Human Rights Abuse - Where Do You Draw The Line?

Dear Defenders of Freedom of Expression,

Human Rights Abuse - Where Do You Draw The Line?

An article by Ian Greenwood

July 2003  

SpotlightI have recently been in a 'debate' with the BBFC over their position to censor the portrayal of 'fantasy' sexually explicit violence in 'Hentai' cartoons, pornography and a few mainstream films. The BBFC maintain that this material is harmful and cannot be allowed to pass uncut, if at all.

The BBFC have offered up little if any real evidence of harm, relying mostly on the somewhat dubious and, in some cases, renounced research from psychological studies carried out over the past 30 years. Much of this research was commissioned by (US) Governments to try and end the production of 'violent' pornography. In several instances, even though the results of the studies could find no correlation between violent behaviour and violent pornographic material, the Attorney General's Commission ruled that the case had been proven! Even with such bias within the American system, films continue to be produced containing sexually violent material. If determined US Governments could not convince Congress to ban Hollywood from producing such material, this must surely cast serious doubt on the actual weight and validity of the 'evidence' these studies produced?

The Last House on leftIn defence of the Boards' decision to cut some 13 seconds from the now infamous 'Last House on The Left', Robin Duval, Director of the BBFC, produced a report combining all the 'evidence' from the studies showing 'negative' effects from sexually violent material. This report now forms the basis in support of the Boards' position on all of this material. It is interesting to note that the Video Appeals Committee, instrumental in bringing about the relaxation of R18 guidelines, believed that in their opinion Board had been "too lenient" with 'Last House On The Left'! Such then, is the fear and paranoia throughout our society surrounding the portrayal of sexual violence in the media.

In Duval's report (Sexual Violence Media Effects Research BBFC 2002), the most compelling evidence seems to come not from the general public, but studies involving offenders and, more surprisingly, sex offenders! Why any credible scientific studies would wish to grant access of sexually violent material to known criminals and sex offenders is astonishing! However, if anyone ever wanted to 'prove' there was some causality between sexually violent imagery and sexually violent behaviour, where better to look than the sexually criminal and sexually frustrated prison population? Surprise, surprise they were able to show a correlation!

It should be noted that Duval's report only includes the studies where 'negative' ('anti-social') behaviours were observed. The report admits there is a wealth of evidence in contradiction to these studies (often produced by the same psychologists). For instance, 'Respondents fed a diet of violent pornography for a week became more accepting of rape myths' (Linz, 1985). In contrast (not in the BBFC report), 'Respondents were fed a mix of violent and non-violent pornography for a month. A week later they were tested and showed no signs of anti-social behaviour whatsoever' (Malamuth & Ceniti (1986)). It is difficult to see the value of these studies when the tests are so unrealistic and the results so unpredictable. It is also difficult for someone with a background in logic and science to accept that this evidence should be taken alone without some objective balance being injected from the other side. After all, several of these studies were carried out for the sole purpose of proving pornography to be harmful. As Duval states "we cannot ignore this evidence", should this mean he can ignore the rest because it doesn't fit with his opinion?

In general, these studies show that 'some' men develop 'aggressive tendencies toward women' after exposure to sexually violent material. Just 'what' this means and the 'depth' and 'strength' of these 'tendencies' is never explained, only that it occurs. These then are not 'true' experiments in so much as they test a hypothesis and present a conclusion, they only document the procedure and the observations from the tests. It should also be noted that these effects are so negligible that they can only be detected and verified through statistical analysis. For the BBFC to claim that these effects are 'harmful' is like suggesting someone might run-over a traffic warden because they once received a parking ticket. None of the psychologists involved were foolhardy enough to suggest what the results could mean in terms of subsequent actions, thereby, leaving the layman (and the BBFC) to draw their own conclusions. Obviously, the psychologists felt perfectly safe to carry out these studies in the full knowledge that no one would actually be harmed either directly or indirectly! Let's look at that Linz study once again - they 'fed a diet of violent pornography to a group of men for a week and detected they developed a belief in rape myths', and Linz was not in the least bit worried he might be causing a crime wave? - I think Mr Duval should ask himself very seriously if 'any harm' was actually done and if this 'evidence' would actually stand up to proper cross examination.

I'm no psychology expert but I believe I can explain or at least offer a reasonable interpretation of these results. When we feel someone has done something 'wrong' do we not want to punish them? Our whole system of criminal justice is based on this principle. When a child makes a serious mistake, such as crossing the road without looking, do we not get angry with them? Even though we know it wasn't really 'their fault' and 'they should know better', we wish to shock them so that they do not make the same mistake again. This is, I believe, the true root of this 'aggression toward women'. One telling and interesting outcome of these surveys is that older men seem to become more hardened in their opinion toward women, as if it is 'their fault' for being attacked (a 'rape myth'). Is it not reasonable to assume then that this 'aggression toward women' is not an attempt to physically do them harm but more a reaction to want to chastise them because 'they should know better'? Most men after all want their woman to be chased, pure and unsullied. "How could you let this happen? Why didn't you kick him where it hurts and run like hell?" - these are the first things that enter a man's head in response to a rape, these questions lead quite naturally to thoughts that "she wanted it to happen" - the very 'rape myth' trait these studies uncovered. Such 'rape myths' are not at all uncommon, indeed, studies conducted by Women Against Rape and the Rape Crisis Centre, have found that these myths are most prevalent in the judiciary can you believe, with 90% of rape cases ending in a acquittal, the judges believing the woman was to blame! If we apply human instincts and emotions to these results a very different picture is revealed from the one the Board would like us to believe.

However, as any interpretation of these results is just speculation, for conclusive proof of harm we should look to studies by criminologists. Based on criminal evidence gathered over the past 50 years, criminology studies show that the relationship between sex offences and any type of sexually violent material shows no correlation at all. Sexual offences are not a result of, nor produced by, sexually violent material or indeed any type of pornography. Surely, the real evidence speaks for itself? Government policy, censorial guidelines and even public opinion simply do not reflect the facts. Japan, where 'Hentai' originates, has one of the lowest incidences of rape in the World. Of course this may have something to do with their culture but, if this material was as damaging as the BBFC want us to believe, surely it would have some impact on the figures? 'Hentai' material is laced with explicit 'school girl' and violent non-consensual sex scenarios. This material is intended to titillate and, invariably, the 'victims' appear to become aroused and enjoy the violation. This causes the BBFC great concern in respect of their psychological 'evidence', so much so, that they have banned several titles, and yet, even though Hentai has been available in many countries for many years, it has had no impact whatsoever on increasing, nor has it ever been linked to, the incidence of sexual offences. All the real-world evidence points to the fact that sexually violent material is totally and utterly harmless.

In light of the real criminal evidence then, it is apparent that our right to Freedom of Expression, afforded to us by Act of Parliament some 300 years ago and enshrined in Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998, is being abused. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has debated the meaning and the intended interpretation of Article 10 many times over the years. It is their assertion that Freedom of Expression exists not only to allow people to share 'information' and 'ideas' that meet with 'approval' but, and expressly, to 'shock' and 'disturb' States and opinion. The purpose of this is to 'progress society'. To paraphrase slightly - 'There is little point in guaranteeing this right if we cannot use it to push back the boundaries and challenge our beliefs to create a better society'.

It is clear that the current attitudes of the Government, the BBFC, and the public in general, are in need of a shake-up. Their long held belief that the portrayal of sexual violence in the media breeds sexual violence in real life is completely unfounded. Years of scare-mongering by the press, quasi-scientific psychological studies and outspoken moral extremists, have clouded judgement and created paranoia, stifling growth and understanding within our society. I say they've had their crack of the Freedom of Expression whip, now how about ours? - the liberal minded, rational, free thinking, truly moral citizens who wish to further the bounds and growth of our society. It really is our turn, and Human Rights law is on our side!

We need look no further than the other EU member States to see that the effects of more 'liberal attitudes' on the portrayal of sexual violence in the media are safe. Most countries throughout the rest of Europe have the most lenient censorial guidelines anywhere in the World. In European pornography, virtually anything goes! Spain's board of film 'classifiers' does just that and only that, they 'classify' a film as being of a certain type and suitable for a certain age, and even then, this is only an advisory guideline. Britons flood over to Spain on holiday every year and feel perfectly safe to do so. Yet, anyone of any age can view any type of material in Spain. So what have been the adverse effects of such liberalism on that society? - NONE! Spain has one of the lowest incidences of rape in the whole of Europe. The age limit to see a totally uncut 'adult rated' film throughout most of Europe is 16. Are 'children' of 16 running amok or committing acts of sexual violence anywhere in Europe? - NO! Indeed, the instances of rape and sexual abuse abroad are no more, and in many cases less, than in Britain. In the case of Spain, a woman is three times less likely to be raped than in Britain!

How can this be? Why doesn't suppressing such imagery reduce such instances in Britain? Firstly, as already stated, criminal studies show such imagery does not create or add to this problem. By far the majority of rapes are premeditated, they are carried out by ordinary people upon women whom they know and sometimes under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They are not instigated on spur of the moment 'uncontrollable sexual urges' (a rape myth the psychologists did not check for). The remainder are related to marital or mental health issues, low self esteem or trauma caused by abuse as a child etc. Secondly, through censorship, it is my belief that we are not allowed to mature into to proper adults who are capable of rationalising and controlling our desires. If we never see a rape scene in its full glory we can get the wrong message and never guard against doing the same thing ourselves. Indeed, the BBFC's policy on such imagery makes rape appear far less of a crime by removing 'extreme violence', 'humiliation' and 'explicit sexual content' (a classic example of doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons). All this, in the sure and certain knowledge that they are doing the 'right thing' to protect the 'sensitive public' - totally blinkered and unaware that they are achieving exactly the opposite effect.

It's time to let our repressed, frightened and child-like society grow up. This starts with our censors' ridiculous attitudes as to the safety and acceptability of certain material. I put it to you, if the members of the BBFC have not suffered any ill effects from viewing countless hours of material they eventually cut for public consumption, where is the proof it can actually harm anyone? Are the Board's examiners somehow immune, or is this stuff simply harmless and needlessly removed to ensure we remain in this infantile and paranoid state of mind? This is the real abuse we suffer from all types of censorship. We are simply not allowed to develop an adult mindset and opinion of our own. We are treated like children and forced to accept that 'they know better'. What we are allowed to see is chopped up and fed to us like babies. In the same way we would chastise our children when they meddle with matches, the Board decides "you're not watching that, you might hurt someone". Until the child burns itself it will never know the danger of matches and why it should not play with them. In the same way, people can only learn to protect themselves from harm if they are allowed to experience the effects of that harm for themselves. Far better they experience that harm in a movie or video, rather than on a Saturday night after a few pints with the new girlfriend...

To some extent the Board are trying. The few cuts to 'Baise Moi' and 'Last House On The Left' do not interfere too much with the stories but, crucially, do interfere with the impact of the material. The missing penetration shot in 'Baise Moi', was justified on the grounds that it would 'eroticise' the scene which, for some as yet unexplained reason makes it 'dangerous' - the rest of Europe got to see it without it causing any problems, why not us? In Britain, all we saw were two men beating and humiliating two women. The few seconds that would have brought the shocking reality of the crime home to everyone were cut, removed, and assigned to oblivion. This shot was not in the least 'erotic', it was cold and totally soulless, devoid of anything remotely sexy - I know, I've seen it. We have to wonder what the examiner was thinking at the time they decided this was 'erotic'. The Board always claim they are simply applying their guidelines but, someone has to be of the 'opinion' that the material is in breech of those guidelines. Only three years ago this shot would have been cut on the grounds that it was 'obscene' but, since hardcore is now available at R18, it's suddenly deemed 'erotic' and in the context of that scene 'dangerous' - seems the more things change the more they do indeed stay the same. I also question what right the Board think they have to fiddle about with someone else's work, especially as there is no right to appeal a decision for a cinema release as there is with videos?

The real issue in question then concerns the portrayal of 'eroticised' rape type scenarios in pornographic material (including Hentai cartoons). Scenes where there is an element of coercion or non-consensuality coupled with explicit sexual content or where the 'victim' appears to become aroused. Such scenes have always been a 'no-no' with the BBFC. The "we cant have that" attitude yet again surfaces and all their 'evidence', although totally destroyed by the facts, swings into play. Pornography is pure fantasy and everyone knows this, a sentiment held by our courts as far back as 1971. The fantasy rape scenario is no more a threat to society than any other sexual fantasies people play-out in their own sex-lives. If it is obvious in the work itself that no one is actually being harmed, and it is appearing in the fantasy realm of cartoons and live action pornography, how can anyone claim (or even believe) this imagery is harmful? The fear this might permeate and incite anyone into committing a real-life crime is totally unfounded and an insult to everyone's intelligence. Real criminal evidence shows that this simply does not happen, so any speculation based on psychological studies that claims it 'might' must be flawed. Indeed, Donnerstein, one of the psychologists who carried out much of this research admitted that "the effects he had shown as a result of exposing men to pornography could be easily reproduced by having them ride a bicycle". We don't ban exercise and close gymnasiums because of their effects on increasing 'aggressive tendencies' do we? No, because everyone knows this would be totally and utterly absurd. The source of these 'aggressive tendencies' really does not seem to be an issue anyone need be concerned about. As all the real-world evidence proves, they are probably so weak and so common-place no one ever notices, let alone, 'acts' upon them.

Additionally, while discussing issues of unnecessary censorship, some other quite natural material is still considered taboo and obscene even at R18. Even though many women are capable of ejecting fluid during orgasm, and others enjoy the 'full-up' feeling of a hand inserted into the vagina, these images are not allowed at R18. Why? What possible offence can something so natural cause anyone, especially when it is only ever likely to be seen in a sexually explicit movie? How can the involuntary expulsion of liquid be likely to 'corrupt and deprave'? What is so repugnant about giving a woman an exquisite pleasure? This is censorship for censorship's sake, it is nonsensical and an outright abuse of everyone's right to explore different types of sexuality and sexual fulfilment. Pornography is an aid-to-sex, everyone who uses it does so to enhance and expand their own sex-lives and sexual experience. The BBFC themselves exclaim that the sort of pornography we get to see is 'boring', 'emotionless' and 'mechanical'. So why not give us something 'stimulating', 'fulfilling' and 'unusual'? - you're the guys holding the rubber stamp and the scissors for Pete's sake!

So I say to the BBFC - The time for change is long overdue! We've got this internet thing now, we've seen all that stuff you never thought we could handle as 'children' and guess what - we're fine, more than that, we're expanding our own horizons! What about all those video 'nasties' you banned in 1984 - most of them now passed uncut and some with a 15 rating - and look, society's walls aren't crumbling! Now it's time to let go of the toddler reigns altogether and let us live like grown-ups. We do not need nor appreciate your or the Government's intervention in our right to choose what we want to watch. Our society needs to grow, to envelop new ideas, and allow us new ways of expressing ourselves. We can handle it, believe me. Those that don't like anything can just stop watching - they'll be none the worse for a little 'eye-opening'. After all, none of this stuff seems to have done any of you any harm does it?

Is the BBFC's 'position' on these matters justified? You already know the answer. They offer a totally biased report containing nothing but speculative claims about 'effects' of certain material on 'some' men and, that 'their position' has been through a 'quasi-judicial review'. They've paid no attention whatsoever to actual criminal evidence. This doesn't sound like it meets the standards of 'strict justification' required to stomp all over a fundamental right to me. Indeed, the BBFC also claim that they are only meeting with public opinion, the fact that the purpose of Article 10 is to allow us to 'shock' and 'disturb' public opinion seems to have escaped them altogether. I'm particularly unimpressed. I know these types of images can be disturbing but that's the whole point. If ever there was a film which could put any man off committing a rape, it has to be 'I Spit On Your Grave'. I saw this video 20 years ago before the 1984 Video Recordings Act and it has stayed with me ever since - a truly powerful reminder that rape is not to be taken lightly. If we want to reduce the instances of rape we should not be presented with a notion that it is non-violent, non-humiliating and non-sexual. Rape is anything but 'nice and acceptable' except, of course, where there is no rape actually taking place, just some people or cartoon characters playing out a fantasy in a movie.


The Harm of Porn: Just Another Excuse to Censor An article by Avedon Carol www.fiawol.demon.co.uk/FAC/harm.htm

Handyside v. United Kingdom 1976, Otto-Preminger-Institut v. Austria 1994

Europeans and Their Views on Violence Against Women (1999)

Where do you draw the line? Cumberbatch (2002)

Interpol Crime Statistics

Rape And Pre-Trial Attrition: What Should Be Done? By Rebecca Bradley www.survive.org.uk/justice1.html

Sexual Violence Media Effects Research BBFC (2002)


UK Censorship
 UK Censorship News Archive: 1998 1999
 UK Parliament Watch Archive: 1996 1997 1998 1999
 Opinion: 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
 Legal Debate Mail order R18s, satellite proscription etc
 Proscription of Adult Satellite Channels Department for Culture, Media, Sport & Proscription
 Human Rights Abuse - Where Do You Draw The Line? by IanG
 Films On TV Red Triangle films on Channel 4 and the cutting of Thelma and Louise on the BBC
 BSC Guidelines Worthless guidelines on taste and decency from the defunct Broadcasting Standards Commission
 Obscene Interpretation of the Law A police raid on porn historian David Flint
 Obscenity Trials The only obscenity is British Justice
 The Black Market for Sex Videos The Pornographer's Best Friend
 Customs Guidelines & Seizures Up until 2000
 The People vs HM Customs Heroic battles against HM Customs
 Escalating Costs HMRC uses as much money as it takes to ensure decisions cannot be challenged in court (Oct 2000)
 Customs Poking Around in your Lap-top