Brooke Shields pic exposes real/online rift
Will the Internet Watch Foundation act?
Police advice to the Tate Modern Art Gallery, that one of the pictures in their current "Pop Life" exhibition may be child porn, and therefore illegal to display, highlights yet again the difficulty of policing this sort of material in an internet age.
The picture in question is Spiritual America, by reputable photographer Richard Prince, and is a study of actress Brooke Shields – at age 10. She is naked, heavily made-up and provocatively posed. Although this picture has been exhibited on a number of occasions in the United States, this is the first time it has been brought to the UK.
On any reading of the existing law on indecent images of children – the Protection of Children Act 1978 – there is a strong likelihood that this would count as an indecent image.
Readers tempted to bring up the image in Google should bear this in mind: under UK law, if a picture is indecent, then possession of that image is an offence. With a few specific exemptions – most notably around research, forensics and law enforcement – there is no opt-out from that harsh fact of legal life: idle curiosity would certainly not count as an excuse in court.
According to the Metropolitan Police, who have met with Tate management to discuss this matter: "[we] are keen to work with gallery management to ensure that they do not inadvertently break the law or cause any offence to their visitors".
The Tate have now taken the picture down temproarily and are in discussion with the police.
However, the mere fact that this matter has been widely reported is likely to drive individuals to go looking for it online and - it would not be too far-fetched to predict – some individuals may reach the same conclusion as this author: that the picture is almost certainly illegal under existing law. The Crown Prosecution Service sets out five levels of seriousness in respect of indecency, with level one being characterised by no more than "sexual posing". This picture appears to fall into that category.
Therefore, a complaint to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) may yet be inevitable: in which case, they will have to decide whether to add sites carrying this image to their block list and risk a backlash of the sort that occurred last year, when they attempted to block an image – an album cover for German rock group The Scorpions – or take a more pragmatic approach, and allow it to continue to circulate.
That, in turn, would open up a curious double standard between the ability of the authorities to police real life and online.
No such complaint has yet been made, and the IWF would not be drawn into commenting on something that is "purely hypothetical": a sensible move, as this could yet turn into another no-win situation for them. This conflict of means and objectives does, nonetheless, serve to highlight a continuing tension in the law, that is likely to prevail as long as individuals are subject to prosecution for possession of certain images, irrespective of intent. ®
Dilution of the law
Is not the more worrying aspect of this law it's place in an insidious trend: i.e. the current Government's apparent intent to label/stigmatise as many of their citizens as possible as 'criminals' (and paedophiles in this case)?
This legislation is simply another subtle way to expand the potential for the 'criminalisation' of honest, upstanding and decent citizens - which (I'm sure our rulers hope) will lead to the sort of docile society they want to develop: one in which each and every individual is way too fearful of the authorities to stand up for common sense & decency just in case they're accused/arrested for something (a breach of some legislation) so genuinely innocuous they hadn't even noticed it!
Or am I just paranoid...
"The argument for criminalisation of possession of indecent images is that the demand for the images causes an increase in the supply of those images." -- Er, no it isn't. The argument for criminalisation of possession of indecent images is that even though it's very hard to catch someone who looked at a picture, it's still a lot easier than it is to catch someone who actually abused a child. Everything else is post-hoc rationalisation and sophistry.
Most people don't have paedophilic tendencies, and aren't going to seek out images of child abuse. Of the ones who do seek out such images, most will just think "ick!" and make an effort to forget what they have seen. Of the ones who actually get any gratification, most will be satisfied with masturbation -- or at any rate, will have the self-control not to actually abuse a child in real life. After all, you've probably seen porn of adults. Did it make you go out and rape someone? Of course not, you've got more self-control than that.
"However it is clear that were there no demand for [proper*] child porn there would be no child porn and therefore a reduction in child abuse." -- But there *is* a demand for child porn, and it *isn't* going to go away. The best we can hope for is to minimise the harm that comes from that.
"It is clear to me also that an argument that the abuse has already occurred and it is no worse if 1 person looks at the picture or 10,000 do so is without merit as a defence." -- Then it should be equally clear to you that 10000 people looking at the *same* picture of *one* abused child is a lot less harmful than 10000 *different* children being abused.
Now, the odd person or two *may* decide that looking at pictures isn't enough, and go on to abuse a child. Or they may never even have seen a single child porn picture, but abuse a child anyway. Ironically, they will in all probability get away with it -- because the police were too busy searching for people who had been doing nothing worse than look at pictures.
That's how criminalising the possession of images is counter-productive.
Cover them up!
Doug Southworth wrote: "why else would you assert so adamantly that you have the right to see other peoples children naked?"
As some extremist would argue, why would you want to look at photos of other adult women (even clothed!), unless you intend to flirt, or covert thou neighbough's wife. That is why they force women to dress in veils, and stone to death the men who gaze upon them.
It is not about having the right to see other people's kids naked. It's about my family bathing, or running around on the beach naked, taking photos, and having the right to show the pictures to others without fear of arrest.