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Should any Panel member be tempted to dismiss the views presented in my submission as too far out on a limb, I would recommend a reading of the following article in The Times written some years ago by a prominent and respected commentator.

The Times

4 March 1988

Question the legislation, not the need

by Barbara Amiel

This week the government announced its intention to make the possession of child pornography a crime. It happened, by coincidence that I was reading reports of a conviction earlier this month of a 31-year-old homosexual paedophile, who had pleaded guilty to 32 charges of sexual and indecent assault on young boys. James Wilfred Stock had never used physical force but his "friendship" had lured more than 50 children into his flat, where police found 600 hours of video tapes, 500 child pornography magazines and 4,000 photographs and slides. "He lives, dreams and fantasizes little boys," said one policeman at the trial.

What a cursed life, I thought. One holds no brief for paedophiles, of course, but the case certainly illustrated a man in human bondage. A good-looking chap, Stock would have had no difficulty with women had his needs turned that way. It seemed curious that the children would all go along with Stock's activities quite willingly, often bringing back friends for second and third encounters. I suppose it simply illustrates the enormous curiosity pre-pubescent children have about sexual matters and the need for society to stand firm against those who wish to take advantage of them.

At the same time one can't help reflecting on what a human being can do when faced with an unnatural urge that cannot be fulfilled in any way except by a criminal act. Should Stock's actions be criminal one wonders, or should any sexual act which does not involve coercion, force or kidnapping be decriminalised? The logic to do so may have some merit but the instinct to protect our children from any sexual encounter is strong.

In fact, my initial response to reading about Stock and his huge library of pornography was to seize upon the connection between the ownership of dirty magazines and the commission of criminal acts as a justification for the proposed new legislation, but I realised this was rather poor logic. Indeed, the link has not been proven and insofar as there are any significant studies they seem to prove the opposite. People who indulge their outlandish fantasies through lewd material seem less likely to act out their peculiar tastes. I should think it more likely that they will turn to criminal acts if the Government blocks these more benign ways of indulging fantasies.

My own reaction to child pornography is a gut one and that is a feeling of utter revulsion. But the gut is a fine organ for the digestive process, less so for cerebral ones. If one accepts that producing and distributing filthy magazines is illegal, I suppose it is consistent to make the possession of them illegal as well. But whenever society decides that for some moral consideration it has a right to outlaw a particular human impulse, I get very uneasy no matter how much I personally may dislike the impulse in question.

Mr John Patten, Minister of State at the Home Office, feels he is standing on very firm ground when it comes to this issue and asserts that by making possession of child pornography an offence punishable by fines of up to 2,500, one strikes at the very raison d'Ítre for its production. I am highly sceptical. Child pornography is produced because some people have a need to look at it. This need and its satisfaction will not be extinguished by Patten's prohibitions any more than homosexuality or the craving for the high has ever been extinguished by legislation. Human desires are largely indifferent to fines, although any instinct can be curbed by sufficiently draconian measures.

As for the more forceful argument in this matter, which is the need to prevent the use of children as models in these magazines and videos I wonder if this could not be remedied in a slightly different way? One is revolted at the idea of children posing for pornographic pictures, but while the use to which the pictures may be put in someone's mind is abhorrent, I can't really see that simply photographing a child exploits him. One has no doubt that hard-core child pornography exists, but it seems to me that those people who favour the prohibition of anything most often turn to extreme examples to justify their cause, even though once the prohibition is in place it can embrace pretty innocuous cases or in the case of censorship, even worthwhile works. Perhaps more limited legislation, narrowing the definition of pornography to simulated sexual acts or brutality of any sort, might be a solution.

In the end, I suppose, I dislike all legislation like this proposed new amendment to the Criminal Justice Act., because it is legislation against an essentially victimless crime. The living child exists only in the paedophile's mind. Legislating against a state of mind and people's individual sexual fantasies seems to me tyrannical. In the era of permissiveness, prostitutes plied their wares, homosexual behaviour was glamourized and magazines lauded fantasy and experimentation. Now, after the tyranny of the libertines, the pendulum is swinging back to the tyranny of the conservatives. I think it would be rather a relief to have no tyranny in this area at all.

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