Poverty, not lack of morals, was to blame for the riots

Evidence published by the Ministry of Justice discredits Gove's view on the causes of the riots.

The Ministry of Justice's statistical report published yesterday into the riots must bring misery to the ears of those like Michael Gove who wished to argue that the root causes of the riots was a lack of morals and values and not poverty. The government's own figures show that the rioters were in general less educated, young, and ultimately poor.

It brings back the one question which could not be answered by those who made such arguments: why were there no major riots in Richmond? In fact not even one rioter arrested by the police even came from there. By his own logic, would Gove argue that the people of Richmond are more morally virtuous than elsewhere in London?

There was a level of criminal copy cat activity going on across London, but mysteriously not by large hordes of young people in Richmond. We did not see an army of rubber Wellington boot wearing, barber jacket clad, red trouser Henley Regatta types storming a Jack Wills shop in Richmond. It certainly wasn't the cast of Made In Chelsea on my TV last August.

What has made this modern utopia in TW9? Could it be the demography, which explains why Richmond was riot free? There are a quarter of 5-15 year olds in Richmond who go to private school compared to a national average below 7 per cent. Or only 12 per cent of children born into poverty in Richmond. Compare that with areas like Haringey and Hackney, where four out of ten children are born into poverty (rising to almost six out of ten if you catch a bus to Tower Hamlets).

There were a quarter of those arrested between the ages of 10 and 17. Of these children arrested in the riots, 42 per cent were also in receipt of free school meals, 43 per cent of children in state schools in Newham are on free school meals almost double the London average. Whereas Richmond has a third less than the London average of children on free school meals. There are also five times more EMA recipients in Newham than Richmond.

Furthermore, in the ranking of constituencies by no qualification there are almost 600 places between the constituencies of Tottenham MP David Lammy's parliamentary seat than say Richmond Park MP Zac Goldsmith's. Only 4 per cent of people in Richmond Park have no qualifications, compared to almost a quarter in Tottenham. There's also three times more social housing in Tottenham than Richmond Park.

Oh what about the rioters seen in nearby Ealing I hear you say? Well, yes Ealing Broadway and the near surrounding streets are a little middle class enclave with a well to do private girls school off the main drag. But if you take a 10 min bus ride away from the high streets you will find it's not so middle class; with three times the number living in families on benefits there than in Richmond and it rises to five times more in somewhere like Tower Hamlets.

For me the rioters resembled more the people I grew up with than the people I attended University with. Of course, there are poor people who do not engage in crime, I was one, but as any criminologist worth their salt will tell you, those more likely to engage in the sort of crime that we saw in the riots, are those with less to lose. And if the above evidence proves anything, it is that those with the least to lose, were certainly those who lived in areas of London where rioting took place.

Oscar Wilde once wrote that: "There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else. That is the misery of being poor." The misery of the likes of Michael Gove is their inability to see such misery.

James Mills is campaign director of the Save EMA campaign.

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How the internet has democratised pornography

With people now free to circumvent the big studios, different bodies, tastes and even pubic hair styles are being represented online.

Our opinions and tastes are influenced by the media we consume: that much is obvious. But although it’s easy to have that conversation if the medium we are discussing is “safe for work”, pornography carries so much stigma that we only engage with it on simple terms. Porn is either “good” or “bad”: a magical tool for ­empowerment or a destructive influence on society. Many “pro-porn” campaigners shy away from nuanced critique, fearing it could lead to censorship. “Anti-porn” campaigners, convinced that porn is harmful by definition, need look no further than the mainstream tube sites – essentially, aggregators of clips from elsewhere – to gather examples that will back them up.

When we talk about the influence of porn, the emphasis is usually on a particular type of video – hardcore sex scenes featuring mostly slim, pubic-hairless women and faceless men: porn made for men about women. This kind of porn is credited with everything from the pornification of pop music to changing what we actually do in bed. Last year the UK government released a policy note that suggested porn was responsible for a rise in the number of young people trying anal sex. Although the original researcher, Cicely Marston, pointed out that there was no clear link between the two, the note prompted a broad debate about the impact of porn. But in doing so, we have already lost – by accepting a definition of “porn” shaped less by our desires than by the dominant players in the industry.

On the day you read this, one single site, PornHub, will get somewhere between four and five million visits from within the UK. Millions more will visit YouPorn, Tube8, Redtube or similar sites. It’s clear that they’re influential. Perhaps less clear is that they are not unbiased aggregators: they don’t just reflect our tastes, they shape what we think and how we live. We can see this even in simple editorial decisions such as categorisation: PornHub offers 14 categories by default, including anal, threesome and milf (“mum I’d like to f***”), and then “For Women” as a separate category. So standard is it for mainstream sites to assume their audience is straight and male that “point of view” porn has become synonymous with “top-down view of a man getting a blow job”. Tropes that have entered everyday life – such as shaved pubic hair – abound here.

Alongside categories and tags, tube sites also decide what you see at the top of their results and on the home page. Hence the videos you see at the top tend towards escalation to get clicks: biggest gang bang ever. Dirtiest slut. Horniest milf. To find porn that doesn’t fit this mould you must go out of your way to search for it. Few people do, of course, so the clickbait gets promoted more frequently, and this in turn shapes what we click on next time. Is it any wonder we’ve ended up with such a narrow definition of porn? In reality, the front page of PornHub reflects our desires about as accurately as the Daily Mail “sidebar of shame” reflects Kim Kardashian.

Perhaps what we need is more competition? All the sites I have mentioned are owned by the same company – MindGeek. Besides porn tube sites, MindGeek has a stake in other adult websites and production companies: Brazzers, Digital Playground, Twistys, PornMD and many more. Even tube sites not owned by MindGeek, such as Xhamster, usually follow the same model: lots of free content, plus algorithms that chase page views aggressively, so tending towards hardcore clickbait.

Because porn is increasingly defined by these sites, steps taken to tackle its spread often end up doing the opposite of what was intended. For instance, the British government’s Digital Economy Bill aims to reduce the influence of porn on young people by forcing porn sites to age-verify users, but will in fact hand more power to large companies. The big players have the resources to implement age verification easily, and even to use legislation as a way to expand further into the market. MindGeek is already developing age-verification software that can be licensed to other websites; so it’s likely that, when the bill’s rules come in, small porn producers will either go out of business or be compelled to license software from the big players.

There are glimmers of hope for the ethical porn consumer. Tube sites may dominate search results, but the internet has also helped revolutionise porn production. Aspiring producers and performers no longer need a contract with a studio – all that’s required is a camera and a platform to distribute their work. That platform might be their own website, a dedicated cam site, or even something as simple as Snapchat.

This democratisation of porn has had positive effects. There’s more diversity of body shape, sexual taste and even pubic hair style on a cam site than on the home page of PornHub. Pleasure takes a more central role, too: one of the most popular “games” on the webcam site Chaturbate is for performers to hook up sex toys to the website, with users paying to try to give them an orgasm. Crucially, without a studio, performers can set their own boundaries.

Kelly Pierce, a performer who now works mostly on cam, told me that one of the main benefits of working independently is a sense of security. “As long as you put time in you know you are going to make money doing it,” she said. “You don’t spend your time searching for shoots, but actually working towards monetary gain.” She also has more freedom in her work: “You have nobody to answer to but yourself, and obviously your fans. Sometimes politics comes into play when you work for others than yourself.”

Cam sites are also big business, and the next logical step in the trickle-down of power is for performers to have their own distribution platforms. Unfortunately, no matter how well-meaning your indie porn project, the “Adult” label makes it most likely you’ll fail. Mainstream payment providers won’t work with adult businesses, and specialist providers take a huge cut of revenue. Major ad networks avoid porn, so the only advertising option is to sign up to an “adult” network, which is probably owned by a large porn company and will fill your site with bouncing-boob gifs and hot milfs “in your area”: exactly the kind of thing you’re trying to fight against. Those who are trying to take on the might of Big Porn need not just to change what we watch, but challenge what we think porn is, too.

The internet has given the porn industry a huge boost – cheaper production and distribution, the potential for more variety, and an influence that it would be ridiculous to ignore. But in our failure properly to analyse the industry, we are accepting a definition of porn that has been handed to us by the dominant players in the market.

Girl on the Net writes one of the UK’s most popular sex blogs: girlonthenet.com

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times