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Indecency in the eye of the beholder

spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London), on the crusade against the spectre of child porn.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume
Columnist

Topics Politics

This is a bit of random text from Kyle to test the new global option to add a message at the top of every article. This bit is linked somewhere.

Like most of you, I have never seen any explicit images of adults having sex with children. Of course, the idea is repulsive. But I am also sickened by those seeking to prey on our emotions by turning child pornography into an all-purpose moral panic for our times.

In a report published yesterday, the children’s charity NCH announced a 1,500 per cent increase in child pornography crimes since 1988, blamed the internet for spreading child porn everywhere, and said that internet-connected mobile phones could make things even worse.

If anybody claimed such an increase in any other crime, the statistics would be considered suspect. Yet such is the concern about child porn that most took the 1,500 per cent figure at face value. NCH compared the 35 people against whom police proceeded in 1988 with the 549 charged or cautioned in 2001.

Given that 1988 was the first year in which it became a specific offence to possess child pornography, it is hardly surprising that the numbers convicted of the newly-invented crime were so low. And given the cultural and legal fixation with child porn in recent years, the only wonder about the later figures is that they are not much higher.

So is child pornography really such a major, and growing, social problem? Campaigners always claim that the relatively few prosecutions are ‘only the tip of the iceberg’. Yet even those who specialise in researching child porn admit they don’t know that much about it. Professor Max Taylor, director of the respected Combating Paedophile Information Networks in Europe project, told an international conference that ‘it is difficult to find another area of substantial policy development that has been based on such little empirical evidence’.

Instead, the crusade against the spectre of child pornography reflects society’s obsession with regarding children as potential victims of abuse, and adults as potential paedophiles. So parents worry about taking pictures at the school play for fear of what others might think, and anybody trying to photograph a child at the local swimming pool risks being sentenced to summary drowning. One effect is to taint the innocent pleasure of looking at pictures of our offspring. Perhaps the police should set up checkpoints to search men’s wallets for photos of little boys and girls.

The author of the NCH report insists that ‘we’ve got to stop thinking about paedophiles or people who use child pornography as the dirty old man in the raincoat’. The assumption is that anybody with a computer or a mobile phone is just a click away from slithering down the slippery slope, from spam to child porn pay sites to sexual abuse.

Campaigners also suggest that the internet has made child pornography seem more normal. But who needs vile websites to raise public curiosity when salacious stories about child porn are continually splashed across the mainstream media? The suggestion that child porn is everywhere, and that anybody could be using it, has done more to ‘normalise’ it than any sleaze merchant could do.

The underlying issue here is not how we deal with hardcore child pornography. It is how we view our children – and ourselves. Innocence or indecency is increasingly in the eye of the beholder. Thus the Home Office’s Sentencing Advisory Panel can propose that ‘images depicting nudity or erotic posing, with no sexual activity’ could be criminal kiddie porn (don’t dare download that Donatello!), as could pictures of children ‘naked or semi-naked in legitimate settings’, such as the bath. In which case it seems legitimate to ask, who has the dirty mind?

This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics

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