It's time for UK's CPS to stop its war on sex

BLUF • policy

Submitted by Nigel Whitfield, BLUF webmaster, Nigel, aka SubDirectory (3), 08 August 2012



In the UK, a fairly important trial has just concluded; discussed on twitter using the #PornTrial hashtag, it centred around a man named Simon Walsh, who was prosecuted for ‘Extreme Pornography,’ after a search of his email account found images that the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) believed breached the law.

These images had nothing in them to indicate that they were anything other than consensual, or that there was real harm being done to those in them; they featured fisting and sounding. And whether or not you’re into those, the fact is that they are legal acts to perform in the UK. Another image, of someone in a gas mask, was originally considered to fall foul of our illiberal pornography laws, but was not included in the charges laid before the court.

Essentially, for having photos in his email folders – none were found on any of the computers seized by the police – the CPS wanted to convict Mr Walsh of a crime that would see him registered as a sex offender, and potentially sentenced to three years in prison. All for behaviour that is actually legal.

It’s hard to see this as anything other than an attack on sexual freedom in the UK – especially since the CPS already tried, and failed, earlier this year to prosecute someone else concerning fisting porn.

Today a jury returned a unanimous ‘Not Guilty’ verdict on all six counts, and I consider that a welcome slap in the face for this dangerous and out of control organisation.

Some might characterise that as an extreme viewpoint to hold; but this, remember, is the same organisation that has recently been dealt another blow over the ‘Twitter Joke Trial,’ after it maintained what seems to be a vindictive prosecution against a man who joked about blowing an airport ‘sky high’ in a tweet that even those at the airport disregarded as not important.

It’s the same organisation that never sees fit to prosecute policemen or security guards when they kill people, including the case of Jimmy Mubenga, who died on a plane after being restrained by G4S guards.

Cases like that, the CPS thinks, don’t merit prosecution. But somehow, cases where someone has photographs of sex between consenting adults do. The cynical might wonder if this has anything at all to do with the fact that Simon Walsh had previously been involved in bringing cases against police officers himself.

Even leaving that aside, it’s clear from the trial that there are elements within the CPS and the police who simply don’t like the idea of certain sorts of sex. That an image of someone in a gas mask might itself be considered extreme pornography is worrying enough.

That the CPS suggested in court that sexual health clinics are for those who are involved in ‘risky sex’ rather than anyone who wants to act responsibly shows a worryingly anti-sex and illiberal attitude. The CPS wouldn’t comment on that statement during the trial; I sincerely hope that they distance themselves from it now the verdict is in. It serves no interests other than the most prudish to put about the message that only “dirty” people go to sexual health clinics.

It was also rather surprising to suggest that since there were no images found on the computers in the trial there must have been another one he’d disposed of. Reading the tweets from the court, it was hard to draw any conclusion other than that the CPS was trying as hard as it could to smear the victim of their failed prosecution.

And, frankly, extreme pornography prosecutions serve no useful effect, other than a chilling one; it’s a bad law, brought about in response to an unfortunate case. Criminalising the possession of photos of consensual activities won’t help save anyone’s life; instead, it will destroy the careers of people like Simon Walsh, while simultaneously lowering the estimation of the CPS in the eyes of most normal people.

The state has no business with what people do in the bedroom, as long as no one gets harmed; and just because we in the gay community can have a civil partnership does not mean we have to stop doing anything else we like, whether it’s fisting, sounding, or anything else that’s legal.

By trying to control imagery, and chilling discussion – see also the recent ruling that a private online chat could fall foul of the UK’s Obscene Publications Act – I would argue that there’s a very real risk of more harm being done.

Of course, exchanging images and chat is how many people meet up, and the internet has been a great tool for sexual minorities; trying to shut that down, by prosecuting those who share images – alongside silly prosecutions for what people say on Twitter – won’t stop anything.

And pushing such activities underground, trying to outlaw them won’t save lives; education and information saves lives, which is why organisations like SM Gays are so important, and web sites like Hard Cell, where people can find out what’s safe, and what’s not, and meet people who have experience.

These stupid, misguided and anti-sex prosecutions are a bit like saying you’ll protect women from the danger of abortions by making them completely illegal; we all know how well that turned out.

The CPS has now failed twice this year in its attempts to prosecute people over fisting images; let’s hope that they give up on this illiberal crusade that seems to be disproportionately targeted at gay men, and start acting in the interests of real victims, rather than pursuing their own warped agenda.

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