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UK ministers are considering plans to make downloading violent sexual images from the net a criminal offence. Distributing footage depicting rapes or other so-called extreme pornography is illegal (under the Obscene Publications Act 1959) but current laws do not allow prosecution for simple possession. This contrasts with laws on the possession of images of child abuse.

A new offence of possessing violent and abusive pornography, punishable by up to three years imprisonment, is under consideration Home Officer Minister Paul Goggins told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. He said such images were abhorrent and had no place in society.

"These forms of violent and abusive pornography go far beyond what we allow to be shown in films or even sold in licensed sex shops in the UK, so they should not be available online either," Goggins said, adding that accidental viewing of violent material would be a defence against prosecution. The minister added that there was a responsibility to "reduce demand" for violent smut so as to protect both the public and those abused but did not elaborate on what steps might be taken by the government on this front. The Home Office has launched a consultation on its proposals to make possession of violent pornography an offence. The consultation will run for over three months until 2 December.

Plans for legislation were welcomed by the the family of Jane Longhurst, who was murdered by a man addicted to watching violent porn. Longhurst was murdered two years ago by a friend's boyfriend, Graham Coutts, after he spent hours watching footage of women being strangled and raped. Police said new laws might assist investigations. But a representative from a pressure group called Internet Freedom questioned the supposed link between viewing violent images and acts of violence.

Other countries are also considering actions geared to clamping down into the traffic of pornography over the net. The Finnish government has given the country's ISPs a list of proscribed child abuse websites to block. Meanwhile in Malaysia police have been urged to "randomly check" mobile phones for pornographic images. According to reports, teenagers in the country are using their mobiles to film "mass sex parties" and circulating images of these Bacchanalian orgies to each other in defiance of the Muslim country's strict censorship laws. ®

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