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The Human Rights Impacts of Criminalising Pornography. Implications for a Sexual Rights Agenda

The Human Rights Impacts of Criminalising Pornography. Implications for a Sexual Rights Agenda

In Australia, the production, exhibition and sale of pornography is criminalised in most states and territories. Customs and Classification Board have prohibited pornography depicting female ejaculation (misunderstood as urination), small breasts (seen as ‘underdeveloped’), and genital detail (leading to airbrushing of women’s labia). Material containing fetish (including fisting, spanking and candle wax) will be automatically refused classification. Although the international arena has witnessed momentum towards sexual rights (Declaration on Sexual Rights, 2014; Yogyakarta Principles, 2007), a focus on ‘sexual orientation’ has left pornography behind.

Broad exceptions in human rights legislation (for the protection of public morality or health) have been used by states to prohibit ‘undesirable’ sexual intimacies. Jurisprudence is emerging on human rights and sadomasochism, however human rights claims to protect pornography generally fall under the right to privacy or freedom of expression, and are successful because of the material’s artistic value or private use.

Methods: This paper examines the human rights implications of classification and criminal laws surrounding pornography in Australia from a queer feminist lens. It draws upon the authors’ current doctoral research, using qualitative interviews with porn producers, legal review and case studies.

Results: Laws socially engineer specific bodies and sexualities that are palatable (and productive) to the State’s heteronormative agenda while stigmatising those outside that paradigm. Criminalisation poses barriers to performers accessing workplace health and safety standards, industrial rights and justice. In a country without comprehensive sex education, laws limit the depiction of queer practices, women’s pleasures and negotiation of risk, with implications for young people.

Conclusions: There is a need for human rights to move beyond ‘sexual orientation’. A sexual rights agenda must address the legal regulation of pornography. Criminalisation impacts not only on expression and privacy: it affects rights to health, education, choice of employment, and equal protection under the law.

Speakers: Zahra Stardust
Areas of Interest / Categories: WAS 2015

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