At the time of going to press, a consultation is just closing by the Home Office and Scottish Executive. Following a murder of a woman by a man who “had been accessing extreme pornographic websites” the consultation “On the possession of extreme pornographic material” was launched. I heard about it on the radio. “Consultation” is perhaps the wrong word since no BDSM group was asked to comment, the document was unavailable from the Home Office website for much of the time and they didn’t even acknowledge my email asking for it. That’s before we get to the actual text.

Reading the foreword by Paul Goggins MP and Cathy Jameson MSP, skimming the consultation itself or watching the press coverage you’d be forgiven for thinking this was all about heinous abuses being sent around on the internet and leading to rape, violence and murder. They suggest new laws relating to the possession of certain
images, similar to legislation on child pornography. Although this exercise is entirely about images by and for adults they do mention child pornography several times and linking it to a murder also makes the whole exercise more emotive.

I read the document more closely: “Our intention in proposing a possession offence is to try to break the demand / supply cycle and to discourage interest in this material which we consider may encourage or reinforce interest in violent and aberrant sexual activity.” Hmm. After the Spanner case where a bunch of gay men were sent to jail for assault after a consensual SM scene I’m careful to check just what they mean by violent. “Aberrant sexual activity” sets alarm bells ringing. We’ve had plenty of laws against sex which the establishment considers outside the norm. What do they mean by “aberrant” precisely?

I read on: “As to evidence of harm, conducting research in this area is complex. We do not yet have sufficient evidence from which to draw any definite conclusions as to the likely long term impact of this kind of material on individuals generally, or on those who may already be predisposed to violent or aberrant sexual behaviour”. So they start by saying they do not have sufficient evidence and then start proposing laws?

A couple of paragraphs later we get to the bit that concerns me most: they say the proposals are based on “a desire to protect those who participate in the creation of sexual material containing violence, cruelty or degradation, who may be the victim of crime in the making of the material, whether or not they notionally or genuinely consent to take part”.

Now I can respect taking care over consent; checking that it is informed and not coerced. Ignoring genuine consent? Aaargh! So at this point, I think this would cover actors giving free and informed consent to make BDSM fantasy materials on the internet. I check with friends. I think I’m right. They are proposing perhaps 3 years in jail for downloading an SM porn video, regardless of there being no complaint of abuse by the people in it.

“Backlash” was formed quickly by SMers and anti-censorship campaigners, both organised groups and individuals. It is more of an umbrella to get concerned people together than a coherent group. A website went up and an email list started. Meeting at Central Station where SM-Bis used to meet, I ran into familiar faces I hadn’t seen for years. The mailing list has been busy, noisy and often off-topic and obnoxious. Within all that, many of us were getting on with spreading the news about the consultation, considering legal and campaigning advice and writing and comparing our own responses and letters to MPs, media and the like.

If the law understands a difference between partners making love and rape, the difference being free and informed consent to perhaps the same physical act, then that should extend to all forms of consensual human sexuality. If we are not to shut down every movie theatre and video shop and burn most of the books in our libraries the law must understand the difference between actual harm and fictional depictions of it. These distinctions must be applied to the Internet as well as all other media.

It’s 1:47 am and I’ve got my two-and-a-bit thousand word response to first draft. Tomorrow it gets sent off. By the time you read this the consultation would have closed. We’re watching to see what happens next. Please watch too.

Grant Denkinson

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