LONDON - As part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which is expected to be "given the Royal Assent" (approved) on May 8, citizens of the United Kingdom will no longer be allowed to own, even for purely personal use, images which the government has deemed to be "too extreme" for them to possess.
Besides images of bestiality and necrophilia, which Americans can possess based on the U.S. Supreme Court's 1969 decision in Stanley v. Georgia, the newly criminalized porn includes depictions of acts which "threaten or appear to threaten a person's life" and which "result in or appear to result in serious injury to a person's anus, breasts or genitals."
The new law, which has been working its way through Parliament for nearly four years, was instigated by the murder of Jane Longhurst, a teacher in the resort village of Brighton. When her killer, Graham Coutts, was tried, evidence was introduced that Coutts had frequented such Websites as Club Dead (ruemorgue.com), which features images of violence, and RapeAction.com, "where all the extreme RAPE action is," according to a banner on the site. This led Longhurst's mother Liz to campaign for a ban on the possession of sexually violent images.
However, while video producers continue to be bound by the 1959 Obscene Publications Act, the new law shifts criminal responsibility to consumers of the violent images - and according to groups which oppose the law, the new prohibition risks criminalizing thousands of people who use images of, for instance, bondage/domination or sadomasochism as part of their consensual sexual relationships.
According to "Helen," a woman who enjoys being sexually submissive, quoted by BBC News Online, "Mrs. Longhurst sees this man having done this to her daughter and she wants something to blame, and rather than blame this psychotic man, she wants to change the law, but she doesn't really understand the situation."
Mrs. Longhurst's reply to those who fear the new law will jail people who use violent porn as a harmless sex aid? "Hard luck. There is no reason for this stuff. I can't see why people need to see it. People say what about our human rights but where are Jane's human rights?"
That the new law will chill free speech is a given, although the UK has no equivalent of our First Amendment which would prohibit the government from passing such a restriction on speech.
Still, asked Deborah Hyde of Backlash, a coalition of anti-censorship and "alternative sexuality" groups, "How many tens or hundreds or thousands of people are going to be dragged into a police station, have their homes turned upside down, their computers stolen and their neighbors suspecting them of all sorts?"
Moreover, at least one Member of Parliament, Edward Garnier, is concerned about how the new law would be implemented.
"My primary concern is the vagueness of the offense," Garnier, a part-time judge, said. "It was very subjective and it would not be clear to me how anybody would know if an offense had been committed."
Lord Wallace of Tankerness brought up yet another point during a debate on the bill last week in the House of Lords: "If no sexual offense is being committed, it seems very odd indeed that there should be an offense for having an image of something which was not an offense."
Still under consideration is an amendment that would allow couples to keep pictures of themselves engaged in "violent" consensual acts, but even that exception would not allow them to distribute the images even to like-minded friends.
Lord Hunt, who is shepherding the bill through the House of Lords, denied that the measure has been given less than full consideration even though he admits that it is being rushed through to meet a deadline. His overall response has been one of "Trust us," claiming that only those images that are "grossly offensive and disgusting" will be targeted.