Home » SARAH VINE: MPs have run out of lily-livered excuses not to block porn 

SARAH VINE: MPs have run out of lily-livered excuses not to block porn 

by Press room

My first hope when I heard that Neil Parish, 65, the MP for Tiverton and Honiton, had been accused of watching pornography in the Chamber of the House of Commons was that it would turn out to be an unfortunate accident.

I occasionally get sent obscene images by ill-wishers (it’s a common tactic with the more tenacious variety of troll), and it’s not always immediately clear what’s in the messages. 

Perfectly plausible, then, that he might have accidentally clicked on some malicious content. Sadly, it doesn’t appear as though this were the case.

He stands accused by female colleagues of doing it at least twice in the chamber, and possibly also during a committee hearing. Once might be understandable; anything more is suspect. He has now admitted to being a ‘f***ing idiot’ and told reporters, 

My first hope when I heard that Neil Parish, 65, the MP for Tiverton and Honiton, had been accused of watching pornography in the Chamber of the House of Commons was that it would turn out to be an unfortunate accident

‘I have to apologise to my wife more than anybody for putting her through all of this.’ Yesterday, facing mounting pressure, he resigned as an MP.

I don’t care what people get up to in the privacy of their own sex lives – provided all parties are consenting adults. But the idea that anyone, male or female, should think it acceptable to sit in a place of work – let alone the House of Commons – and watch porn is beyond the pale. 

It’s not just the obvious fact that it demonstrates the utmost disrespect for colleagues. It’s what it says about the status of porn in our society.

More specifically, about how years of hardcore, explicit content available free and uncensored online has not only shaped popular culture and corrupted an entire generation, but also infected those charged with upholding standards in public life.

MPs are only human. Although we expect them, rightly, to behave to a higher standard, they are not immune to lapses of judgment. But to see such a flagrant disregard towards the norms of acceptable behaviour – to think that viewing explicit images in the Commons would in any way be acceptable – that marks a new low. 

It also shows us something else. That online porn, together with the culture of misogynist abuse, violence and general depravity that surrounds it, is now considered by many to be a ‘normal’ part of daily life.

On the bus, on the Tube, in the playground, at parties: more and more people are reporting porn being viewed openly. Wherever there’s an internet connection and a suitable device (basically everywhere) anyone can have free and direct access to scenes that, were they broadcast after the 9 o’clock watershed on the BBC, would cause national outrage. What is the point of having any sort of censorship at all – either in films or TV – if it’s all just there at the touch of a button? If the very people who should be setting an example think it’s a normal way to while away the hours during, say, a tedious Commons debate?

It is perhaps worth noting that Parish has been a staunch campaigner for better rural broadband. Given everything, one now can’t help wondering what his true motivation might have been. But for me it was the reaction of his wife of 40 years, Sue, who works as his secretary, which really brings home how accepted porn has become. ‘If you were mad with every man who looked at pornography, you would not have many wives in the world,’ she said.

Perfectly plausible, then, that he might have accidentally clicked on some malicious content. Sadly, it doesn¿t appear as though this were the case. He stands accused by female colleagues of doing it at least twice in the chamber, and possibly also during a committee hearing

Perfectly plausible, then, that he might have accidentally clicked on some malicious content. Sadly, it doesn’t appear as though this were the case. He stands accused by female colleagues of doing it at least twice in the chamber, and possibly also during a committee hearing

In other words, what’s all the fuss about? Everyone does it. And she’s correct of course. But that doesn’t make it right. Advocates of porn like to warble on about female empowerment and sexual liberation. But if you’ve ever watched any of this stuff, as I unfortunately have, you will know this is nonsense.

In 2015, I spent an afternoon in the company of a very nice man called Peter Johnson, the then chief executive of the Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD). Now defunct, ATVOD was set up by Ofcom in 2010 to monitor the editorial content of services available on-demand on the internet, from BBC iPlayer to Netflix. Its job was also to monitor popular porn websites such as PornHub.

Having never viewed porn, I was totally unprepared for the level of depravity that Johnson showed me. Angry men, pumped up on steroids, thrusting, slapping; girls choking and vomiting in shock and pain, tears running down their cheeks, their eyes bulging, their skin red and raw. In one video I witnessed just under an hour of total subjugation of a woman by five men. By the end of it, she was barely conscious and had to have her head held up by her hair for the parting shot. This video alone had clocked up half a million viewers, 86 per cent of whom had clicked ‘like’. Those images are forever seared on my brain.

Back then, the NSPCC estimated that, as a direct influence of online porn, two in five girls aged between 13 and 17 had suffered sexual coercion of some sort. In an analysis of data from a single month back in December 2013, 44,000 primary school children in Britain, aged between six and 11, were found to have visited an adult website.

In the six to 15 age group, the figure was 200,000; among 16 to 17-year-olds, 473,000. And that was almost 10 years ago. Since then, the situation has become much worse.

Latest figures estimate that, by the age of 11, a child who has not viewed online porn is the exception rather than the norm. For many, hardcore porn is their first – and likely formative – experience of sex. Years and years of streaming this stuff into our devices has desensitised us to the reality of porn, changed our attitudes towards sex itself and even the way we see our own bodies and – as we see time and again in cases of violence against women – legitimised the darker aspects of the human psyche.

Men such as Wayne Couzens, who murdered Sarah Everard, are openly influenced by hardcore porn, and by the way women are portrayed as willing participants in depraved male fantasies of violence and abuse. All of this would be bad enough on its own; but what makes it a true tragedy for humanity is that we, as a society, have so far done nothing – absolutely nothing – to shield our children and the vulnerable. No barriers, no censorship, nothing. Given a smartphone and an internet connection, it is as easy for a child to watch some poor girl being gang raped as it is to watch Tom Hardy reading a bedtime story on CBeebies.

That, I’m afraid, is the truth. And to my mind it is absolutely shameful. That successive Parliaments have kicked this issue repeatedly into the long grass – claiming that it’s impossible to police the internet, that there is no international jurisdiction and coming up with every lily-livered excuse under the sun – is, quite honestly, pathetic.

The best they seem to be able to muster is requiring porn sites to carry out age-verification checks. But we all know how easy it is to get around those sorts of things (practically every 14-year-old I know has a fake ID). The only sure-fire way of stopping the rot is to make it illegal to view or disseminate the stuff in public, and also to block it by default so that the only way you can access porn is by paying for it. In other words, put porn behind a paywall.

I know some people will say this is censorship. Others still will say that the damage is already done. I disagree. I don’t see why the rights of adults to indulge their sexual fantasies should trump the rights of young people to a childhood. And while we may have lost a generation (or two) to porn, there’s no reason we shouldn’t try to protect the next. Where there’s a will, there is always a way. It’s just that there’s been no will. And now, with an MP openly watching it on the green benches, we finally see why.

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