The R18 Story, the legalisation of
hardcore: Chapter 12: Nov 2000
B ased upon an article from The Times, 5.11.00 by Richard Brooks
Then a follow up article in the
Independent by Andreas Whittam Smith 6.11.00
Britain's film censor has called for a big increase in the number of sex shops selling pornographic videos.
Andreas Whittam Smith, president of the BBFC, says there should be "maybe 300 or so" licensed sex shops. At present there are
about 65 nationwide, with nearly a quarter in Soho, London.
Whittam Smith argues that more licensed shops would help stem the tide of illicit porn. The BBFC agreed in the summer to liberalise its R18 porn video classification to allow more
explicit scenes, though child pornography and bestiality remain outlawed.
If we had more licensed sex shops there would be less illicit trade of really hardcore material, whether in shops or mail order, and fewer under-18s getting such material under the counter , said Whittam Smith.
The BBFC president also
said he believed it was wrong that local councils made it difficult for sex shops to gain licences by charging large annual fees. Westminster council, responsible for Soho, charges more than £20,000.
It's a tax on sex - a tax on what is a
low-cost consumer product. This does not happen to shoe shops, he said.
Most local authorities are resistant. He's completely wrong , said John Beyer, director of the National Viewers and Listeners Association. The more outlets,
the more accessible this stuff becomes .
Even liberal councils, such as Brighton, were doubtful. The town has one licensed sex shop. Not everyone wants a sex shop round the corner , the council said.
However, Westminster has
some sympathy for Whittam Smith's view, particularly as some unlicensed shops are used to sell child pornography. It recently decided to increase the number of licensed shops from 10 to 16.
(Clearly a sensible notion that there are too few sex shops. Of course it would be more sensible to have at least 2 in every town . That way we would ensure
that monopolistic exploitation does not occur.
I guess that it is complete bollox that unlicensed sex shops sell child porn. I certainly haven't heard of any shop traders being done for selling child porn.
Strange as it seems to the newspapers, even patrons of unlicensed sex shops would not tolerate it, the police would soon get informed.
On a final point, the population of Brighton may be a tolerant lot (me
included), but the council certainly aren't. They insist on topless-only strip clubs and recently turned down a major beach volleyball tournament on the grounds that it was sponsored by the Page 3 website).
By Andreas Whittam Smith.
A chance remark I made at lunch last week ended up on the front page of one the Sunday newspapers yesterday: Film censor wants sex shop in every town . As a matter of fact, I wasn't surprised to see it, for the author had rung me up afterwards
to discuss my views; the headline and the article were an accurate reflection of what I believe.
Parliament has decreed, through the Video Recordings Act passed in 1984, that there shall be a system for licensing pornographic
videos, the R18 category, and this is part of the work of the BBFC. The legislation also enjoins that such material shall be sold only through sex shops that have a local-authority permit. These are more strictly regulated than ordinary video outlets.
The argument in favour of this system is that it exerts control where otherwise there would be a huge black market. R18 videos may not show any material that is in breach of the criminal law; the relevant statutes include the Protection of
Children Act and the Obscene Publications Act. They may not have the effect of encouraging an interest is abusive sexual activity. Nor may the activities shown be other than consenting. That is the legal territory.
readers won't like the sound of it. But there is a substantial, persistent demand for pornography which cannot be halted or turned away. Better to subject what I might call ordinary pornography to the light of day than let the whole trade be conducted
illicitly in dark alleys where crime flourishes. In taking this view, Parliament was, I think, adopting a sensible, pragmatic approach. Except that the local authorities have contrived to frustrate Parliament's wish. In fact no more than 65 sex shops
throughout the entire country are presently licensed. The bulk of them are in London, with as many as a quarter in Soho. Even in London the licensed trade has to compete against an extensive black market of almost the same size. In many local authority
areas up and down the land there are no licensed shops, and thus the illegal trade supplies the entire demand.
Consider what is available in illegal outlets. There can be found material which does involve the use of children
and animals, and which routinely mixes sex and violence, pain and humiliation. When the police raid such premises, the result is often that the material is taken in front of the local magistrates for a declaration that it is obscene, and it is then
confiscated. However the guilty parties often shrug their shoulders and start up again in different premises in another part of town. Much less often are charges brought in the Crown Court, where a guilty verdict can result in heavy fines and prison
sentences. I can understand why there is a reluctance to grant licences. It is thought that the very presence of a sex shop in town imparts an unwholesome character to the area. Other retailers do not want to find themselves next to one. But here I think
that local councillors are acting blindly. The trade will be going on anyway under their eyes. Perhaps they rely upon the police to root out the business. But for the hard-pressed constabulary, this can only be a sporadic and haphazard activity. Only the
largest cities have teams of police officers which specialise in obscenity.
I likewise find naive the remarks attributed to John Beyer, the director of the National Viewers and Listeners Association. He was quoted as saying
that the more outlets, the more accessible this stuff becomes. I would put the matter differently: the fewer the number of licensed outlets, the more the illegal trade flourishes.
For me the greatest risk that
pornography poses is through its effect on children who might see it. This most often happens in families where children are neglected and abused. The use paedophiles make of pornography to groom children is well documented. Even without abuse of that
kind, the harm which can be inflicted upon children must include shock and trauma, precocious sexualisation and the inculcation of the view that immediate sexual gratification is the sole purpose of a relationship. Indeed, I think it is fair to say that
involving children in watching pornography is itself a form of sexual abuse. But outside the cases of paedophila that reach the courts, and the extreme situations that professionals working with distressed children come across in the course of their
work, little is known about the extent of children's exposure to pornography. The children don't say and the parents won't divulge. The BBFC will shortly be publishing some research that it has conducted in this area.
Meanwhile I am quite clear. So far as pornographic videos are concerned, the greatest risks to society lie in the unregulated trade. A paedophile seeking material for grooming vulnerable children is much more likely to go hunting on the black market than to enter a licensed sex shop. I say to local authorities - control and supervise the trade rather than ignore it.