“A law we didn’t know we needed.”
It is sad when a couple breaks up acrimoniously, often with many hurtful things said by both parties. As if that is not bad enough, some resort to what has been termed ‘revenge porn’ where pictures and video taken during the couples most intimate moments end up on social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter.
Everyone can sympathise with the victims and the Government has tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill that will make this kind of behaviour punishable with up to two years in prison. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling told BBC News (13/10/2014): “We want those who fall victim to this type of disgusting behaviour to know that we are on their side.”
Nicky Morgan, Minister for Women added: “Circulating intimate photos of an individual without their consent is never acceptable.”
Even the New Statesman (15/10/2014) has come out in favour of creating a specific offence to curb the incidences of revenge porn, simply because existing laws do not adequately target this type of behaviour. It disagreed, however, with the term ‘revenge porn’ or pornography stating that the use of the word “revenge” narrows the offence unnecessarily, while the use of “porn” or “pornography’ ‘…somehow seeks to legitimise what is an awful ordeal for someone to go through….’
However, not everyone is so supportive of the amendments as naturist writer, Rayner Otter explained to The Telegraph (15/10/2014) the kind of photographs naturists tend to take of their family and friends at the beach, club or in a private garden could be grouped into the same category. While Fiona Ashley, contributor to H&E said: ‘Revenge porn is clearly abhorrent. I also find it equally abhorrent that images of naturists are classed as pornography in this poorly conceived Bill.’
The Bill classifies revenge porn as ‘photographs or films, which show people engaged in sexual activity or depicted in a sexual way or with their genitals exposed, where what is shown would not usually be seen in public.’
The way the amendment has been worded it implies that the mere inclusion of genitalia in a picture or film (video) could see that image being deemed pornographic. That could see films like ‘The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover’ already given an 18 certificate by the British Board of Film Classification and ‘Walkabout’ (12) being re-classified as pornographic and unlikely to be seen on British television because of the inclusion of simple, non-sexual nudity. The current BBFC guidelines says that:
‘Nudity with no sexual context is in principle acceptable at all classification levels, but will not generally occur more than occasionally at U.
Nudity with a sexual context will receive a higher classification. Strong detail in such a context will usually only be passed at the adult categories (18 or R18).’
(bbfc guidelines 2014: age ratings you trust, p6)
It also states when giving a definition to their U rating:
‘A U film should be suitable for audiences aged four years and over, although it is impossible to predict what might upset any particular child. U films should be set within a positive framework and should offer reassuring counterbalances to any violence, threat or horror.’
(bbfc guidelines 2014: age ratings you trust, p15)
We have seen lawyers from the Crown Prosecution Service using legislation intended for one purpose to deal with a completely different ‘problem’. For example, using the Public Order Act – designed to curb violent strikers – against naturists. It is therefore no stretch of the imagination to see the prosecuting barristers using the provision in this Bill, designed to prevent the malicious publication of intimate images taken in private as an act of revenge, as another device to restrict the legitimate activities of naturists who go out to public places.
In a letter dated 14th October 2014 to Dr Hywel Francis MP, chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Lord Faulks QC said ‘…a photograph or film is private if it shows something of a kind not ordinarily seen in public… or if it shows a person’s genitals.’ The amendment is supposed to capture and prevent the malicious publication of material of an intimate or sexual nature between couples that was produced with the consent of those involved, but with that consent now withdrawn because they are no longer in a relationship. While I think Lord Faulks’ explanation to the Joint Committee on Human Rights captures that intent, I don’t think that has been captured in how the amendment has been drafted. It has been written in sloppy, clumsy English that allows other interpretations and to broaden the scope beyond its original purpose.
At the time of writing, the Bill is at the report stage in the House of Lords and will be debated again during its third reading, but prior to receiving Royal Assent, the Bill will need to return briefly to the House of Commons to agree the amendments added in October. Although Rayner Otter has now written to the Minister of Justice, Chris Grayling MP, asking for the definition between what naturists and pornographers do to be made more distinct, sadly I believe we have acted too late to affect any change in how the amendment has been written and naturists will have to suffer the consequences.
In a factsheet prepared by the Ministry of Justice on the amendments, it said that ‘The Government has looked carefully at the concerns raised by campaigners and Parliamentarians about the uploading or sharing of revenge pornography.’ [My emphasis] While I can sympathises with the victims of revenge pornography and accept that the campaigners were right to seek a change in the law as it stands, this episode shows that the naturist community needs to be vigilant about any change to statutory regulation that may affect our lifestyle.
Love them or loath them, we must engage fully with politicians at all levels and not just at election time or when something like this amendment has been added to a Bill that works to our detriment. We must reach out to the political parties, their members and activists, and educate them in what is after all just a lifestyle like any other. But the few activists we already have in the Naturist Action Group cannot do this alone; we need others to help us, to keep watch and help encourage others to contact those in positions of influence when necessary. As the saying goes, “many hands makes light work” so the more the merrier, enabling everyone to participate.