Nothing highlights more starkly the irrelevance of solely evidenced-based policy than the campaign to criminalise possession of pornography that depicts acts of rape.
A debate is currently raging as to whether or not there is evidence that such material causes people to commit this heinous crime. Two recent convicted child-killers, Mark Bridger and Stuart Hazell were found to have accessed this type of pornography as well as having viewed and downloaded sickening images of child abuse.
Louise Mensch highlights the inconsistency of the UK legal approach in a sensible fashion here, claiming that the UK law does not reflect the gravity of these crimes.
Some intellectual honesty is required. The link between the viewing of pornography (whether violent or not) and sexual crime remains unproven. It’s certainly fair to state that viewing pornography normalises deviant and niche sexual behaviour and can prove damaging to those predisposed to addictive behaviour as well as those who are having difficulty forming normal healthy relationships. There is a plethora of emerging data that suggests that pornography is having a deleterious effect on the psyche of society at large.
But until this can be definitively quantitatively proven debates will rage centred around civil liberties, censorship and the consenting individuals involved. In all likelihood there are those who can view rape porn and not go on to commit crime. Pornography does not turn people into automatons, we still retain free will even in the midst of the most terrible addictions. An addiction to porn may require much strength to break free from, it may increase the desire to commit sexual crime to those inclined that way, but it won’t in and of itself cause someone to take the conscious physical step of forcing oneself upon another. Pornography should not be used as a mitigating factor when considering how these crimes should be dealt with and viewed by society.
Instead of pouring over evidence and data, policy-makers should have the courage to admit the question of porn should be purely one of morals and values, not one of gradation of different levels of harm. All porn is degrading, seedy and harmful or damaging. It desensitises and cheapens both participant and viewer. It will always exist, but the question is whether or not it should have an overt place in society. Should porn be a matter of moral neutrality, should we sanction it, turn a blind eye or should we be brave and bold enough to state that it has no place in a civilised society, even if people then chuck glib insults or labels our way?
The evidence of the dangers of porn will take considerable time to consolidate, as with tobacco. By that time it will be too late. Whether or not we want a porn free society is entirely a value judgement. Evidence has little to do with it.