DOWNLOADING images of rape and possessing other forms of "extreme" pornography will be punishable by up to three years in prison under new laws to be unveiled next month, The Scotsman can reveal.
Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, has for the first time revealed details of his proposed crackdown on owning hardcore pornography that he claims is sexually and physically abusive and degrading to women.
The move will be included in a new Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill to be published in the coming weeks. It has been welcomed by campaigners who say it will offer protection to people exploited in the production of extreme sexual material, particularly on the internet, while challenging violent attitudes towards women.
Currently the law in Scotland only prohibits the importing and supply of extreme pornography and possession with the intention to sell. Possessing child porn is also an offence.
The new ban will be tougher than similar legislation being introduced south of the Border next week.
Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 comes into force next Monday and makes owning offending pictures a criminal offence. Under the English law, an image is deemed to be extreme if it "is grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character" and portrays in any way an act which threatens a person's life, or which results or appears likely to result in serious injury to someone's genitals or breasts.
Mr MacAskill told The Scotsman that the proposed Scottish legislation will go further, making it clear that the possession of images of rape – regardless of whether the act could physically injure the victim – will be outlawed.
But precisely how and where ministers draw the line between mainstream and "extreme" pornography is likely to spark a furious civil liberties debate, amid fears unprecedented powers to police people's bedrooms are being created.
Mr MacAskill said the law needed to be made "fit for purpose" in an age where vast amounts of uncensored material can be viewed and downloaded in the privacy of people's homes.
"The way people view and access porn has changed with the explosion of the internet. In the past we were looking to control the supply, centring on bookshops and, to some extent, private houses," he said.
"We are now in an age dominated by DVDs and the internet. We need to update the law in this global age. England already has some of these laws – but our laws will go further. Our laws will be covering matters such as images of rape."
Mr MacAskill said people who mistakenly access extreme pornography, for example by clicking on the wrong computer button, would not be pursued. Equally, it is likely that convictions under the new law will require people actually to download images of "extreme" pornography, rather than by viewing websites alone.
"The legislation will cover some of what is available on the internet, which is frankly horrific and involves criminal offences such as rape," Mr MacAskill said. "With the societal and technological changes that have happened, we need to make sure the law is fit for purpose.
"There are people who participate in this and we need to do something about it. These are not crime-free and cost-free matters. Somebody is suffering, and those who view are encouraging and assisting with the exploitation of these people."
The former lawyer said the maximum penalty for publishing and selling extreme pornography would increase from three to five years.
"We are intending to send out the message that this is frankly totally abhorrent. This is far from a victimless crime. Previously you could close down bookshops; now everybody has access to the internet. What is being portrayed in a number of these sites and DVDs is not erotic art – it's fundamental abuse of an individual and to consort with it is to support it."
Sandy Brindley, national co-ordinator of Rape Crisis Scotland, welcomed the move, but said a wider crackdown on pornography was needed.
"We need to find ways to stop the proliferation of these websites," she said. "There's a real worry that increased access to really extreme pornography, with depictions of women being tortured or raped, is seeping into the wider culture."
The outlawing of extreme porn originally won the backing of the Scottish Executive and Home Office in 2006 after a three-year campaign by Liz Longhurst. Her daughter, Jane, was strangled by Graham Coutts in 2003. During his trial, Coutts, from Fife, said he had a fixation with asphyxiation porn and necrophilia. A petition started to outlaw violent pornography garnered 50,000 signatures.
Baroness Miller, the Liberal Democrat peer, argued that the legislation in England would justify the government "walking into people's bedrooms and turning them into criminals simply for viewing something".
Susan Smith: 'I didn't have to look far for scenes of brutality'
ANYONE who uses the internet regularly knows how easy it is to accidentally find pornography, so I was expecting a direct search for hardcore porn to be easy.
It was. It is, though, disturbing to discover that bestiality, for example, is easily found and that fantasy rape is practically mainstream. A simple Google search reveals a plethora of sites dedicated to pictures and videos of apparent rapes.
These include graphic images with equally graphic titles, depictions of women intimately mutilated, and plenty of bondage under unsavoury titles. One top Google search included in its title "teenage" and "forced sex".
Fortunately for me, to view the majority of these films, you do actually have to pay a subscription fee (often as little as 9) – but there is also a lot that can be easily viewed free. It doesn't take long to find videos of rape scenes, some of which come up on the first page of a Google search.
While the videos I found were clearly not of real rapes, viewing a man apparently violently forcing a young girl to have sex even though she is struggling is horrible.
Many of these sites carry the disclaimer "we do not condone non-consensual sex". They state that the sites are "about role-playing fantasy only" and are performed by models and actresses over the age of 18. However, when I added the word "real" to the start of the search term, there were just as many hits.
A couple of sites implied in the Google brief note that they included real videos but, on a basic look, they mostly carried the same disclaimers as the others, or said the scenes were based on real "chronicles".
Judging from the popularity of the search term, and the content you can see for free, I would be surprised if "real" rape scenes cannot be found.
In reality, though, it doesn't really matter whether they are real or not – there is clearly a huge market for fantasy rape.
Despite disclaimers, this content does glorify rape, and only helps to perpetuate misogynistic attitudes.
Is this Big Brother in the bedroom?
Professor of Law, Durham University
PROPOSALS to criminalise the possession of extreme pornography are timely and proportionate; they strike a balance between those wishing to ban all pornography and those who oppose all regulation, some of whom even object to criminalising child pornography.
Only the most extreme, the most violent and the most pernicious pornography will be covered.
The users of extreme pornography are the targets – they must take responsibility for the market they create and for running the risk that they are viewing material in which real people may have been harmed.
While those who view extreme pornography will not necessarily go on to commit sexual offences, their use of such material sustains a culture in which rape and sexual violence is normalised; in which a woman's "no" is not taken seriously; in which equality and dignity are not protected.
Some pro-rape websites revel in the distress of women, enticing viewers with claims that "these girls say no but we say yes"; or "it doesn't matter if they want it or not". Some sites offer "rape photos made by real criminals".
A "public good" defence should be included to ensure that the measures meet their real target and to demonstrate that the target is not the art world, however avant garde.
These measures address the cultural harm of pornography and are part of a package of initiatives which imagine a time when women are not routinely subject to sexual violence.
Spokeswoman for CAAN (Consenting Adults Action Network) Scotland
WHILST many people will pick up on the civil liberties issues, we are concerned that the government is deceiving the electorate.
This law won't make life safer; if anything, it will do the opposite, and people will die because the Scottish Government is more interested in soundbite politics than evidence. The same happened in England. The government could only "prove" harm came from viewing extreme porn by cobbling together a highly controversial piece of research by three feminists with agendas of their own.
The problem is simple. Every week, tens of thousands of people take part in activities whose images may henceforth be banned. They share their experiences, they spread the gospel on safety. This new law will have a chilling effect. People are going to close down sites "just in case". The BDSM (bondage, domination and sado-masochism) scene will go back underground.
People will still be doing dangerous stuff, but without the safety advice – as though the government decided to let people continue climbing mountains, but banned safety manuals.
There are sites out there depicting real abuse; evidence of real crimes being committed. Instead of going after those, catching the perpetrators and putting an end to real harm, the government has gone for the easy option of criminalising pictures of mostly legal activity and demonising a bunch of adults whose main crime is the desire to interact with one another in the privacy of their own homes.
Rape Crisis to open office in cyberspace world
IT IS a fantasy world in which people can be whoever they want to be at the click of a button.
Second Life has attracted more than 15 million devotees the world over, all drawn to the myriad opportunities to interact with people in a seemingly harmless virtual environment.
But a dark underbelly has emerged within the sophisticated chatroom site, which has started to become abused and exploited by paedophiles, sexual predators and adulterers.
Various sub-sites have been set up catering for the most depraved of tastes, included rape "games" in which players can rape, be raped or hold down someone while they are being raped.
Now Rape Crisis Scotland has become so concerned about the "sickening" activity emerging in Second Life that it has decided to set up its own portal within the virtual world.
"I think there's a lot of concerns about what people are witnessing," said Sandy Brindley, Rape Crisis Scotland's national co-ordinator.
"It's taking pornography to a different level, and people can stumble into it."
Users of Second Life, run by the San Francisco company Linden Lab, design their own "avatars" or characters and travel around the virtual world – on holiday, meeting each other, shopping and buying land.
A high proportion of the avatar characters are slim, large-chested women and enormously well-endowed men, and cyber-sex is one of the most popular activities.
The Rape Crisis site will be open to any avatars who have been preyed upon within Second Life – as well as for their operators who have been sexually assaulted in the real world.
Ms Brindley told The Scotsman that it was time for support groups such as hers to strike back against violence against women portrayed on websites such as Second Life.
"There are places where people participate in what seems to be rape," she said.
Initially, the virtual Rape Crisis centre will not be staffed but will provide people with advice and contact numbers for "actual" support services.
Ms Brindley said she had been shocked by some of the material that she has encountered on Second Life.
"There is really quite extreme pornography on there, so it's important for us to have a presence. It will be well signposted and will help to push our campaign, which is called 'This Is Not An Invitation To Rape Me'. We need to challenge that accessibility of violence against women."
One example of unsavoury material within Second Life is a virtual caf where people could rape women. Others include a "hardcore alley" with extreme porn on the walls and rooms, where people's characters can rape someone. The site also contains a human trafficking "mansion", and a torture room.
"There's also a school where pupils are sexually abused and girls can be picked out and passed around men," added Ms Brindley. "It's really shocking."
She said she would "not preclude" the possibility that people who feel they have been assaulted while on Second Life would come to them for help.
There have been cases of police investigating complaints about "crimes" committed on Second Life.
Experts believe that those misusing the site in Britain could be vulnerable under laws prohibiting harassment and the sending of malicious messages.