Criminal Justice and Courts Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Rape & Sexual Abuse Support Centre (CJC 15)

1. Executive Summary

1.1. We welcome the proposal to extend section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act (CJIA) 2008 to cover the possession of extreme pornographic images that depict rape and sexual assault by penetration.

1.2. The proposal comes on the back of a public campaign led by ourselves, the End Violence Against Women Coalition and two law professors from Durham University, namely Professor Clare McGlynn and Professor Erika Rackley . The public face of this campaign received overwhelming support, with an online petition gaining over 2,000 signatories every day.

1.3. The evidence we are submitting relates to both the content of the pornography that informed our campaign, as well as practice based evidence for the harms of pornographic depictions of rape and other forms of sexual violence. We defer to the expertise of our campaigning partners, who have also submitted evidence, regarding the necessary amendments to the proposals as they stand to ensure the effectiveness of the law, particularly that it targets the content of the pornography given in this briefing.

2. About Rape Crisis South London

2.1. Rape Crisis South London [1] (RASASC) was set up in 1985 as part of a Women’s Aid project and has grown to be recognised as one of the foremost information and support resources for female survivors of sexual violence. As a registered charity (1085104) we are an independent organisation, based in Croydon, staffed by a dedicated team of over 60 highly trained professional workers and volunteers. In the almost 25 years since its beginnings as a once a week helpline, RASASC has grown to be a centre of excellence for survivors in London working with over 5,000 people yearly. Our aim is to provide professional services to female survivors of sexual violence who are aged 13 and above.

2.2. Our services include the national Rape Crisis Helpline, BACP [2] accredited specialist sexual violence therapy, through Helpline support, therapy and assistance through the Criminal Justice System using our Empowerment model to help survivors fully recover from sexual violence and lead happier and more productive lives. Our training and preventative department works in schools, colleges and pupil referral units (young people excluded from mainstream education) running workshops about sexual violence, trafficking, the dangers of being affiliated with Gangs in London and Child Abuse. We have outreach workers delivering services to survivors of domestic violence and a specialist working with women involved in prostitution. We are a professional organisation and to that end have become accredited members of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, The Helplines Association and we adhere to the National Occupational Standards of Rape Crisis (England and Wales). All of our work is informed by and represents the collective voices and experiences of the survivors of rape and childhood sexual abuse who access our services.

3. Background to the RASASC campaign for the amendment

3.1. In November 2010, Rape Crisis South London was informed by one of our service users about the existence of an internet site www.rapetube.org , [3] a free site offering graphic videos of rape including gang rape, the rape of young girls and incest rape. The site depicts videos which depict realistic simulations of the rape of women and girls with high levels of additional physical harm and a promotion of rape as a harmless form of sexual fetish or fantasy. For our service users, rape has been a devastating and debilitating event in their life, resulting in impacts similar to those seen in Holocaust survivors.

3.2. We were dismayed that such a site was available for free access in England, particularly given the introduction in 2008 of Extreme Pornography legislation, Sections 63 to 67 of which state that it is an offence to possess pornographic images that depict acts which threaten a person's life, acts which result in or are likely to result in serious injury to a person's anus, breasts or genitals, bestiality or necrophilia.

3.3. Despite the clear intentions of the Criminal Law Policy Unit to address various forms of extreme pornography, including ‘rape pornography’ in the new legislation, we found that a series of confusions during the Consultation stage meant it was inadvertently dropped from the proposals. While the Executive Summary of the consultation specifically mentioned outlawing pornographic depictions of both "violent…and…non-consensual acts" , the wording of the criteria was as follows : iii) serious violence in a sexual context; iv) serious sexual violence

3.4. As well as the linguistic similarity in the two clauses, a footnote explaining "serious violence" was incorrectly attributed to "serious sexual violence", confusing and confound ing the two clauses further. Respon ses to the consultation criticis ed these two criteria, but offered no specific or valid reasons why pornographic depictions of rape and other forms of sexual v iolence should not be criminalis ed. Instead, responses consistently mentioned the "imprecise… definitions of sexual violence and violence in a sexual context" , highlighted the "lack of clarity in the definitions" , and expressed "a great deal of concern… due to their lack of precision" .

3.5. In their review of the consultation responses, the CLPU acknowledged that "the language used… was strongly questioned" and that there was "a need to look again at the categories "serious violence in a sexual context" and "serious sexual violence"" . Despite admitting that these two similar-sounding criteria "caused confusion" , we were disappointed to find that instead of clarifying the language (changing the wording of "serious sexual violence" to specifically "rape or other non-consensual penetrative sexual activity" as the equivalent Scottish Act received much support for ) the CLPU "therefore propose[d] a single category of serious violence" , leaving out rape depictions entirely.

3.6. After contacting the Internet Watch Foundation, we discovered that, following this, the CJIA as it stood did not cover images of rape, unlike similar legislation in Scotland. We thus undertook a small research project to understand the content and prevalence of images of rape in pornography

4. Content of rape pornography : Research 2011

4.1. In 2011 Rape Crisis South London undertook online research to explore the conventions and availability of ‘rape pornography’ across the internet. The work involved an initial Google search for ‘rape porn’ followed by a content analysis of over 50 videos selected from websites appearing in the search results.

4.2. In our own research into the freely available content on ‘rape porn’ websites, we found many of the videos’ themes to be endorsing and promoting various criminal acts including kidnapping, additional physical violence and child sexual abuse. These images are explicitly defining themselves as being rape, non-consensual or forced sex. Our research found video descriptions like 'young schoolgirls abducted and cruelly raped. Hear her screams.'; 'little schoolgirl raped by teacher' and 'little girls cruelly raped at home'; 'tiny girl sleep rape' and 'girl raped at gunpoint'. [4]

4.3. The websites hosting the content included words like brutal rape, real rape, savage rape, only rape, in their web address. The viewers of these sites are encouraged to believe these images are real, that they are watching ‘real rape’. Watching randomly selected videos on each site, we discovered there were two forms of ‘rape’ video; one where realistic violence or drugging was used to force sex, and the other of staged "positive-outcome rape" [5] scenarios, both of which we believe to be sending out profoundly damaging messages.

4.4. While dismissing the devastating experience of survivors of rape, this pornography dangerously promotes the beliefs that: physical force, coercion and drugging are acceptable sexual practices; that most rapes are completed with additional levels of physical violence and that women enjoy rape. Ending the spread of these myths is vital to ending this violence against women. These myths have huge impact on the Criminal Justice System where jurors are often making decisions based on wider public understandings of and attitudes towards sexual violence.

4.5. Having pornographic depictions of rape legally available that promote harmful myths about rape and contributes to a conducive context for violence against women   through eroticising men's violence and women's non-consent. The importance of challenging this conducive context is seen in both Labour and Conservative-Liberal strategies to End Violence Against Women, which have pledged to tackle "attitudes that make violence against women acceptable to some".

4.6. From our research: In the top 50 Google results for "rape porn", 77% of results were accessible porn sites with rape content. Of the top ten Google search results for ‘free porn’, half the websites host free rape pornography. Of the top 50 accessible ‘rape porn’ websites [6] :

· 78% advertise rape content of under-18 year olds (e.g. "schoolgirl rape")

· 67% advertise rape content involving guns or knives

· 67% advertise rape content involving "foreign" women

· 59% advertise rape content involving the woman bleeding

· 48% advertise rape content inflicted by a uniformed official (e.g. policeman / soldier)

· 44% advertise rape content involving incest

· 44% advertise rape content where the woman is unconscious/semi-conscious/ drugged

· 100% of those being assaulted are female (average number of women is 1.1)

· 98% of perpetrators of rape are male (average number of perpetrators is 1.5)

· 82% of perpetrators use restraint by force

· 50% of women are choked/hit/punched/kicked/slapped/have their hair pulled

· 18% of women are gagged

· 9% of perpetrators use a knife or gun

· 15% of women are bound

· 71% of women show signs of visible distress

· 65% of women express pain

· 59% of women are seen or heard crying

· 50% of women retaliate physically against the rape

· 44% of women express clear lack of consent

· 15% of women have a diminished capacity to consent (unconscious/semi-conscious/drugged)

5. Content of rape pornography : Research 2012

5.1. In October 2012 the research was revisited. Broader explorations of the routes to and locations of rape pornography on the web, as well as the range and manifests of it, were undertaken. We also particularly considered the concerns from the BDSM community including CAAN (The Consenting Adults Action Network) and Backlash regarding the impact of the criminalisation of rape pornography on our sexual freedoms.

5.2. Following this, we continued the content analysis of ‘rape porn’ video clips; Broadened our search terms at the search engine level, followed by specific searches within host sites (for example, ‘free porn’ was entered into Google and the top ten results explored using the following terms; ‘rape ’ ‘forced sex’ ‘abuse’ ‘incest rape’); Examined the Google search results for ‘rape porn’ in order to decipher the type of website/reference to it; Explored whether rape porn is hosted within the most accessed generic websites in the UK during October 2012; Begun a comparative content analysis of ‘rape porn’ and BDSM (Bondage, Domination, Sadism, Masochism) pornography in order to explore any possible stylistic differences and similarities.

5.3. From our research in 2012 we found the following:

· Rape pornography is normalised across the web and is easily accessible and freely available alongside ‘generic’ and ‘popular’ pornography.

· Of the top ten Google search results for ‘free porn’, half the websites host free rape pornography;

· Rape porn is not only hosted on pornography websites but was found to be hosted on one generic video sharing site and blog spot.

· Rape pornography explicitly eroticises violence against women; racism; homophobia; child sexual abuse and crime.

· The following sub categories of rape pornography were found to exist across the internet: ‘Animal rape’, ‘Granny rape’; ‘Pregnant rape’; ‘Male rape’; ‘Nun rape’, ‘Muslim rape’ ‘sleeping rape’ ‘Drugged rape’ (this list is not exhaustive).

· Themes of misogyny, racism and child sexual abuse/incest are common across rape pornography.

· Based on very early stages of a comparative view of rape pornography (RP) and BDSM porn videos, there appears to be discernible stylistic differences between the two. Including;

§ clearly staged (BDSM) V claims of authenticity (RP);

§ hints of consent (BDSM) V non-consensual/forced (RP);

§ women appear as active and passive players (BDSM) V Women are always victims (RP);

§ seemingly pleasure in pain (BDSM) V No pleasure, only pain (RP).

5.4. To ensure the pornography targeted by clause 16 does not impact on consensual BDSM practices but does challenge the normalisation and eroticisation of violence against women and girls we would suggest the importance of ‘context’ and the definition of ‘realistic’ to be debated in reference to the evidence given by Professors Clare McGlynn and Erika Rackley, alongside the removal of the requirement for an image to be ‘obscene’ – a requirement which places the argument on harm into a moralistic rather than human rights / Violence Against Women based framework.

6. Harms of rape pornography

6.1. Rape is not a sexual fetish, even one which may be considered ‘grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character’ (section 63(6)). Rape is a crime with devastating real life consequences. The argument for this legislation is not based on moral grounds, it is based on the harms of rape pornography and how its existence is at odds with the Government’s commitment to the following national and international human rights and gender equality obligations:

· Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (1979), Article 5

· the Beijing Platform for Action (BpfA) (1995), Objective J2

· Gender Equality Duty 2007

· Palermo Protocol (2000) Article 9

6.2. In January 2013, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office released its first ever joint Official Statistics bulletin on sexual violence, entitled An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales. It reported that:

· Approximately 85,000 women are raped on average in England and Wales every year

· Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year

· 1 in 5 women aged 16-59 had experienced some form of sexual violence since 16yrs old.

6.3. For the consumption of materials designed to produce and embed a sexual arousal to rape to be wholly legal, and freely accessible, is to undermine the work being done across the Criminal Justice system to improve prosecutions of rapists and encourage greater reporting from survivors.

6.4. Despite the fact that direct links between ‘regular’ pornography and sexual violence have been scientifically difficult to quantify, the dangers of ‘rape pornography’ are much more apparent. Rigorous research in the US has long found a significant link between arousal to rape material and a "propensity to rape" [7] . Even the Ministry of Justice’s Rapid Evidence Assessment submitted alongside the legislative proposals in 2008 specifically pointed out that "rapists… are much more aroused by depictions of coercion than non-criminal [persons]" [8] and, even more disturbingly, that "one third of rapists report using forced sexual depictions as part of their deliberate pre-offense preparation." [9] W e see some of the harm of rape pornography in the ways the material assists in normalising offending for perpetrators, helping them legitimise and strategise their crimes, as well as overcome internal resistance.

6.5. Additionally, as well as dismissing the devastating experience of rape, ‘rape pornography’ wrongly and dangerously promotes the beliefs that physical force, coercion and drugging are acceptable sexual practices and that women enjoy rape. ‘Rape pornography’ allows rapists to normalise and justify their behaviour and can be triggering for those who have survived rape and/or other forms of sexual violence, some of whom may use or be encouraged to use pornographic depictions of rape to desensitise or numb the impact of Post-Traumatic Stress rather than access specialist support services such as ours to work through and ultimately recover from the trauma.

7. Evidence of widespread support

7.1. Finally we would like the committee to consider the overwhelming public support for this change to legislation . A n online petition received 73, 523 signatures in approximately a month (just over 2,000 people signing every day it was live) . Within a month of our campaign going public, the Prime Minister announced the change.  

March 2014


[1] We are known also known as the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre.

[2] British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.

[3] No longer hosted at this address due to our lobbying of the hosting company.

[4] Quotes gathered from 3 of the top ten Google results for "rape porn".

[5] Catherine A MacKinnon, Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press) 2006, p93

[6] We would like to stress that the videos we studied were only from the freely-available content, meaning they are shorter, less explicit, and less extreme than the paying sites they link to.

[7] Neil M Malamuth, "Rape Proclivity Among Males", Journal of Social Issues, Volume 37: Number 4, 1981 http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/comm/malamuth/pdf/81Jsi37.pdf See also: J. Check, G.G. Abel, D.H. Barlow, J. Ciniti, J. Briere, E. Blanchard, D. Guild and others

[8] The Evidence of Harm to Adults Relating to Exposure to Extreme Pornographic Material: A Rapid Evidence Assessment, London: Ministry of Justice Research Series, http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/docs/280907.pdf p23

[9] The Evidence of Harm to Adults Relating to Exposure to Extreme Pornographic Material: A Rapid Evidence Assessment, p23

Prepared 13th March 2014