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Tuesday, August 30, 2005 

Skewed priorities.

Jane Longhurst was murdered by a friend's boyfriend. She was 31 years old and a special needs teacher. Undoubtedly, her death was a tragedy. What makes this death different from any other however is that her killer was found to have an obsession with violent internet pornography.

Coutts (35), a voracious consumer of web sites devoted to snuff movies and necrophilia, was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum tariff of 30 years. The Scottish-born part-time musician visited Web sites with names such as "necrobabes", "death by asphyxia" and "rape pleasure".

More than 800 pornographic images were found saved on Coutts' home computer over three quarters of which showed acts of violence against women. The court also heard that Coutts had accessed violent images the day before Ms. Longhurst was murdered in March 2003.

After strangling Ms. Longhurst with a pair of tights, Coutts took her body to a storage unit, for which he had a pin number for out-of-hour-access. The security log showed that he had visited the corpse at least 10 times in the month before he finally disposed it in a marsh.

After the discovery of Ms. Longhurst's body, employees at the Big Yellow Storage company in Brighton informed the police that Coutts had hired the lockup shortly after her disapperance. When they opened the lockup, police found Ms. Longhurst's possessions as well as a blood-stained rope and a condom containing Coutts' semen.

What has followed this case has been the usual calls for a complete crack-down on violent internet porn. The government has now appeared to cave-in to such a measure.

The Home Office will today propose to outlaw the possession of extreme adult pornography downloaded over the internet from abroad.

Although the existing Obscene Publications Act makes publishing such pornography an offence, the government argues that the internet has made getting hold of it easier while at the same time allowing suppliers to evade prosecution. In a consultation document published today the Home Office suggests making illegal "the possession of a limited range of extreme pornographic material featuring adults". It cites the depiction of bestiality, sexual interference with a human corpse or certain forms of extreme violence involving serious bodily harm.

"This is material which is extremely offensive to the vast majority of people and it should have no place in our society," said the Home Office minister, Paul Goggins. "The fact that it is available over the internet should in no way legitimise it. These forms of violent and abusive pornography go far beyond what we allow to be shown in films or even sold in licensed sex shops in the UK, so they should not be available online either."

The government and campaigners cite the case of Jane Longhurst, killed in 2003 by a man obsessed with violent sexual pornography. Her mother Liz, who has helped organise a petition that has so far been signed by more than 35,000 people, yesterday welcomed the proposed new law.

Snuff movies do not exist. There has never been a single one that has come to light which depicts the actual murder of a person, with it being sold as entertainment and the others involved in the movie getting paid. So, does real necrophilia on the internet really exist? I personally feel that it is extremely unlikely, but who knows? There might be some real east European necrophilia sites out there somewhere, or possibly on an obscure usenet group. The chances of Mr Coutts actually running into one of those and not a site which depicts necrophilia is far more likely. There are defintely sites such as that out there, as there are ones based around incest (again, debatable whether they are real or not) beastiality, and extreme bondage/S & M/rape type sites.

I find a lot of pornography distasteful, but I'm happy to admit I watch and use it. I also have a soft spot for Jess Franco type softcore erotica. I'm a firm believer that the government should keep out of the bedroom. That also applies to what consenting adults wish to do for money. If they want to take part in films that depict rape and involve pain to do with sex, that is up to them. If an adult wishes to pay to view such simulated acts, that is also up to them. The most important part of the government's consultation document is the following.

The consultation document admits that research into the subject is not advanced enough to confirm the link between such pornography and violent crime. "We recognise that accessing such material does not necessarily cause criminal activity," it says. "We consider the moral and public protection case against allowing this kind of material sufficiently strong."

In other words, we don't have any evidence that viewing such material will turn such a person into a necrophiliac that will go out and seek women to strangle. However, we do have a campaign on our hands and with some of the most draconian laws on obtaining porn in the western world, who's going to care about banning disgusting violent porn?

A case highlighted by the campaigns at Melon Farmers is that of a man identified only as "braintree". He was illegally selling DVDs recorded off adult channels. However, he unfortunately happened to have an animal and scat DVD in his possession when he was raided. While he had no intention of selling such material, he was charged with intent to supply under the Obscene Publications Act. In addition to the these two DVDs, some of the others he had recorded contained urination (urinating is allowed on its own at R18, but urinating on another person or showing someone licking or drinking it is usually cut) and fisting, both of which are regularly cut from R18 titles by the BBFC as they are considered "obscene". In the end, he pleaded guilty to the charges. He was sentenced to 4 months in prison. A fuller account is available here.

What did the above case serve anyone? Yes, he was breaking the law by selling DVDs he had recorded, but there are many other examples of sites based in the UK selling R18 DVDs, which itself is illegal as recently decided by a high court ruling. Why are the police not going after them? As usual, the police and the power of state is turned on one person.

If the above consultation stays in more or less the same shape and becomes law, we can expect there to be many other braintrees. The government has no evidence that such explicit material makes a person likely to be more violent. I've always found that those who watch or seek out such material are less likely to act out any fantasies they might have had once they have actually seen it or acts depicting such fantasies. Mental health professionals admittedly are split on the issue, though. Furthermore, would such a law affect mainstream "art" cinema? Films such as Last House on the Left and I Spit On Your Grave are still not available uncut in the UK, both of which deal with rape and the resulting revenge. The first inparticular is possibly the best polemic against violent gratuitous action films and even violence itself which I've seen. Irreversible, which contains a long anal rape scene, passed uncut in the UK, could also fall under such laws.

Why has this come up now? This government is facing such pressure over so many other issues that a tabloid-pleasing law such as this may help take some heat off Labour. As a result, many innocent citizens who have unusual or minority tastes may end up in prison for paying to watch consenting adults have sex for money. I thought those days had passed. Most of all though, is this what Jane Longhurst would have wanted? Is this what Graham Coutts' ex-girlfriend wants? Why is it that one murder can cause the loss of freedom for so many? It seems we are no nearer moving away from knee-jerk reactionary decisions.

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