U.K. to outlaw violent porn after woman's death

Critics argue that the U.K.'s criminalization of violent porn does more harm than good.

Published September 1, 2006 4:00PM (EDT)

A mother's crusade to ban violent pornography in the U.K. following the death by strangulation of her daughter has reignited debate over porn and censorship. In 2003, Jane Longhurst, 31, was killed by Graham Coutts, a man allegedly obsessed with violent porn, the Guardian reports. Coutts, who claims he accidentally strangled Longhurst during consensual sex, was sentenced to life in prison for her death but successfully appealed his sentence and is now required to serve a minimum of 26 years, according to the BBC.

Jane Longhurst's mother, Liz, spurred pending legislation to outlaw the possession of violent pornography that seems life-threatening or seriously injurious. She argues that this kind of porn encourages criminal behavior. "Some people I'm sure can look at it and no harm is done," Longhurst told BBC Radio. "But I think for quite a lot of people, especially if they are rather impressionable, it can be very harmful indeed."

London's Home Office acknowledged a lack of evidence to support the popular stance that violent porn encourages criminal behavior, but suggested that certain material is so abhorrent as to be inexcusable. The British Psychological Society supported the government's stance and suggested that there actually is emerging evidence that could support a positive connection between viewing violent porn and committing violent acts among those predisposed to sexual violence, the Guardian reports.

Longhurst's killer may have been obsessed with violent porn, but critics argue the ban would do nothing to prevent similarly minded individuals from committing violent sex acts. After all, they argue, this is material that most often has to be actively sought out; the desire is already there. Backlash, an assembly of several activist groups against the legislation (including Feminists Against Censorship), argues that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce the ban without curtailing the freedoms of people performing in or viewing videos of consensual sadomasochistic sex. They also argue that the new law "will do nothing to reduce real crime."

This is a thorny subject with a lot of gray areas, but ultimately I can't get behind the criminalization of victimless crimes. The legislation doesn't concern itself with determining whether the filmed acts were actually forced; it only seeks to punish anyone in possession of material that appears as such. The legislation would be much more useful and actually protective if it focused on ensuring that the films' actors aren't coerced or forced to perform violent sex acts. Banning something based on someone's -- or even most people's -- idea of what is base and tasteless is a road I never want to venture down. But, clearly, this is a contentious topic ripe for reader response -- so, please, jump in.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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