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Sex in the Noughties: How was it for you?

Politically correct mainly

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Have you got a license for that Sir?

Who could possibly doubt that the "noughties" have been a decade of unparalleled sexual license?

In fact, the list of doubts is long and growing longer. Following a particularly gruesome murder in 2003 – the Graham Coutts case – the government determined that many social ills could be tracked back to the internet. Nasty (pornographic) stuff was entering the country, and there was little the authorities could do about it: so the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 made possession of "extreme porn" a criminal offence.

Whilst Ministers talked of this being about worst cases – the "aberrant" and the "abhorrent" – it represented a widening in English Law of a principle only previously claimed in one supposedly exceptional case: the possession of material depicting child abuse.

This Act was followed shortly after by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which applied the same principle – of criminalising possession – to cartoon material.

The latter, of course, was ostensibly about "protecting children", which has been a second consistent theme for the decade: whenever the government had qualms about civil liberties, just appeal to public paranoia about the predatory paedophile – and the scope for opposition and counter-argument automatically diminishes.

Thus, possessing certain images was first introduced as criminal offence – by Labour – in the Protection of Children Act 1978 (pdf). Few would object to that principle: although in recent years, there has been increasing debate about whether making such possession a "strict liability" offence has contributed to child safety – or simply made society increasingly nervous about looking at images that a previous generation would have considered perfectly innocent.

That protection took tangible shape through the Internet Watch Foundation. The IWF flourished through the noughties, suffered brief embarrassment over an attempt to block an image already widely accepted culturally, and now, as the web becomes a less useful means to distribute child abuse images – the slack is being taken up by P2P and virtual networks - is mellowing into distinguished establishment respectability.

Still on "children": the SOA 2003 also extended the definition of a child to “under 18”, making it, for the first time ever, a criminal offence to possess an image depicting an act that is not itself criminal.

A further massive threat to liberties is the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (the "Vetting Act") which, through the aim of "protecting children" gives the state unprecedented powers to bar individuals from working in a third to a half of jobs in the UK.

Opponents have cited two wholly objectionable aspects of this legislation: first, that whether one is fit to work with the vulnerable now depends largely on one’s NOT participating in "inappropriate" sexual activity; and second, the fact that the underlying database will include third party reports and unsubstantiated allegations when it comes to evaluating sexual conduct.

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