simplistic mainstream and feminist discourse about porn, and complicate the standard takes on the issue with some much needed nuance and critical thinking.
After it was passed by the Commons, the Bill bounced back to the House of Lords for final consideration. I've only skimmed the transcript of the debate so far, but as far as I can tell there were no substantive changes to Section 3, covering age verification for online porn.
Videos like this are made possible by my Patreon supporters - if you want to help me create more free-to-access public resources like this about UK porn censorship, obscenity law or any other issues, please donate - even $1 a month is valuable, and every penny adds up to time I can spend campaigning on behalf of our community.
Happy new year! It's traditional to do an end of year review, and I've been chewing over my 2016 one. Damn, it was a hell of a year; comparable in craziness only to the year before it. Here are the headlines:
I attended meetings in Parliament with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport discussing the age verification policy, and with the Liberal Democrat policy committee to consult about sex work and porn policy more generally. On request, I submitted my research into age verification to the Lib Dems to help inform their policy on online porn.
I taught a workshop on how to get started making DIY porn for The School of Erotic Mysteries (I still owe the participants the promised showreel from the shooting we did at the end of the day; what with reopening Dreams of Spanking and campaigning against the Digital Economy Bill, I sadly haven't had time to edit anything extra)
I went to Eroticon 2016, gave two talks, shot a documentary (see above; I'm hoping to finally find time to edit and publish it before Eroticon 2017, but we'll see), gave a spanking and caning demo, and shot a spontaneous porn film in a hotel room
I produced and directed three shoots for Dreams of Spanking - with Zak Jane Keir and Charlie J Forrest at Eroticon in April, with Nimue Allen and Tai Crimson in London in July, and with Adele Haze, Molly Malone and Amelia Jane Rutherford for a super-exciting (and very nearly finished!) Victorian feature film, which was written and backed by a private sponsor and will be out on Dreams of Spanking soon...
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?
So, a few months ago I kicked off a Patreon campaign supporting my political activism. I expected it to grow fairly slowly, though of course I had plenty of hopes - but I was absolutely gobsmacked when one very generous benefactor made an extremely substantial pledge. Their support has meant I've had an unbelievably busy and productive few months:
Regularly giving unpaid media interviews about porn censorship, feminist porn and other issues relating to sexual freedom and sex workers' rights.
Researching and writing in-depth articles every month on topics of sexual liberty and sex industry law reform.
I'm incredibly grateful for the help of this particular patron to date, along with that of all my Patreon supporters. But my benefactor was always very candid that they couldn't sustain this level of support for ever, and now it's come to an end - just as I'm really getting some momentum with my activism. I'm so glad they were able to help me get to this point, and now I need an extra boost.
All the activism and political organising I do is unpaid, and I still need to pay my bills and keep a roof over my head, just like everyone else. I don't receive a regular salary from any organisation - all my income is entirely self-generated, and every moment I'm volunteering can feel like lost earnings, as I'm sure the freelancers amongst you can understand. This is why Patreon has the potential to be such a revolutionary tool for activists - it's a way to support unpaid work that doesn't rely on a huge expenditure from any one individual. If enough people want to contribute even $10 a month to support what I'm doing, then I can keep doing it.