‘Something must be done!’ is, perhaps, the most terrifying sentence in the English language. It is the herald of a new witch hunt, a new moral panic and the absence of thoughtful and measured decision making on a topic for the foreseeable future.
With Elliot Rodger it was the cynical exploitation of his rampage to paint Men’s Issues groups – with whom he had no connection – as terrorists, or to blame video games, or guns (which did at least play a role). The usual quest for something to blame which is woefully familiar in the damage it can cause to anyone who ever listened to heavy metal, read comics, played D&D or partook in video games.
With the more recent Slenderman stabbing, again we find calls to ban or block access to horror sites and Creepypasta all utterly unrealistic but usable as fodder by those who want to censor, control or ‘sanitise’ the internet. So it goes, it’s a familiar pattern. We see the same moral panics in relation to pornography, sex work, trafficking, media of all kinds and it never ends well.
In the Queen’s Speech yesterday we heard about the “Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill”, which is possibly the most disingenuously named bill since the US brought in its ‘Patriot Act’. Hidden amongst the crowd-pleasing changes about ‘have a go heroes’ and so on is the promise that it will also outlaw ‘written paedophile material’.
Well, what could possibly be wrong with that? What sort of sick monster would stand up for paedophile scribblings?
Well, perhaps the same people who have been extremely worried about the creeping censorship of ‘extreme’ pornography. I’m sure after his experiences at the hands of earlier, weaker legal changes Simon Walsh would suggest exercising a note of caution. Even consensual acts that you, yourself, have participated in are apparently no protection.
Indeed, the law that Walsh had trouble with is now extended:
The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 made it an offence to possess extreme pornographic images in Scotland. However the Scottish offence goes further than that in the 2008 Act, in that it covers obscene pornographic images which realistically depict rape or other non-consensual penetrative sexual activity, whether violent or otherwise. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement in July 2013 that he would ban “rape pornography”, the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill 2013-14 would amend the 2008 Act and also make it an offence in England and Wales to possess pornographic images depicting rape and other non-consensual sexual penetration.
That would also appear to extend to other material such as bestiality, necrophilia etc. Originally these laws were intended to protect against genuine snuff films, genuine bestiality, genuine rape etc being used to titillate. That was then expanded to depictions of such activity (staged, acted, faked) and the current wording would seem to extend that to any depiction – so perhaps you’d better delete your Bondage Fairies archive right now.
This new bill moves beyond even the realm of images though and into the domain of the written word, further blurring the line. Would Nabokov be banned? Pullman? Kuklin? Klein? I’m sure the government would say no and that these obviously have artistic merit but we cannot judge so subjective a determination as the obscenity trials in history over such things as Oz or Lady Chatterley have shown.
What if you wanted to write a biography or semi-autobiographical story about child abuse? Where would you stand then? If we’re now extending these standards into the written word on the backs of unsubstantiated fears about pornography, child abuse and so forth, where does it end?
It’s not about dealing with nonces, it will do nothing whatsoever to help deal with them. It will criminalise decent people, be abused and as Simon Walsh will attest I am sure, merely being accused of this sort of thing does irreparable damage even if you’re found innocent.