Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Why I don't consent to David Cameron's web censor plan

Porn block: David Cameron

As a feminist, I am against rape, against the sexual abuse of children and wholeheartedly in favour of grinding the culture which allows these things to happen into dust.

That's why I'm against David Cameron's latest proposals for increased filtering of the internet, blocking search terms and banning porn depicting simulated rape.

Taken as a whole, the plans are technologically unworkable and politically dubious; with content-blocking possibly leading to decreased access to support for survivors of abuse, while allowing the state a frightening level of control over internet freedom.

An integral feature to nostalgia is the cultural memory of the porn fairy, the mythical beast who leaves top shelf magazines lying around for any young lad to peruse. Blocking content would do little to stop children from looking at porn.

However, little of this broader critique of David Cameron's proposals covers my reservations about banning 'rape porn'.

The general rationale of a ban is rooted in social psychology from the early 1960s: Albert Bandura's iconic 'Bobo Doll' experiments, where children watched an adult act aggressively towards a doll and then, when offered the opportunity to play with the doll, they repeated the behaviour they had seen modelled.

Therefore, it follows, if someone watches violent behaviour in porn, they will act in a more violent manner sexually. However, actual evidence of cultural harm caused by rape porn is very weak. Let us assume that porn does have the potential to teach those who see it about how they should and should not behave when it comes to sex.

Why are we not directing all of our energies into flooding the internet with better porn, which teaches people about consent?

Porn depicting simulated rape tends to fall under the umbrella of BDSM porn, which is better at showing the process of negotiating consent than 'vanilla' porn, reflecting a general trend within the BDSM community.

Within BDSM porn, there is often a short interview between the performers discussing what they would like to do and what they would not like to do and how they can signal that they want the scene to stop if needs be.

After the scene has finished, the performers talk about the scene in a debrief. Would it not be better if all porn contained this process of negotiation and boundary setting, showing its audience that this is something which ought to be an inherent part of sex?

Banning rape porn will not make it go away, but send it underground, where we are less able to observe the safety of the performers and actual abuse may well increase.

We need to see better sex and relationship education for people of all ages. The key difference between porn depicting simulated rape and images and film depicting a real rape is the consent of all parties involved.

Consent is, after all, the ultimate weapon in the fight against rape culture.

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