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Extreme Porn/Dangerous Pictures


 

The 2007/2008 Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill received the Royal Assent on May 8th 2008. Within it, there are a number of self-standing clauses which have become known as “The Dangerous Pictures Act” which criminalize the viewing of extreme pornography. These clauses became legally operative on January 26, 2009. The passing of the Act was in some part motivated by the Jane Longhurst murder case, and also because the authorities considered it timely, in the internet age, to extend the scope of the Obscene Publications Act and the classification guidelines of the British Board of Film Censors. In particular, concern was expressed about the potentially dangerous content of extreme pornography sites hosted outside the UK. The overall emphasis is to criminalize the viewers of proscribed images, presumably an easier task than tackling the producers who are considered to be based mainly outside UK jurisdiction.

The new measures make it a criminal offence to be found to be in possession of extreme pornographic material. To fall foul of the law, the image(s) concerned would need to be proven to be both extreme and pornographic. “Extreme” is perhaps the more difficult of the two criteria to define, due to the degree of subjectivity involved. Until there have been some cases brought, this remains a matter of some confusion and considerable debate. In order to be considered “pornographic”, an image needs to have been produced solely or mainly for the purpose of sexual arousal. Whether this threshold has been met will be an issue for a jury to determine. There is, however, already a good deal of case law relating to pornography.

For the purposes of this offence, 'an image' means either still images, such as photographs, or moving images, such as those in a film. The term 'image' also incorporates any type of data, including that stored electronically (as on a computer disk), which is capable of conversion into an image. This covers material available on computers, mobile phones or any other electronic device. Where an individual image forms part of a larger series of images, the question of whether it is pornographic must be determined by reference both to the image itself and also the context in which it appears in the larger series of images. Where a narrative, such as a mainstream or documentary film, contains images which might be considered 'pornographic' if looked at in isolation, outside the context of the story-line or purpose of the narrative, those images may be found not to be pornographic by virtue of the context in which they appear, if it appears that the series of images itself was not produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal.

The new legislation has as its main targets the following:

  1. Acts which threaten or appear to threaten a person's life (this could include depictions of hanging, suffocation, or sexual assault involving a threat with a weapon).
  2. Acts which result in, or appear to result (or be likely to result) in, serious injury to a person's Anus, breasts or Genitals (this could include the insertion of sharp objects or the mutilation of breasts or Genitals).
  3. Acts which involve or appear to involve sexual interference with a human corpse.
  4. Acts which show a person performing or appearing to perform an act of Intercourse or Oral sex with an animal.

In all cases the act and the participants depicted in the image must appear to be “real” (another subjective concept?) to the viewer.

Some possible defences to charges of possession of extreme pornographic images are also set out. They are the same as for the possession of indecent images of children.

  1. That the person had a legitimate reason for being in possession of the image; this will cover those who can demonstrate that their legitimate business means that they have a reason for possessing the image.
  2. That the person had not seen the image and therefore did not know, nor had cause to suspect, that the images held were extreme pornographic images. (Some commentators suggest that this will cover those who “unwittingly stumble” across such images – but it’s open to question).
  3. That the person had not asked for the image - it having been sent without request - and that, once he/she was aware that he had possession of the image, he/she had not kept it for an unreasonable period of time. (Again, some commentators suggest this will cover those who are sent unsolicited material, for example as an unsolicited email message, and once they are aware of it, act quickly to delete it – time will tell).

If convicted, the maximum sentence tariff is imprisonment for three years for possession of images of life threatening acts, or serious injury, and imprisonment for two years for possession of images of Necrophilia or Bestiality.

Notes:

Ministry of Justice guidelines and explanation of the Act:
http://www.justice.gov.uk/docs/extreme-pornographic-images.pdf

Crown Prosecution Service guidelines for this offence:
http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/d_to_g/extreme_pornography

For discussion, debate and commentary on this subject we suggest the following sites:

http://www.melonfarmers.co.uk – a site devoted to all aspects of censorship, with a lively forum section.
http://www.spannertrust.org.uk – for all BDSM-related legal matters
http://www.pandemos.net – a site specifically with the interests of professional Dominas in mind.