Irrelevance of evidence

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.

3 thoughts on “Irrelevance of evidence

  1. >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.

    Well – no, Caroline. I hope you’ll forgive the long comment.

    Mensch seems to have not even stated the basic facts accurately, and has gone off on a hanger and flogger rant on the basis of equivalences she had made up in her own head.

    Mensch writes that the images viewed by Geoffrey Bettley were “Level 1 Copine”, and equates that to ‘Level 1 on the CPS scale’.

    In reality Level 1 Copine images do not even qualify for inclusion on the CPS (“SAP”) scale, used in the sentencing guidelines. Level 1 Copine are pictures from (eg) holiday brochures, published sources, and snaps on the beach, where the quantity or organisation is deemed to be “indicative”.

    Level 1 SAP equates roughly to Levels 4-6 on Copine, but Mensch relates Level 1 to Level 1.

    I did wonder whether the newspapers had mistaken Copine for SAP, but all the newspaper reports say “Copine”, and so does he original panel report, which can be viewed here:
    http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/n/no%20order%20made%20mr%20geoffrey%20bettley.pdf

    Once she had done that, all the following “paedo-panic”, as she calls it, in her article follows easily.

    I don’t know if any of the other actions of Bettley constitutes a provable offence either; this whole area has been a messy mush since it all started with Rebecca Wade and Op Ore, and then Harriet H and Vera Baird ran with it.

    In a way I’m surprised that Bettley even took a caution. I’d say that the police offered one because they had no evidence that would allow them to make charges stick.

    On your “morals” point, are you sure that “we don’t know if it is a problem, but we want to think it is a problem, so we will criminalise it anyway” is a good basis for policy?

    Let me sharpen the point.

    How would you argue against someone wanting to apply the same “no hard evidence needed” principle to (say) Child Abuse by priests?

    “Prevent them having any contact with children to be on the safe side because we know there is a problem. Some of them are OK but we shouldn’t take a risk”.

    How will you define such a thing as “rape porn” so that the law won’t fall in the Supreme Court or Strasbourg?

    How do you know that “porn” or even “rape porn” is even harmful? There seem to have been a lot of people desperate to make that type of point for a very long time, and they still haven’t come up with anything.

  2. It encourages men to behave like rapists within relationships, badger women for acts they don’t find enjoyable, and ruin sex lives and relationships. I don’t wanna take your titties away, but the only men who are good in bed are the very few who don’t watch porn, or are ex users. The evidence : ask any woman if she has been asked repeatedly by a partner to engage in an act he would not engage in himself.

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