PayPal has stopped processing payments for the world’s biggest pornography website after it was found to be hosting illegal content, including videos depicting child sexual abuse.
The electronic money transfer service had enabled Pornhub to pay people who are part of a company scheme under which porn stars and amateur models can earn a cut of the advertising revenue generated by the videos they upload. Top earners, whose videos get millions of views, can rake in £30,000 a month.
The decision comes after an investigation by The Sunday Times, published a fortnight ago, found Pornhub to be hosting illegal content including child abuse videos.
PayPal said it “explicitly prohibits the use of our services for the sale of materials that depict criminal behaviour, or the sale of sexually oriented content to minors”.
It added: “We work with a payment service provider to ensure their merchants follow our policies and adhere to applicable laws. Following a review, we have discovered Pornhub has made certain business payments through PayPal without seeking our permission. We have taken action to stop these transactions from occurring.” It said it had not seen evidence the payments were directly linked to illegal activities.
The content on Pornhub, uploaded by users around the world, included clips of men performing sex acts in front of children on buses and an account devoted to posting “creepshots” of UK schoolgirls.
The material makes up a small proportion of the more than 9m videos on Pornhub. But the fact that it, along with upskirting, voyeurism and revenge porn, was easy to find has raised fears the website is not doing enough to police user uploads. One of the clips had been viewed more than 350,000 times and was on the site for three years.
Two big advertisers, Unilever and Heinz, distanced themselves from Pornhub after the revelations. Both have advertised on the site in the past year.
PayPal has a history of cutting ties with controversial figures, including the English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson. It does not allow its services to be used to “promote hate, violence or other forms of intolerance that is discriminatory”. It also prohibits some gambling activities and has strict rules on the sale of sexually oriented goods and services.
Kate Isaacs, from #NotYourPorn, described PayPal’s former relationship with Pornhub as “problematic” and said she feared payments were made to “women being advertised as porn stars without their consent”.
Pornhub, owned by MindGeek, said it was “devastated” by PayPal’s decision, which it said would affect more than 100,000 performers, who will now be paid by direct debit or cryptocurrency. Blake White, its vice-president, said: “Decisions like that of PayPal . . . do nothing but harm efforts to end stigma towards sex workers.” The site claims to have a “robust” policy on illegal content, and said its aim was to eradicate “disgusting” child sexual abuse material from its platform.
“As criminals have become more sophisticated in their methods to disseminate child sexual abuse material, we are constantly adjusting our own preventative tactics. We believe these tactics are working,” White said.
When the sex trade survivor Rachel Moran published her memoir, Paid For: My Journey through Prostitution, she knew not everybody would be happy that she’d laid bare the realities of sexual exploitation. Pimps, brothel owners and punters would hardly be pleased that she’d lifted the lid on the world’s oldest oppression. What she could never have imagined was having to sue another woman for defamation, for repeatedly claiming that Moran had based her book on a pack of lies.
Gaye Dalton, who was also a prostitute in Dublin’s southside red-light district, one of the spots where Moran was bought and sold, has repeatedly alleged that Moran fabricated her entire life history, and had never even been in prostitution. These extraordinary claims were ruled as, ‘Untrue, offensive and defamatory’ by a judge in Dublin’s Circuit Court today, and Dalton was legally restricted from repeating them.
In 1989, when Moran was 13-years-old, her father took his own life. Her mother, who also suffered serious mental health problems, then became even more difficult to live with. Moran left home shortly afterwards, moved in and out of hostels, state-funded B&B accommodation and domestic violence refuges, before becoming street homeless. Soon after Moran was groomed into prostitution. Her life was dogged by men’s violence and abuse, drug addiction and transient accommodation. After seven years, in 1998, Moran found the strength to kick narcotics and exit prostitution. She returned to education, undertook a journalism degree at Dublin City University and began to write her memoir Paid For, which took her a decade to complete.
The book, published in 2013, became an instant bestseller. Feminists all over the world picked up Paid For, which world-renowned legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon described as, ‘The best work by anyone on prostitution ever.’
Moran soon became a much-loved icon within the international feminist movement, and her book has since been published in the United States, Australia, Germany, Italy, Korea and various other countries. Moran had set up an organisation made up of sex trade survivors, SPACE International, the year before her book’s release. SPACE grew as an organisation, and Moran became its Executive Director. The organisation, which operated without funding for the first four years of its eight year existence, was held together by an ingenious strategy of connecting sex trade survivors with feminist organisations who wanted to hear their voices, with much interest generated by Paid For. Moran and her colleagues slept in feminists’ spare rooms, on sofas and in cut-price B&Bs, as they spread their message about the abuse inherent to the sex trade to as broad an audience as possible, on zero budget.
The reality of this history – an absolute grassroots feminist struggle – is probably what makes the allegations against Moran so unjust and insulting. Far from fictionalising her history, Moran laid out the painful truth so other women wouldn’t have to live it. Far from profiting from it, the first time I met Moran at a feminist conference in Malmo, she didn’t even have the price of a meal. I ask Moran about those early days and what was involved in building an organisation from the ground up. She said ‘I began travelling internationally in 2012 on the back of a blog I’d begun writing a year before my book came out, and I met all these fantastic women from across Europe and North America and the thing that struck me so forcibly was that, regardless whether we were white women from Europe or black women from the US or Indigenous women from Canada, we were all saying the same thing. You couldn’t fail to see what a powerful force these voices would be if they were united. The first thing we faced were lies and slurs, and we face them to this day.’ One such slur would be that delivered by Ms Dalton, who allegedly said the women of SPACE International were ‘A pack of greedy, spiteful little frauds who sold sex workers lives out along with their souls.’
‘It’s just disgusting to see our women spoken about in that way’ says Moran. ‘Every woman representing SPACE International has lived the sex trade, many of us delivering frontline services to women currently in prostitution. We know what we’re talking about because we’ve lived it and we’ve witnessed other women live it. Whitewashing the sex trade won’t work with us. That’s why our voices must be rubbished as fraudulent. They are a dangerously powerful opposition to the counter political narrative.’
Asked how she feels about finally being vindicated, Moran says, ‘Well I always knew I could be vindicated because I always knew I was telling the truth. What I didn’t know was whether I’d be able to see Ms Dalton inside a courtroom. Thankfully that day has come and the media is now reporting what I’ve always known.’
Moran’s court submissions included two affidavits, one from a former foster mother who took Moran into care under court order after she had been arrested from a brothel as a minor in 1992, and the other from the Vice Squad Officer who’d arrested her.
It’s not just about Dalton though, is it? I ask Moran. ‘No, it isn’t’ she says. ‘This is not nearly as straightforward as one women spreading malicious rumours about another. It’s much further reaching and more sinister than that. This was a concentrated campaign of harassment that ran for years involving hundreds of people, thousands of tweets, scores of videos and blog posts, false allegations, defamation and the deliberately threatening public release of my home address.’
Some of that mud stuck. I remind Moran that I myself was prevented from publishing a profile piece on her in a major British newspaper on the grounds that there were ‘murmurings about her authenticity’. ‘There’ve been murmurings about the authenticity of every woman who’s ever spoken out against male violence in the history of the world’ says Moran. ‘Those murmurings don’t bother me nearly as much as the fact that some women who’d call themselves feminists believe them and repeat them. I’d suggest they look up the word “feminist” in their dictionaries, or take a look in the mirror, or maybe do both at the same time.’
In a letter submitted to Dublin’s Circuit Court Ms Dalton’s psychiatrist described her as ‘ill’ and asked the Court for leniency on her behalf. I ask Moran how she feels about Dalton now? ‘I have some sympathy for her’ says Moran. ‘I feel she’s been used. The piece that’s been revealed here is a long-term psychiatric patient’s bullying and vilification of a total stranger with allegations that have just been deemed defamatory in an Irish Court. The piece that’s gone under the radar is how a whole global cabal of pro-sex trade voices took advantage for years of her mental frailty and of my inability to defend myself against it. They used one woman to hurt another, and they knew exactly what they were doing.’
Seventeen people have been arrested in early morning raids across east London in an international human trafficking investigation.
A total of 29 women aged 20 to 40 were rescued in the operation by the Met, supported by officers from Romania.
The potential victims were taken to a “place of safety”, and the suspects, 14 men and three women, remain in custody.
Sixteen warrants were executed at properties in Redbridge, Havering, Barking and Dagenham and Tower Hamlets.
The suspects, who were aged between 17 and 50, were held on suspicion of modern slavery, controlling prostitution, Class A drug offences and firearm offences relating to a stun gun.
They remain in custody in a central London police station.
Four warrants were carried out in Romania at the same time, leading to the arrest of a man in Constanta.
Det Ch Insp Richard McDonagh, said: “The Met recognises the seriousness of modern slavery and the devastation it brings to people’s lives.
“Today’s synchronised operational activity [had] the aim of, in one fell swoop, dismantling an organised crime network and providing support to the victims.”
A spokesman for Romanian police in the UK said: “Romanian police officers working shoulder to shoulder with our British partners is a great achievement, a proof of our mutual permanent support and a great professional reward.”
A friend told me his student daughter had become a feminist activist. Check out her Facebook page, he said. So I did, expecting posts on the gender pay gap or #MeToo. Instead I discovered the campaign to which she and her mates devoted their energy was to save the Sheffield branch of Spearmint Rhino.
Seriously? A lap-dancing club? Indeed, a multinational lap-dancing corporation, where men from London to Las Vegas can pay near-naked women to grind on their crotches in private booths. Spearmint Rhino, whose posters of strippers dressed in sexy uniforms for “naughty schoolgirl” parties were banned by the advertising watchdog, and which exists to flatter and feed the sexual entitlement of men, according to its founder John Gray.
Not just any old Spearmint Rhino either but Sheffield’s, where the council recorded 74 breaches of the licence and 145 of the club’s own code of conduct, including sexual touching and masturbation. Yet outside the club with placards, demanding the council ignore such violations, were women students.
Until recently feminists campaigned to close such clubs, which proliferated under New Labour’s shameful loosening of licensing laws. Residents fought to stop them being sited near homes or schools, where passing girls would be cat-called. Women in business battled male bosses who entertained clients in strip joints, meaning female executives must either endure the bump ’n’ grind or lose networking opportunities. Women’s equality was judged incompatible with male sexual services on every high street.
Yet the Spearmint Rhino feminists told Sheffield council that “stripping is a crucial drive in the feminist movement” and “plays a huge role in empowering women”. Those who wanted the club closed, including the local Women’s Equality Party, were “SWERFs”: Sex Worker-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, ie prudes and bigots. Among the club’s most vocal supporters was Sophie Wilson, 23, a Sheffield councillor and now the prospective Labour candidate for Rother Valley.
Given this constituency includes part of Rotherham, you’d expect Ms Wilson to be mindful of the town’s recent sexual abuse scandal, aware that 20 men were jailed for grooming, rape and trafficking, that her voters include some of the 1,500 female victims. These grotesque crimes, the ensuing cover-up and recriminations, have left a festering wound. No surprise that residents voted for a zero-tolerance policy on sexual entertainment venues: from next year Rotherham council won’t renew any strip club licences.
Yet instead of reaching out to victim groups, Ms Wilson has gone to war against one of Rotherham’s bravest survivors. Sammy Woodhouse described being raped and impregnated as a 14-year-old by Arshid Hussain, now jailed, in her memoir Just A Child. With low self-esteem, few qualifications and criminal convictions (after Hussain inveigled her into robbery and drug dealing) she could only find work as a stripper in clubs.
For nine years she endured sexual assaults, the constant badgering by clients for “extras”, saw foreign women trafficked by pimps who demand girls illicitly offer sex. Many lap dancers she met shared her troubled trajectory: child abuse, manipulative boyfriend, a subsequent sense of worthlessness. The parallels with the Rotherham victims are obvious. As the National Crime Agency wrote: “The girls, who were all vulnerable and craving attention and love, were deliberately targeted for the sole purpose of becoming sexual objects for the men.” Perfect strip-club fresh meat.
Sammy Woodhouse is aghast that middle-class students believe lap-dancing clubs are empowering. Or that Sophie Wilson responded to Spearmint Rhino’s offer of a free night out as reward for saving their licence with an excited: “I’m up for it.” In response, Ms Wilson called Woodhouse — a Rother Valley voter — “SWERF trash”. It is hard to believe such an immature, insensitive person could be selected for a seat beset with complex problems. But the Rother Valley long-list compiled by Labour’s NEC excluded most local candidates. Ms Wilson was a Momentum choice.
She will need all the goodwill she can get. The seat has never returned a Tory but Labour’s majority has fallen steadily to 3,882 at the last election. Despite this, Sophie Wilson’s only impact so far is to trample on the town’s sensitive past.
Who will go out leafleting for her on dark nights now? And if she wins, will she prove to be another hastily chosen, social media big mouth with little real-life experience, like the disgraced Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O’Mara?
Yet sadder than this betrayal of South Yorkshire voters by the party they have always trusted with power is the mindset of Spearmint Rhino feminists. Has the first generation raised on internet porn come to believe that sexual objectification is normal, even desirable? They call themselves “sex positive”, implying that women who oppose lap-dancing clubs ain’t getting any. (As if the sex trade has any respect for female pleasure.) They say lap dancers just need unionisation and for men to tip them well.
This, remember, is the #MeToo generation that calls a hand on a knee sexual assault and railed against entitled businessmen ogling hostesses at the Presidents Club charity ball last year. Yet it does not see that the narrative that gave Harvey Weinstein impunity to grab any passing starlet is played out in every £30 private dance. Wrapped up in their own narcissism and “identity” they are blind to the bigger picture. They are Spearmint Rhino’s useful feminist idiots. Ladies, you’ve been had.
The government has dropped a plan to use strict age verification checks to stop under-18s viewing porn online.
It said the policy, which was initially set to launch in April 2018, would “not be commencing” after repeated delays, and fears it would not work.
The so-called porn blocker would have forced commercial porn providers to verify users’ ages, or face a UK ban.
Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan said other measures would be deployed to achieve the same objectives.
The government first mooted the idea of a porn blocker in 2015, with the aim of stopping youngsters “stumbling across” inappropriate content.
Pornographic sites which failed to check the age of UK visitors would have faced being blocked by internet service providers.
But critics warned that many under-18s would have found it relatively easy to bypass the restriction using virtual private networks (VPNs), which disguise their location, or could simply turn to porn-hosting platforms not covered by the law, such as Reddit or Twitter.
Likewise, platforms which host pornography on a non-commercial basis – meaning they do not charge a fee or make money from adverts – would not have been affected.
There were also privacy concerns, amid suggestions that websites could ask users to upload scans of their passports or driving licences.
In a written statement issued on Wednesday, Ms Morgan said the government would not be “commencing Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 concerning age verification for online pornography”.
Instead, she said, porn providers would be expected to meet a new “duty of care” to improve online safety. This will be policed by a new online regulator “with strong enforcement powers to deal with non-compliance”.
“This course of action will give the regulator discretion on the most effective means for companies to meet their duty of care,” she added.
OCL, one of the firms offering age verification tools, was not happy about the decision.
“It is shocking that the government has now done a U-turn and chosen not to implement [this],” said chief executive Serge Acker.
“There is no legitimate reason not to implement legislation which has been on the statue books for two years and was moments away from enactment this summer. [This] would have protected children against seeing pornography on the internet, a move which would undoubtedly have been welcomed by all sensible parents in the UK.”
But Jim Killock, executive director of civil liberties organisation Open Rights Group, welcomed the news.
“Age verification for porn as currently legislated would cause huge privacy problems if it went ahead. We are glad the government has stepped back from creating a privacy disaster, that would lead to blackmail scams and individuals being outed for the sexual preferences.
“However it is still unclear what the government does intend to do, so we will remain vigilant to ensure that new proposals are not just as bad, or worse.”
In June, the porn blocker was delayed a second time after the government failed to tell European regulators about the plan, leading Labour to describe the policy as an “utter shambles”.
The first shock was that her former boyfriend had filmed them having sex with each other. But the second shock was worse — he had uploaded the videos to the world’s leading free porn site.
The 24-year-old woman, an administrator from Derbyshire who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted her local police force in August last year after discovering that two leaked sex tapes had been posted on Pornhub by the man, whom she had dated for a year.
She found out after the man’s new partner sent her links to them on Snapchat and wrote: “You need to see this.” The videos, tagged with terms like “f****** my ex”, were allegedly viewed hundreds of times before being deleted.
Now Pornhub has been accused of contributing to the collapse of the investigation into the incident after police said it had failed to co-operate with requests for information. Pornhub claims it did not receive the emails. The case was closed last month due to a lack of evidence.
“When I watched the videos I felt sick,” the alleged victim said. “I knew straight away it was me. I felt dirty and ashamed, even though I had done nothing wrong. I thought I was in love with him at the time. I had no idea the videos had been filmed.”
Anyone can earn advertising revenue by uploading videos to Pornhub, with the most-watched clips racking up millions of views and top models generating tens of thousands of pounds.
Officers arrested a 28-year-old man last October, but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said it needed further evidence, including a statement from Pornhub, before making a charging decision.
Derbyshire constabulary tried to contact Pornhub, owned by the Luxembourg-based company MindGeek, and initially received an email containing “technical information” about the videos. But it did not provide further details requested by the CPS, police said.
“A second request for information, which was required by the CPS, was submitted by email to Pornhub in March 2019 and a further follow-up email sent in April. There was no reply,” police said.
Kate Isaacs, from the campaign group #NotYourPorn, said: “It should be mandatory for porn websites to co-operate with the police to provide justice for those who have suffered sexual abuse and had it broadcast on their platform.”
The CPS said it was unable to make progress in the case because of a lack of “crucial” evidence, including information about “who, when and how the material was uploaded”. A spokesman added that pursuing Pornhub was “not the only possible line of inquiry” but that if the site supplied further details “then the file would be reopened and we would be able to make a charging decision”.
The woman said she was “appalled” by Pornhub’s alleged lack of co-operation.
She believes the videos were posted by her former partner, who has previous convictions for harassing women, shortly after she discovered that he was cheating on her: “I stood up to him and said: ‘No, I don’t want to speak to you any more.’ I think that loss of control kicked him off. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be other victims.”
Pornhub came under fire in July for hosting a video of a British teenager who claimed to have been gang-raped by up to 12 Israeli men at a hotel in Cyprus. Lawyers for the woman, who is currently on trial accused of making false allegations, claim she was a victim of revenge porn.
Blake White, Pornhub’s vice-president, said revenge porn videos violate the website’s terms and conditions and are removed if reported. He added that the company responded to an inquiry relating to the Derbyshire investigation and provided “personal information” about the account holder but “received an autoresponder email in return. Since then, we have no record of correspondence from Derbyshire constabulary.”
QotD: “One victim testified that she had been bound in shackles in the basement of one of Chatman’s houses while men paid to rape her”
In 2017, Kenny Chatman, who ran several treatment centers and sober homes, went on trial for money laundering, sex trafficking, and insurance fraud. He pleaded guilty, after evidence surfaced that he had held female clients hostage for sex work. One victim testified that she had been bound in shackles in the basement of one of Chatman’s houses while men paid to rape her. “I recall close to 150 in total different faces of rapists abusing me daily over a period of 3-4 weeks,” she wrote. “I was unrestrained for brief periods, only to be cleaned up of bodily fluids. I thought I was going to die there.”
I’m really disgusted by the use of the term ‘sex work’ here, in the same paragraph as ‘sex trafficking’ and ‘rape’, it shows what a joke the concept is.
The number of teenagers seeking sex therapy on the NHS has more than trebled in two years, according to official figures.
Experts blamed the jump on the increasing prevalence of pornography on teenager’s smartphones and social media, with one saying that youngsters expect sex to be “perfect every time”.
In total, 4,600 children and young people aged 19 or under needed psychosexual therapy in 2017-18 and 2018-19. During the previous two-year period, there were 1,400 referrals. Overall, teenagers make up 1 in 10 patients receiving sex counselling, compared with 1 in 30 two years ago, NHS Digital said.
Muriel O’Driscoll, a counsellor and psychosexual therapist who has treated teenagers, said: “With the young ones, sometimes, despite the availability of sex education, they often don’t know what they’re doing or expect sex to be perfect every time.
“They don’t know what they’re doing because they’re basing their potential experience on pornographic films or videos on Facebook and all the other media. They expect people to be able to have orgasms at a blink.”
O’Driscoll, who has worked for the NHS and Brook Advisory Centres and now practises privately in Merseyside, also said that boys and girls were sometimes concerned that their genitals did not look like or measure up to those they had seen online.
Children are stumbling on pornography online from as young as seven, a report found last month. The survey, from the British Board of Film Classification, suggested that three-quarters of parents felt their child would not have seen porn online, but more than half had done so.
Mary Sharpe, chief executive of the relationships charity The Reward Foundation, said: “The overuse of technology is creating teenagers who are anxious, depressed and with psychosexual problems. Since the advent of high-speed broadband in 2006, the prevalence of mental health problems has soared among young people. Are they linked?
“The internet and porn industries are doing their damnedest to deny it, but we think they are connected because symptoms so often clear up once people go through a digital detox that lets their brains resensitise to everyday pleasures.”
Claire Murdoch, the national mental health director at NHS England, said: “What is becoming abundantly clear is the need for other parts of society to start taking responsibility for their actions, exercise a proper duty of care and stamp out damaging online behaviour — so the NHS is not left to pick up the pieces.”
The top court in Maryland ruled this week that a teen who sent a sexually explicit cellphone video of herself to two friends violated state child pornography law.
The teen, referred to in court papers as SK, did not have to register as a sex offender but was ordered to undergo electronic monitoring and probation, which required drug tests and anger management classes as well as permission to leave the state.
The decision, which upheld a decision from a lower Maryland appeals court, means other minors who engage in sexting could face similar legal repercussions.
Amidst spreading criticism, one expert told the Guardian it was “a ridiculous reading of the statute” concerned.
The ruling, by a 6-1 majority among the judges on the Maryland court of appeals, said: “We refuse to read into the statute an exception for minors who distribute their own matter, and thus we believe SK’s adjudication as delinquent … must be upheld.”
This 35-page decision stemmed from an incident at a high school several years ago. The student identified as SK was 16 at the time and therefore “legally able to consent to engage in sexual conduct”.
According to the ruling, she and her two best friends swapped “silly photos and videos” in a cellphone-based group chat “in an effort to ‘one-up’ each other”.
“The trio hung out together and trusted one another to keep their group messages private,” the ruling said.
The other group members were identified as AT, a 16-year-old female, and KS, a 17-year-old male. During the 2016-17 school year, SK sent them a “one-minute video of herself performing [oral sex] on a male”.
After the trio fell out, the clip was shared with other students.
AT testified that KS “would always write on the board, like, saying she’s a slut or saying any type of thing” and also urged AT to accompany him to the school resource officer, a member of the sheriff’s department, to report the video. While KS claimed he “was worried about SK and wanted her to receive help”, the court papers said, AT thought his motives “were not so pure”.
“AT testified that KS was bragging around school about SK going to jail if he were to report the text message,” the papers said.
KS, who had a copy of the video in his email account, showed it to Officer Eugene Caballero. He was told to delete it.
Caballero then met SK, who was read her rights. According to Caballero’s police report, SK “cried during their meeting and was upset that the video was going around the school”. The student thought the meeting would stop the video circulating. Caballero did not tell her she was “considered a suspect for criminal activity”.
SK gave Caballero a written statement saying she was in the video and had shared it with her two friends.
Caballero’s report was sent to a state attorney. Prosecutors charged SK as a juvenile with filming a minor engaging in sexual conduct, distributing child pornography and displaying an obscene item to a minor. The juvenile court determined SK was involved in the last two counts.
She appealed, arguing that “the statute was intended to protect, not prosecute, minors victimized and exploited in the production of sexually explicit videos”.
The top court recognized that the issue was more complicated than in cases involving adults – but still ruled against SK.
“On the one hand, there is no question that the state has an overwhelming interest in preventing the spread of child pornography and has been given broad authority to eradicate the production and distribution of child pornography,” the opinion said.
“On the other hand, SK, albeit unwisely, engaged in the same behavior as many of her peers. Here, SK is prosecuted as a ‘child pornographer’ for sexting and, because she is a minor, her actions fell directly within the scope of the statute … As written, the statute in its plain meaning is all encompassing, making no distinction whether a minor or an adult is distributing the matter.”
The judges said they did “recognize that there may be compelling policy reasons for treating teenage sexting different from child pornography” and said legislation differentiating the two “ought to be considered by [Maryland’s] general assembly in the future”.
The dissenting judge said prosecuting SK conflicted with the intent of the state’s child pornography statute.
“She made a video depicting consensual sexual conduct,” Judge Michele D Hotten wrote. “The general assembly did not seek to subject minors who recorded themselves in non-exploitative sexual encounters to prosecution. Rather, the statute contemplates protecting children from the actions of others.”
The decision prompted criticism.
“If there is any victim here,” said Slate, “it is SK, who was allegedly the target of revenge porn by her erstwhile friend KS. Yet KS was never charged with distributing the video, nor were any of the students who passed it around.
“Only SK, humiliated and horrified, found herself charged as a child pornographer. The system failed her at every step, from the school resource officer who treated her like a criminal, to the prosecutor who inexplicably brought a criminal case against her, to the courts that affirmed the prosecutors’ ridiculous reading of the law.”
Rebecca Roiphe, a professor of law at New York Law School and former assistant district attorney in Manhattan, agreed.
“This is a ridiculous reading of the statute,” she said in an email. “The law uses two different terms, ‘person’ to describe the perpetrator and ‘minor’ to describe the victim. The legislature clearly did not intend to criminalize the victim.
“If there were a law prohibiting a person from bringing an animal into the park, it would be absurd to say a man walking alone in the park violated the law because he brought himself.”
Roiphe added: “I think the case illustrates how troubling the enforcement of sex crimes can be and how important it is that prosecutors use their discretion wisely.”
Obviously, I agree that it is completely wrong for minors to be prosecuted in this way, and that this is an incorrect interpretation of the law, which is meant to protect minors.
We need to be careful that this isn’t used to try to weaken laws that protect minors from sexual exploitation, especially by the porn industry (see my 2015 blog post here about an attempt in the UK to do just that).
QotD: “she says she believes that coercive sex is the price she has to pay for being in a relationship”
When Jed first heard from friends about websites where you could see naked women, it sounded too good to be true. So one afternoon, aged 11 and with his mind straying from homework, and while his mother was busy, he typed “boobs” and “sex” into the search bar of the family laptop.
“My first reaction was: ‘This is confusing.’ I knew a bit about sex, but there were men doing painful stuff to women,” he recalls.
After trying to make sense of what he was seeing, Jed clicked off the page and cleared the browsing history. “But I couldn’t put it out of my mind, so half an hour later, I had another look.”
Now, eight years on and in his first year of an engineering course at university, Jed is a member of a generation that has grown up with porn, and estimates he spends five or six hours a week looking at it.
Indeed, a 2016 analysis of 1,001 11- to 16-year-olds by Middlesex University for the children’s commissioner and the NSPCC found that at least 56% of boys and 40% of girls had been exposed to online pornography by the age of 16. The study also found that not only are boys more likely to keep seeking it out after they first see it (59%, compared with 25% of girls) but they are more likely to be positive about it.
“It’s normal,” says Jake, 19, echoing many of the boys I spoke to. “If one of my friends hadn’t seen it, I’d consider that weird.” For Jason, a swaggering 17-year-old, porn is a comforting routine, something functional that he wakes up with and winds down to at the end of the day. “It’s stress relief, and less work than girls,” he says.
When Samuel’s parents found a list of what they considered to be extreme sexual acts in his browsing history (“Nothing too serious,” Samuel, who is 16, says: “double and triple penetration”) he wasn’t embarrassed. He was annoyed: “I thought, ‘So what? Everyone watches it.’” Tom, 17, says: “We know it’s fake. My mates laugh about it.”
“They may be laughing about it,” says Dr Gail Dines, a scholar of pornography and professor emerita of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College, Boston, “but they are also masturbating to it. They say they know it’s fake, but what does that mean? You haven’t got one brain that processes fake stuff and one that processes real stuff. You have one brain and one body that’s aroused. If you begin by masturbating to cruel, hardcore, violent porn, studies show that you are not going to grow up wired for intimacy and connection.”
Most of the girls I spoke to seemed to be concerned about a loss of intimacy that comes from their male peers’ porn use. Although there are some girls who watch porn, most I speak to are exasperated by the groups of lads accessing it on GCSE field trips or talking in the school cafeteria about videos they’ve seen.
Nia is 14, and though she avoids porn, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t felt its influence. Among the boys, she says it’s easy to tell which ones are the heavy users. “They’re the ones who don’t know what to say at parties, and then write sexual comments on your Instagram posts.”
Megan, 15, has visited porn sites a few times because she heard about her friends giving blowjobs and thought, “it sounds like a skill you’d better learn how to do. You don’t want to get it wrong.” Ayeesha, 17, talks about how porn warps things. “Boys like to spice it up because ordinary sex is considered boring,” she says. “And girls think having anal sex will make the boys love them.” When Ayeesha had sex, she rated her performance as if through the pornographer’s lens. “The first time I did it, I was thinking, ‘My body looks good.’”
When Rhianna, 21, looks back on her teenage sexual relationships, she recalls being asked to replicate scenes her boyfriends had seen on porn. “It wasn’t about what I wanted. It was as if you were some prototype female they got to act out their favourite videos with.”
Now she’s older, Rhianna has started to demand sex on her own terms and enjoys porn herself. “As long as it’s not violent, or shows rape, it’s fine for people over 18 to watch. I think it can be fun to use with a partner.”
But it’s impossible not to hear the angst and confusion in the voice of Ciara, a 20-year-old retail trainee, when she says she believes that coercive sex is the price she has to pay for being in a relationship. “Boys all want the things they’ve seen in porn. If you say it hurts, they don’t seem to take it seriously. It’s as if that’s a normal part of the experience.”
There is some hope, though: a few of the older boys I speak to seem to be gaining some perspective on the downsides of porn. Henry, 20, decided to wean himself off it when he felt he couldn’t masturbate without it. “You’re entranced by it. Denying myself and forcing myself to use my imagination instead was really tough.”
Beyond that, he also started to recognise how it affected his view of women. “I’d see girls in the street and realise I couldn’t just click a button and see them naked. I’d be talking to someone and get frustrated that I couldn’t just make sex happen.”
Mitchell, 19, has begun to understand the connection between what he watches and how he behaves. “If girls are reluctant to do something, you pressure them because you think, ‘Lots of women do it in porn. Why don’t you?’” He says he began to feel “like I wasn’t in my own body”.
The effects of porn run deep – 53% of boys and 39% of girls in the Middlesex University study saw it as “a realistic depiction” of sex – and even with the anticipated new verification checks, free porn will bubble up in other ways; it is already increasingly appearing on platforms children use from a young age, such as Snapchat and Instagram.