Monday, 13 February 2017

Gay liberation 1950s style

The government has recently pardoned over 15,000 men still alive who were convicted of homosexual offences. It is, of course, clearly right to erase from an individual’s criminal record actions which are no longer criminal. However, granting pardons in the way that this has been presented represents a meaningless gesture of political propaganda, the purpose of which is to parade the righteousness of the social orthodoxies of today’s ruling generation, and to unfairly and self righteously stigmatise and condemn previous generations’ attitudes to moral, cultural and social issues as being harsh, insensitive and unfeeling. Unfortunately, there are many men currently in jail who are the victims of today’s political class, with their misplaced notions on appropriate forms of sexual expression. So to set the record straight it is worth examining why previous generations thought it right to criminalise homosexual activity, and to see if current attitudes towards disapproved sexual behaviour are really that superior.

In August 1954 the Conservative government commissioned a committee under the chairmanship of Sir John Wolfenden to investigate whether the law needed to be changed on homosexuality (and also prostitution), and their findings were published in September 1957. Lord Pakenham in opening the debate on the report in the House of Lords believed that most people would share his view that ‘some forms of conduct are not just abnormal, whether in their psychiatric origins or their social manifestation; they are not just antisocial in the sense that the community considers that it must stop them, but are grievously sinful and are a rejection of the will of God.’ This statement outlines the importance which society then placed in still observing traditional Christian religious moral precepts.

He then went on to distinguish the sin itself from the actions of the sinner, and the Committee had to consider what the distinction should be between sin and crime. So the question that needed to be answered was - what are the criteria to determine whether sins should be punished by the criminal law? The committee addressed this question by concluding that ‘the function of the criminal law in so far as it concerns the subjects of this Inquiry is to preserve public order and decency, to protect the citizen from what is offensive and injurious, and to provide sufficient safeguards against exploitation and corruption of others, particularly those who are specially vulnerable’.

In this regard the Report concluded that ‘we do not believe it to be a function of the law to attempt to cover all the fields of sexual behaviour. Certain forms of sexual behaviour are regarded by many as sinful, morally wrong, or objectionable for reasons of conscience, or of religious or cultural tradition; and such actions may be reprobated on these grounds. But the criminal law does not cover all such actions at the present time; for instance, adultery and fornication’. Thus the committee recommended that ‘the criminal law should not intervene in the private lives of citizens or to seek to enforce a particular pattern of behaviour further than is necessary to carry out the purposes we have outlined.’

Lord Pakenham summarised this as’ if two men are doing wrong together, neither coercing the other nor taking advantage of his weakness, they must not be interfered with by the law unless their behaviour is harmful to a third party.’ The most important word here, which today’s generation of activists would increasingly overlook in policing sexual behaviour, is harmful. Lord Pakenham agreed with the findings of the Report that homosexual relations in private between consenting men over the age of 21 should be decriminalised. But he added the warning that ‘never let it be thought for a moment, that if we bring our law into conformity with what is the general practice in Europe…we are condoning homosexuality. We are doing no such thing…we condemn it as utterly wrongful’. All the evidence from the debate suggested that the distaste felt by Lord Pakenham towards homosexuality was then shared by a significant majority of the general public.

There was one dissenting voice on the Committee who was concerned that ‘the presence of adult male lovers living openly and notoriously under the approval of the law is bound to have a regrettable and pernicious effect on the young people of the community’ adding that ‘the more serious phases of such conduct have been recognised by our law as criminal for a continuous period of not less than 400 years’. In contrast, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster thought that the ‘law cannot effectively control such acts without doing more harm to the common good than the acts themselves would do. In that case it may be necessary in the interests of the common good to tolerate without approving such acts’. The problems arising from the threat of blackmail and the use of the police as agent provocateurs were also raised. Both of these evils are still with us.

The Archbishop of Canterbury observed that ‘there is a great general moral indignation against homosexual sins because they are unnatural. There is a queer lack of general moral indignation against heterosexual sins, fornication and adultery, because they are supposed to be natural, and therefore, in some sense, less wrong’. The Archbishop believed that the Report was right in that ‘while all existing laws shall remain in force to protect and control those under 21… homosexual acts between consenting adults in private should not come within the ambit of the law’. So, in his view, the law should continue to criminalise homosexual activities such as those engaged in by Alan Turing with a teenage youth.

One lord made the point that ‘in the press the idea is put forward that indulging in homosexual occupations is a temptation. It is not a temptation to the normal man in any way at all…to ask him to indulge in homosexuality is to ask him to indulge in what to him is repugnant and disgusting, nothing else.’ This remark addressed the fear of many people of the time that anything proclaimed to be sinful, might in reality be ‘forbidden fruit’ that in practice could be quite enjoyable, since dancing and theatre attendance had once been denounced from the pulpit as sinful. As we now know only those with a homosexual inclination find such activity attractive, it generally has no lasting appeal to heterosexuals, thus the fear of many at the time over the likelihood of the widespread corruption of youth becoming ensnared by involvement in ‘unnatural practices’ turned out to be unfounded.

On behalf of the government the Lord Chancellor stated that ‘there can be no prospect of early legislation on this subject’ as it would ‘obviously be a serious step to reverse the provisions of the criminal law which have stood for a long time, and any Government would be bound to think long and carefully before deciding to do so’. He was particularly concerned that decriminalisation ‘would be tantamount to suggesting that there is nothing socially harmful in such behaviour and would inevitably have as its consequence that young people would be encouraged to indulge in it, and that society would be corrupted’. A wholly mistaken view as events would prove, but it does explain that one of the prime motivations for retaining this law was concern for the protection of young people, the same justification that is put forward today for maintaining some of the more intrusive and invasive sexcrime legislation of our time.

Given the climate of the time none of the supporters of decriminalisation had anything positive to say about homosexuality, although a number had some sympathy for the predicament which homosexuals faced. One such lord opined that it was ‘a grave moral offence, in that it offends radically the law of nature ordained by God’, but added that ‘toleration by the law is not the same thing as condoning, and that to emphasise the personal and private nature of immoral conduct, is to emphasise the personal and private responsibility of the individual for his own actions.’ As the gay liberation bandwagon rolled on, in time anyone who merely just tolerated homosexuality, instead of enthusiastically endorsing it, would run the risk of being branded as ‘homophobic’. Times were different in those days as the same lord was encouraged by ‘the vigorous public reaction against this recommendation (to decriminalise) as evidence of the instinctive sense of right values in the British public’. Remember, this was from a supporter of decriminalisation.

Future thinking was prophesised by one lord when he asked ‘why should the age of consent for homosexuality be fixed at 21 if it is no worse an offence than fornication?’ adding that ‘if the Committee had been logical, it was bound to fix the age of consent, whatever it might be, as the same for all. The only explanation I can see is that in their subconscious minds they had a real conviction that somehow or other this offence is worse in its results than the other.’ It would take parliamentarians almost 50 years before they reached the same conclusion.

As for those lords who opposed decriminalisation, their views make interesting reading today. One lord asked whether there ‘is any use sending these people to an ordinary prison where they spread contamination. I believe there should be some form of preventive detention system where they could receive proper medical treatment.’ For those who think we do things differently in these enlightened times, it should be noted that sexcrime prisoners today are still on the receiving end of ‘medical treatment’ to address their behaviour. The same lord rejected the argument put forward by some that ‘more harm can be done to the community by normal sexual intercourse outside of marriage than by homosexualism’ on the grounds that ‘one of the causes of the downfall of many ancient civilisations was the prevalence of homosexualism and its tolerance, with most damaging moral and physical effects upon the population.’ One of the physical effects of decriminalisation would be that thousand of young homosexual men would die of Aids as a consequence of their extreme promiscuous behaviour. Another lord addressed the question as to why ‘adultery and fornication are not criminal offences, so why should homosexuality be? The law answers that natural sin is different from unnatural vice. Natural sin is, of course, deplorable, but unnatural vice is worse; because, as the law says, it strikes at the integrity of the human race.’ Not a point of view you hear very much about these days.

One bishop disagreed with his archbishop on decriminalisation declaring that ‘there is no more baneful or contagious an influence in the world than that which emanates from homosexual practice. It makes a life of leprosy.’ The bishop agreed with the Lord Chancellor that ‘homosexuals can be made, they are not only born. There are far more manufactured than most people have any conception of, and they need protection. So homosexuals should be kept on a leash to prevent them from practising homosexual vice’. All the evidence today suggests that the bishop is wrong on this and that homosexuals are indeed born that way. The bishop concluded by proclaiming that people ‘would not have the general lines of the law altered, not only for the sake of homosexuals themselves but also for the sake of protecting other people from their predatory soliciting, and to protect men from being made into homosexual addicts and then let loose on the world with their predatory corruption’.

The fear expressed here by the bishop implies that young people might find that they enjoy homosexual experiences if they ever got a chance to try them out. This is in contrast, to today’s vocal fearmongers who proclaim that if young people experience sexual activity of any kind they will be traumatised for life, and will turn to drugs, alcohol, self harm, criminal activity and numerous other deleterious behaviours as a consequence. With regard to teenagers the fears of both camps are lacking in any real evidence, and what limited research has been carried out has shown such fears to be without foundation. Those who promote a contrary view invariably do so for religious, financial or political reasons. It is strange that these self appointed guardians of what constitutes appropriate sexual behaviour argue that sexual activity by teenagers below the age of consent must always be damaging, but never appear to question the licentiousness of wider society which sees the same behaviour as a fulfilling and enjoyable recreational pastime for those over the age of consent.

The truth is that the authorities today, and also much of the mainstream media, are just as confused, repressed and repressive in understanding the impact of disapproved sexual expression as were their lordships back in the 1950s. At that time the irrational fear was that the young might succumb to the temptation of an illicit deviancy which needed to be suppressed by the law and moralistic guardians. Today the irrational fear is that the young will be permanently mentally scarred by biologically normal sexual activity which needs to be heavily policed by the law and the welfare authorities.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Britain’s injustice system part 4 – viewing indecent images

Most politically correct liberals appear to harbour the delusion that the European Human Rights Convention provides British citizens with protection against government action that would seek to destroy their rights through unjust legislation. In fact the Convention has proved to be almost useless in stopping the erosion of their rights as individual citizens. This has been particularly the case with recent sexcrime legislation which has in theory criminalized just about every male in the country over the age of ten. Their individual rights on personal relationships and privacy have been steamrollered over through a combination of paranoid legislative overkill, cultural conformity, political groupthink and the appeasement of mob justice and strident feminism.

One such legal minefield covers the viewing of what are termed ‘indecent’ images. As often happens with deserving causes which over time become corrupted, the original justification for introducing legislation was well intentioned, in that it sought the protection of children against those who were clearly seeking to harm or exploit them. The original source of these measures was contained in a Private Members Bill sponsored by the Conservative MP Cyril Townsend which became the Protection of Children Act 1978. It was prompted by a nationwide petition against the sexual exploitation of children organised by the anti-pornography campaigner Mary Whitehouse.

In a parliamentary debate Mr Townsend outlined the reasons why he considered new legislation was needed to protect children. He believed that the photographing of children in Britain for ‘pornographic purposes’ was on the increase, but that the police were ‘inhibited’ from taking action by the then state of the law. He claimed that ‘sophisticated operators, well versed in the law’s confusions’ were able to photograph children engaged in sexual activity and escape prosecution with impunity, since ‘they are not so stupid as to lay a finger on a child’ themselves. He further added that ‘careful research shows that to all intents and purposes those who take obscene photographs of children, without assaulting them or touching them, are not being prosecuted, because of the great uncertainty of the law.’ Mr Townsend recognised that the vast majority of child pornography on sale in Britain was imported from abroad, and that it was not sold openly but ‘under the counter’. Nevertheless, he claimed that home produced material of this kind was on the increase and thus it was necessary to tackle the problem.

With regard to the wording of the Bill Mr Townsend believed that it was right that ‘the courts should decide what is indecent rather than that Parliament should attempt to define that word too precisely’. Unfortunately, this highly unsatisfactory vagueness of definition would ultimately lead to serious problems and injustices. Nevertheless, Mr Townsend did have a stab at defining indecent himself ‘as anything which an ordinary decent man or woman would find to be shocking, disgusting and revolting’, adding that ‘I do not think for a moment that a jury would apply those words to the sort of shot that a grandmother might take of a grandchild on a rug before the fire. Of course, I have nothing against nudity as such’. Such optimism about the reasonableness of those enforcing the law on this subject would in time prove to be utterly groundless in the face of the hysteria that has grown over paedophilia, and of the paranoid zealots with a self appointed mission to combat it wherever the panic might take them.

Mr Townsend’s bill did not criminalize the possession of child pornography or indecent images of children, however defined. The wording of the Bill was that a criminal act would be committed only by any person who takes an indecent photograph of a child, or who possesses such material ‘with a view to production’, which in the Act itself was changed to ‘with a view to their being distributed or shown by himself or others’. So it is clear that the intended target of this legislation was not individuals who obtained this material for their own personal use, but instead those who were engaged in the production and/or distribution of it to others. Thus the Act would catch not only those who produced such material in this country, but also anyone caught distributing items smuggled from overseas, the main source according to police. The maximum penalty for any offence under the Act was three years imprisonment, which Mr Townsend considered to be a heavy one sufficient to deter those who might be tempted into the production or distribution of this material. The definition of a child was anyone under the age of 16, as this was the age of consent.

During the parliamentary debate the Home Office minister expressed a degree of scepticism over the need for the proposed legislation. He pointed out that under the Obscene Publications Act, the importation of ‘hardcore’ material could be seized by HM Customs, and anyone caught distributing it could receive a three year prison sentence. The minister did however acknowledge that ‘obscenity’ had a much higher threshold than ‘indecency’ and that the legality of ‘soft pornography’ involving children was somewhat unclear. However, he concluded that cases of pornography involving children where no criminal charges at all are possible were likely to be rare, and he rejected the widespread public assumption ‘that there is no law protecting children from exploitation in this way’. Finally the minister acknowledged that the power of search and seizure being proposed was much wider than that granted to the police in other legislation, and recognised that MPs would be ‘always concerned with the infringement of personal liberties and are certainly concerned about such powers from the civil liberties point of view’. The minister’s optimism over MPs concerns on individual civil liberties would not be sustained by events once the great paedophile panic moved into gear.

During the debate one MP summarised the objectives of the Bill as enabling ‘all those who had taken the photograph, reproduced it, distributed it and retailed it would become liable’ to prosecution. So no talk here of criminalising the person who purchased it. Several MPs questioned whether there was ever likely to be a public consensus on what might be considered ‘indecent’. A female Labour MP attempted a definition of indecent as’ ‘anything that is likely to impair the natural development of a child's sexuality and to impose on it a degree of precociousness or false development, (which) clearly precludes the baby on the mat or children on beaches. Indeed nudity is not necessarily sexual in context’.

Many MPs considered that the focus of this legislation should be the ending of ‘loopholes’ in the law which appeared to allow the photographing of children engaged in sexual activities. Some MPs deplored the increase in the availability of pornography during the previous decade and the rise of ‘permissiveness’, and were reassured that ‘British laws on obscenity are already more rigorous than those in nearly every other Western nation, and certainly tougher than those on the Continent.’ All the MPs who spoke supported the aims of Mr Townsend’s Bill. However, none of them advocated the criminalising of individuals possessing this material for their own personal and private use, or that the definition of ‘indecency’ should include innocent depictions of nudity.

The first major tightening of the law on ‘indecent’ images of children came with the Criminal Justice Act 1988 when the simple possession of such material became a criminal offence. In a parliamentary debate on the Bill the Home Secretary Douglas Hurd justified this measure on the ground that ‘child pornography victimises the children who are exploited by it, and I am afraid that it feeds the instincts which give rise to sexual abuse. It is already an offence to take, show or distribute indecent photographs. We are persuaded that it would be justified to criminalise simple possession in the hope of stamping out this degrading trade.’ The maximum fine for possession under the Act amounted to about £5000 in today’s money.

Predictably, the Home Secretary provided no evidence to back up his claims. There was no mention of the infringement of personal liberties which Home Office ministers had previously been concerned about, as they had now been converted from a position of scepticism over the need for this kind of legislation, to one of outright support to strengthen it. In so doing they handed to the police an enormous power to invade the private domain of citizens, considerably eroding their civil liberties as individuals. The number of people involved in production and distribution of this material is likely to have been very small, but the numbers who risked being investigated for possession could be huge, given the vague and open ended definition of ‘indecent’. The Bill included a significant number of other criminal justice measures that appeared at the time to be of much more concern to MPs. During the debate only two MPs raised this issue, voicing their support to criminalise possession, both motivated by the publicity arising from furore over numerous false sexual abuse medical diagnoses in Cleveland, before the true facts emerged in the subsequent inquiry and report.

A proposed amendment to define indecency as ‘a photograph of a child shall be deemed to be indecent for the purposes of this Act where its production appears to the court to have involved the exploitation for sexual purposes of a child’ did not make it into the Act. It might have saved a lot of trouble if it had. During the parliamentary debate a Home Office minister declared that ‘for a decade we have had a law dealing with indecent photographs, films and videos, and there is no evidence that it has caused the courts any problems… of interpretation of the word indecent. There has certainly never been any suggestion that an individual member of a family has ever been prosecuted or persecuted in any way for taking innocent snapshots of his children’. However, this hopelessly naive and simplistic outlook ignores the fact that this legislation related to production and distribution and thus would only have affected a very tiny minority, an illegal activity in which an ordinary family would be most unlikely to ever become involved in, unlike possession of a very broadly defined ‘indecent’ image.

From 1994 it became an offence to possess a so called ‘pseudo photographs’ of a child, defined as ‘an image, whether made by computer-graphics or otherwise howsoever, which appears to be a photograph’. From 2001 the maximum sentence for possession of an indecent image increased from six months imprisonment to five years, and for production and distribution, to ten years. In 2003 the definition of a child was raised from 16 years to 18 years. From 2010 it became illegal to own any picture, including cartoons, depicting a child participating in sexual activities, or depictions of any sexual activity in the presence of a child. By any rational standard all of these measures are clearly either paranoid, invasive, oppressive, crackpot or draconian, or a combination of these.

This legislation charts the position of the Home Office, from one in which there was scepticism over the need to target producers and distributors, to one in which the most vindictive sentences and gross invasion of individual privacy is warranted against those who do no more than view an image deemed by the prosecuting authorities to be ‘indecent’. What is puzzling, and an indictment of our society, is that with only a few honourable exceptions, neither conservatives, nor liberals, nor those in the ‘middle ground’, nor the intelligentsia, nor the great mass of ordinary people, seem in the least bit concerned about the enormity of this invasion of individual liberty and privacy, which in practice has done absolutely nothing to protect any child from harm or exploitation. They will only wake up when they get an early morning knock on the door as did the hapless and hypocritical Patrick Rock, one time advisor to David Cameron, who discovered to his horror that the legal monstrosity he had helped create, suddenly attacked and devoured him. He forgot to remember that the authorities prosecuting sexcrimes are only interested in obtaining convictions, not justice.