The UK internet filter: Banning ‘rape porn’ will censor LGBT, feminist sites and won’t stop rape

Banning rape porn. It’s the latest UK feminist thing that’s actually being taken up by politicians. And it’s the latest Hydra head to be reared in the cyclical moral panic over Innocent Kiddies Being Corrupted By Porn. (Not that the corruption of our kiddies has ever been proved, but then who needs to rely on anything so crass as evidence when riding the wave of a vote-ensuring hot button topic?The solution to this non existent problem is a UK-wide pornography filter. Remember when Iceland was having this discussion a few months back? Here’s why this is a bad (and impractical) idea.

We already have the filter on most mobile phones (satire, feminism, LGBT and sex ed censored)

Smartphones already have on by default porn filters. Well…I say ‘porn filters’. Unfortunately smartphones filter LGBT sites and sex ed sites too, leaving teens vulnerable and causing problems for LGBT teens. Smartphones also filter satire and feminist sites. In fact it’s not just smartphones- my phone isn’t a smartphone but it does have the filter. To unblock the filter I would have to take it to an O2 shop and prove I’m over 18 and prove my identity. Which means that under-18s and those who don’t wish to disclose their identities to phone companies are screwed. Having this filter extended to all internet capable devices would put more teens at risk, cause harm to young LGBT people and censor feminists and other political groups. This blog would certainly be censored as it contains mentions of feminism, the acronyms LGBT and LGBTQ and a blog on sex education.

That takes us neatly on to my next point. Pornography censorship frequently ends up censoring stuff it was never intended to like erotica, feminist literature, LGBT literature and sex education materials. This happened with the Minneapolis Ordinance which was set up by high-profile feminists Catharine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin. The ordinance resulted in censorship of things the feminists didn’t want censired such as lesbian erotica. The history of porn censorship proves that it never works and ends up being used to oppress women and sexual minorities.

Who does the censoring, how will they decide and do we get to vote them in?

And here’s another thing. How do we distinguish between erotica and porn? Are digital copies of Lolita and Lady Chatterley’s Lover to be censored? Photos of the Statue of David? What about stuff that isn’t pornographic to most people such as BDSM porn or other fetish porn which might appear completely innocent to anyone who doesn’t have the fetish.

In fact, how are the censors going to recognise foot worship as porn while recognising an ad for a foot massager as not porn? And is the censoring going to be done by humans or by software? If it’s done by humans, who is going to be on the committee – surely a libertarian, a Muslim, a Christian, a radical feminist and a porn actor/director/scriptwriter would all have different opinions. It seems that the people who make up the Censorship Panel would face a lot of public scrutiny. Perhaps we should be allowed to vote for the Panel members. Whose standard will we be using, anyway? In some British communities a Lady Gaga music video might be seen as pornographic. So might Disney films: they portray girls as desiring men at first sight (Ariel), initiating sex outdoors (Nala), escaping an arranged marriage to become a soldier (Mulan) disobeying her father to be with a boy and almost running away to have illegitmate cubs (Kiara) and dancing with men unchaperoned (Cinderella). Given that kissing in public is a crime in some countries, these scenes would be shocking and constitute crimes to some people. Disney films tend to rely on themes of illicit relationships and no Disney girl ever covers her hair. Obviously The Simpsons might constitute porn too. This filter might be utterly meaningless to those who are offended by The Simpsons.

Even just banning ‘rape porn’ (where rape is simulated) has its problems. Does ‘rape porn’ mean it’s obvious that someone isn’t consenting? How obvious is obvious – do they have to verbally consent and state their age during the film? By the way, the call to ban footage of actual rape is stupid because it’s already illegal to possess images of rape and child abuse. It’s legally actionable even to publicly name rape victims and rape survivors or underage people who consensually have sex with adults (even in the Forrest case where we all know the pupil’s name).

The problem with banning porn is we’re forcing a cultural standard on everyone in Britain. We’re saying that scenes of snogging in public is okay but scenes of sex aren’t. We’re saying that the Muslim standard goes too far regarding censorship but the liberal standard doesn’t go far enough.For all time, this filter will be for ever bound to the cultural-moral beliefs of the dominant (middle class non migrant) culture of the UK in 2013.

Practicalities

People will be able to defeat such a filter with proxy servers, VPNs and the Tor network. Most people have heard of VPNs and proxies and you can bet that when the filter goes up those who haven’t will be googling and asking around until they do know. Never get between a teenage girl and her porn, Government. It’s a deep rooted human instinct and our species isn’t just going to give up its sexual expression just like that.

And news travels fast on the internet. Look how quickly teens started illegally downloading songs once some realised you could. Now everyone’s doing it even though it’s a crime. Viewing porn won’t be a crime so there’s even more incentive to get past the filter than there is to download music. And sex is a basic human need whereas music isn’t biologically built in to us. Teens will already have read the news stories about the filter and the brighter ones are already figuring out how to beat it (if they don’t already know).

As for age restrictions, I’m assuming it’ll be 18 for turning off the filter. Seeing as the age of consent and marriage (with parental permission) is 16, it seems a bit pointless. If it’s legal for 16 year olds to be married, having orgies or working in the adult industry (as independent escorts. Most agencies only take 18+) but not legal for them to watch porn then I don’t see how it protects 16 and 17 year olds. It’s just giving them the message that sex is shameful and that older adults aren’t trusting them with their own bodies.

The proposal’s creator doesn’t understand the internet

Claire Perry MP who drove the porn filter proposal has no understanding of how the internet works. She’s now being sued by Guido Fawkes after accusing him of “sponsoring” a hack of her blog. Actually he only posted screenshots of the hack’s result. Surely someone who doesn’t understand the internet shouldn’t be trusted to censor it. Rhoda Grant MSP who put forward that other feminist Bill (to criminalise sex purchase) also proved herself incapable of understanding technology and asked why there can’t be a 9pm watershed for the internet. Which isn’t surprising since she didn’t seem that clued up on sex work either when I interviewed her.

Children’s ‘innocence’ doesn’t exist- stop rape by tackling rape culture not by censorship

The idea of children’s inherent “innocence” as something which not only exists but needs protecting (as David Cameron claimed in his speech) is illogical. No study has ever proved this ‘innocence’ to exist. Nor has an end date for innocence (such as the onset or completion of puberty) ever been found or documented. Children are created by sex, born from the mother’s body and born with privates of their own. They aren’t otherwordly beings from the Planet Celibacy. Even in the Victorian era Freud stated that very young children masturbate and have BDSM desires. I personally believe that Freud overstated children’s sexuality but at the same time I’ve heard of 9 and 10 year olds who already thought about sex without understanding what they were thinking about (especially girls – unsurprising, since girls reach puberty earlier than boys). In my primary school 9 year olds would pair up with ‘boyfriends’ and ‘girlfriends’.

Children do not wake up one day as fully formed adults, confident about their relationships and desires. Like social interaction, behaviour and everything else, it’s a learning process. And we all mature at different rates. We all want different things. A child could be mentally advanced (like the 9 year olds mentioned above) but end up a late starter physically because of religious beliefs or never bumping into anyone they really like. Similarly, sexually active teens might have been late starters mentally and only started thinking about sex aged 13. Protecting children would be better achieved by protecting them from paedophiles and ephebophiles and telling them that if they report rape they will be believed and not blamed for dressing ‘slutty’ or drinking.

Porn doesn’t turn people into rapists. If schools and parents teach kids about respecting themselves and others then kids will understand that they can’t rape. Parents and teachers could also talk to their kids about rape directly and explain why it’s wrong. Even in a world with no ‘rape porn’ rapists will still exist as long as sex education is inadequate and victim blaming remains a part of the culture. How will kids know rape is wrong if nobody tells them so and if the victims are the ones who are stigmatised? The absence of porn isn’t the answer. It is the absence of condemnation of rape which causes rape. This is the problem that needs to be addressed.

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5 thoughts on “The UK internet filter: Banning ‘rape porn’ will censor LGBT, feminist sites and won’t stop rape

  1. ceceliahubbartt July 27, 2013 at 4:38 pm Reply

    Very interesting post here! I had no idea that people had to prove they were over 18 years old at a shop to have the censor taken off their phone.

  2. R Daeus September 1, 2013 at 7:13 am Reply

    ‘Even just banning ‘rape porn’ (where rape is simulated) has its problems. Does ‘rape porn’ mean it’s obvious that someone isn’t consenting? How obvious is obvious – do they have to verbally consent and state their age during the film?’

    It’s true that a lot of porn seems to blur the line between consensual sex and non-consensual sex. But there is pornography that is blatantly marketed as ‘real rape’. These are movies where women are forced at gunpoint to have sex with a gang for what appears to be hours, and are shown to be in severe distress and pain. This is the kind of porn that perpetuates the normalisation of sexual violence against women. This is not the kind of porn where it’s difficult to tell whether the women are enjoying it or not, it is something that unequivocally borders on, and often is, torture.

    It’s simplistic to argue that we should rely on the education system to teach boys that forcing a woman to have sex with them is wrong- that’s an approach which presumes that adolescent boys listen to their teachers in the first place, and that there is no contradictory message countering the official one they’re getting in the classroom. As long as rape porn remains freely accessible on the internet, that contradictory message exists and will continue to play a part in shaping perceptions of the power dynamic between men and women.

    You mention that it is the culture of victim blaming which has to be changed and I completely agree with you. But the existence of rape porn feeds directly into that mind set, as numerous simulated rape movies depict the men as simply having been compelled to answer the call of nature, and that it is the women who have made the mistake of dressing provocatively and being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

    The porn industry is vast and continues to grow. It is diverse and ranges from the ‘female friendly’ sort of harmless depictions of erotic pleasure, to brutal gang rapes of teenage girls. To ban porn in its entirely is obviously unnecessary and impractical, but I don’t think it is wrong to attempt to weed out the kind that presents extreme sexual violence against women as a source of enjoyment. Germany has done it and it’s great that the British government has attempted to do it. There are still issues with the wording of the law though which may render it ineffective in some cases. If you are interested, here is a good article by an Australian publication that tackles the issue with the legislation: https://theconversation.com/rape-should-be-extreme-enough-for-english-porn-laws-15048

  3. Slutocrat September 1, 2013 at 6:24 pm Reply

    Thanks for your comment. It is already illegal in Scotland to possess videos of rape or child abuse, so we don’t actually need to ban it as it is already banned. In some cases it can be illegal even to view it, though I’m a little rusty on porn laws these days. I agree that videos of rape and child abuse should be illegal though as they already are I’m not very vocal about it. The article seems interesting and I’ll tweet the link and say someone posted it in a comment.

  4. […] is respectability politics gone mad. It’s hypocrisy gone mad. And as I previously wrote, it raises a lot of practical problems and cultural questions. And worst of all, the government […]

  5. […] is respectability politics gone mad. It’s hypocrisy gone mad. And as I previously wrote, it raises a lot of practical problems and cultural questions. And worst of all, the government […]

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