Legality of Extreme Pornography

I was interested to look into the laws regarding extreme pornography online as some of them appear themselves extreme, or problematic.

In 2012, there was a case involving a man who had a one-to-one chat with someone via an online messaging system which concerned “incestuous, sadistic paedophile sex acts on young and very young children”. This was deemed to be illegal under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act recognising that the exchange had the possibility to “deprave and corrupt” the public. Importantly, the conversation was judged by all parties to be purely in the realms of fantasy. The conclusion that can be drawn from this suggests that anyone using the internet to discuss sexual fantasies may be at risk of prosecution. Furthermore, obviously this act was decided upon before the birth of the internet, this means that a one-to-one, entirely private conversation is seen by the law and on the same level as public distribution. This case also has issues related to privacy, is it right that such private thoughts are both made public, and prosecuted?

The Crown Prosecution Service distributed guidelines for prosecution of extreme pornography, and even states that it is impossible to define exhaustively (then how is the public supposed to know?). The acts include: sexual act with an animal, portrayals of non-realistic rape (vague!), sadomasochistic material, bondage, acts that constitute perversion or degradation, fisting…

There are multiple issues with these guidelines also, most importantly that bondage, sadomasochism and fisting aren’t illegal to do in themselves but are illegal to view. Is the law right to involve itself in our sex lives, especially with such vague definitions. Another problem is that exposed by Ellis Hansen in the article in that who can give consent in extreme pornography, and how do we know for sure?

One of the principle problems of prosecution appears to be that the jury might be biased in some way, or the product of the heteronormative thinking that is depicted in the ‘Sex in Public’ article. Should we leave to a jury the decision of what we can and can’t view in the privacy of our homes as consenting adults, even if committing the act itself isn’t illegal? With the democratisation of information that Hansen describes, surely the advent of the internet means that people will be deciding for themselves what is right and wrong as opposed to lawmakers enforcing their own (possibly) hegemonic views upon us. With 50 Shades of Grey the fastest selling novel of all-time, yet at the same time depicting sadomasochistic acts that may or may not be illegal to view online (not sure; haven’t read it), are we due a revision of the laws on Extreme Pornography?


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