Think No Evil: Thoughtcrime in the UK
Last week saw a most interesting juxtaposition of events in UK politics: some good news and some bad news for those of us who believe in sexual liberty. Only time will tell whether the end result will be more good than bad – or vice-versa.
First the good news. The last decade or so has seen a progression of ever-more nit-picking, controlling bureaucratic regulation issuing forth from government. The motives have usually been good: health and safety; protecting people from harm; managing risk.
The problem is, once you have legislated against all the obvious harmful things out there, you either shut up shop – or start defining concepts like “risk” and “harm” in broader and broader terms. Thus, one starts with laws that all would agree to be a good thing: laws against rape and assault and child abuse. Next we move on to defining the relationship that people guilty of such crimes may have with other individuals after they have served their sentence.
In the UK – as in most jurisdictions, we would guess – it is difficult to impossible for a convicted child abuser to gain employment involving any significant contact with children. That seems fair enough. But what about an individual with a past history of domestic violence: the UK has recently been pioneering laws to record individual’s past criminal history and to allow a new partner to access it.
Then a step further: the same laws would permit new partners to access previous allegations of abuse. So the net widens.
From the other end of the spectrum, government has been trying to identify people who might pose a risk of committing a future crime. What are the characteristics of people who have raped, abused, been violent? Let us find people who have committed no crime at all, but who share those characteristics – and make it harder for them to gain employment in sensitive areas, like teaching or child-minding.
The entire basis of the legal system, in which individuals are innocent until proven guilty is turned on its head – and it is in that grey area between real crime and risk prevention that the last government legislated back in 2008 to criminalize the mere possession of certain images.
This may sound surreal to those reading in the United States. However, government decided that certain imagery – which it termed “extreme porn” – was so shocking, abhorrent and downright dangerous that anyone in possession of it should henceforth be deemed a criminal.
The categories of material so covered included images that were realistic, pornographic and extreme. The categories of image falling within this description included images of bestiality and necrophilia and a range of BDSM activity, actions that caused damage to anus or genitals, or activities deemed by a jury to be life-threatening.
Back in 2008, much elegant opposition to this law was argued by two organizations: Backlash, a group formed to fight the extreme porn laws; and Spanner, a group that exists to challenge the very basis of the laws that outlaw sado-masochistic activity in the UK. They won the arguments, but in the face of a government with no interest in listening, they lost the battle.
Have sex with a frozen chicken – as one individual was reported to have done some years back – and it may turn out to be grounds for divorce, but you commit no crime. Take a picture of yourself doing the same, and you are a criminal, possibly punishable by up to three years in prison.