Guest Post 1: Tabak and the legal admissibility of pornography – Nichi Hodgson
Josephine Tsui // 1 November 2011
Update: After we published this post, we had a discussion in the comments about disablist use of language to describe perpetrators. Check it out in the comments!
Recently, evidence was found that Vincent Tabak (whom was recently found guilty of murdering Joanna Yeats) was in possession of pornography. The death of Joanna Yeats was remarkably similar to the pornography. There are many different opinions about pornography and its legal admissibility in court. We will feature two guest bloggers and their perspectives on the situation. The F-word understands this is a contentious issue and we would like to respect the opinions of all our readers. What are your opinions? We encourage you to comment below.
Why banning ‘gender hatred’ porn is not the way to protect women – Nichi Hodson
Writing for the Guardian on Friday, Julie Bindel put forward her case for “a crime of incitement to sexual hatred in order to sanction those who produce and consume images of females being tortured and violated because of their gender.” This was in reaction to the news that Vincent Tabak, found guilty of murdering Joanna Yeates, had viewed strangulation porn on the day he murdered the 25-year-old Bristol architect. Tabak is clearly an unstable individual who violated Yeates in a heinous fashion. But Bindel’s argument is hugely problematic for a number of reasons.
Let’s get this straight – people who watch violent porn do not murder; people who are unstable murder. Just as men are not ‘incited’ to sexual abuse by women who wear revealing clothing, what Bindel’s proposed law lacks is a sense of agency. Jack the Ripper needed no porn to incite his behaviour. And neither did Tabak. Bindel says: “Common sense tells us that men who masturbate to porn involving the severe degradation and abuse of women are actually attracted to the idea of doing it directly to a woman.” But that isn’t necessarily true. Kink porn satisfies a desire driven by a sense of taboo, of what is socially transgressive. For most, the thrill of fantasising about something illicit, or enacting their desires with a consensual or paid play partner is as far as their libido takes them. Those that cross that line are clearly not mentally stable in the first place, and no amount of preventative censorship would stop them from acting on their narcissistic, non-consensual urges.
Some of Bindel’s claims are downright specious, such as her idea that the more porn you watch, the more attracted to violence you’ll become. How can a quantitative measure allow her to reach a qualitative conclusion? Surely it entirely depends on the kind of porn you watch, and how you define violence.
By Bindel’s definition, porn is inherently misogynistic. She makes no distinction between actual violence and play violence because for her, any representation of sexual violence against a woman is violence. If feminism means shaping our own sexual identities, there should be no reason why women cannot engage in consensual sexual practices that intimate fear to generate thrill. For an example of an ethical BDSM model, look up Kink.com – it is possible. The real problem with most porn is that it predicates men’s pleasure over women’s, but prohibition is not the answer. Surely we feminists need to push for a cultural shift in which women have an equal stake in depicting sexual pleasure – as attempted by directors such as Anna Span and Erika Lust. That may mean accepting that some women like to be sexually dominated, which doesn’t make them inherently anti-feminist or victims of gender hatred. Proposing a law that would only protect women against gender hatred porn would also be in breach of the Equality Act. To be implemented fairly, it would also need to apply to the vast amount of porn depicting male submission, and presumably same-sex “violent” porn.
“Extreme pornography” is already illegal under the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. Supposing there was a law that criminalised all those who made or viewed the Bindel-defined gender hatred porn, how on earth could the police and CPS find the time and resources to trawl through the nation’s computers, replete as they are (according to Bindel) with it? We have to be realistic about what is the most cost-effective and practical way of tackling violence against women, especially when there is so much contradictory evidence on the link between porn and violence. At the moment, it can take up to a year to arrest an individual for downloading child porn after computer equipment has been seized – and that’s someone who has viewed hundreds of images over a number of years and is considered ‘high risk’ (ie works with children). If this same timeframe was applied to cases such as Tabak’s, how could a prosecution be brought when it seems he viewed the strangulation porn after rather than before Yeates’ murder?
Meanwhile, thousands of rapists are routinely released on bail each year, partly due to civil liberties and partly due to prison incapacity. Jane Clough was murdered by her partner Jonathan Vass while he was on bail, after she had reported him for repeated rape during pregnancy. Surely preventing such attacks on already vulnerable women should be where we concentrate our money and efforts, not criminalising male porn habits in a bid to second-guess the likelihood of sexual violence.
Perhaps the way forward for porn is an ethical stamp guaranteeing more stringent standards of consent and safety. An outright ban on so-called gender hatred porn would merely allow the fermentation of an even more bilious black market where non-consensual victims of misogynistic sexual abuse become harder to protect, and those who enjoy edge play within the bounds of safety and respect find themselves castigated for their legitimate desires and considered actions. Most importantly, such a law would not have saved Joanna Yeates.
Photo courtesy of Cumbrian Snapper used under the Creative Commons License.