The doublethink that allows tabloids to campaign against online porn

A teenage rapist was excused by a judge because he had been "corrupted" by online filth. Where's the evidence?

Two fourteen-year-old children, separated by an ocean but united in the pages of the Daily Mail.

One, a British boy, tied a “Hello Kitty” apron around the eyes of a five-year-old girl and made her perform a sexual act on him. Wearing his school uniform in the dock of Cambridge Crown Court, he listened as Judge Hawkesworth blamed “the world and society” for allowing him to become “corrupted” by his exposure to sexualised material on the internet - further evidence of the need for the Daily Mail’s ‘Block Online Porn’ campaign.

The other, an American girl named Kylie Jenner, is famous for being the younger half-sister of Kim Kardashian, a woman who achieved fame through the release of a sex tape in 2007. Kylie can be seen with her sister in the Mail “stripping off” to “pose in bikinis.” She is pictured “displaying her … trim figure for her two millions (sic) Twitter followers to ogle at.”

There are those who are concerned about the sexualisation of children, and there are those who think that it’s fine to print pictures of a 14-year-old girl posing in “skimpy bikinis” and “tiny wetsuits” to sell newspapers, but only an institution as morally bankrupt as the Mail could hold both views simultaneously. Only the sort of editor one can imagine stalking the newsroom with sparkling white semen stains decorating the crotch of his handmade trousers, sneering contemptuously at his own readership, sickened by the girls he pimps to them, his skin coated with a stickiness that no amount of scrubbing and showering can rinse away.

Judge Hawkesworth himself is now a victim of this schizoid doublethink. On Wednesday he “spared” a teen “corrupted by internet porn”, his sentencing a convenient hook for the Mail’s campaign; but by Thursday an article described him as a “soft sentence judge” - a headline later altered (note the URL) to refer to a “cheap sentence”. Hawkesworth’s fate is to be cast as a heroic villain, a dangerously-liberal conservative judge who endangers the children he protects.

The Judge deserves some scrutiny though, as this isn’t the first time he’s come to national attention for unusual rulings. In 2011 he gave a suspended sentence to a 26-year-old man who had groomed a 14-year-old school girl for sex, ruling that he was “simply a young man who was unable to control his sexual urges.” His argument invoked the myth of the self-guiding penis; the idea that men are helpless ballistic spunk missiles, a careless whisper away from deploying their payload over some innocent bystander. It’s an idea usually espoused by men trying to excuse their crappy behaviour; people like Brendan O’Neill, whose penis forces him to wolf-whistle at passing girls, and writes many of his columns.

Judge Hawkesworth blamed impulses in this latest case too, sympathizing with a young boy who, according to the Mail, “later admitted he regularly looked at hardcore pornography on a laptop at home.” “I’m satisfied it was impulsive and I believe you have become sexualised by your exposure to and the corruption of pornography,” the judge is reported as saying: “Your exposure at such a young age has ended in tragedy. It was the fault of the world and society.” Not the parents, nor the school, nor even the town – nothing so crudely specific.

The phrase, “sexualised by your exposure to and the corruption of pornography,” is syntactically dubious and semantically void. ‘Sexualisation’ is one of those terms like ‘big society’ that has become synonymous with “something I can’t adequately describe.” It is a mythical mental health issue invented by campaigners who feel that it’s ‘common sense’ that children are be damaged by sexually explicit material, but who are unable to define either the damage or the causes beyond terms that are so vague as to be meaningless.  In effect the judge seems to have invoked a new mental health condition for the purposes of giving the child a lighter sentence.

This condition - new to medicine - is brought on by exposure to a class of entertainment that covers everything from erotic fiction writing to water-sports via knee-jobs and macrophilia, but which emphatically does not include topless women (or 14-year old bikini models) in tabloid newspapers. It leads to the generation of ‘hormones’ – unprecedented in teenage boys - which in turn persuade  patients to do things like coercing a 5 year old girl into performing a sex act. If this model is true, and a majority of teenagers view porn, then only some miracle is preventing horny youth gangs invading nursery schools up and down the land.

“The case has fuelled demands for stricter controls to be put in place to stop children accessing online porn,” according to the Mail, who cite no examples. They fell foul of a PCC complaint by some bloke recently, and ended up removing an article that falsely inflated public support for an automatic internet filter. Still, their editorial line – one of them at least - has strong support from powerful politicians; people like the rising Conservative star Claire Perry, an MP who campaigns on her opposition to the sexualisation of children. I asked Perry on Twitter what she thought of the Mail’s regular bikini shots of Kylie Jenner. She didn’t reply. 

 

Kim Kardashian: "a woman who achieved fame through the release of a sex tape in 2007". Photograph: Getty Images

Martin Robbins is a Berkshire-based researcher and science writer. He writes about science, pseudoscience and evidence-based politics. Follow him on Twitter as @mjrobbins.

Photo: Getty
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South Africa’s new dawn: How Jacob Zuma’s misrule was ended

“We are going to look back at the past ten years and think of it as a lost decade.”

On the afternoon of 13 February, as South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma was recalled by his party, the African National Congress (ANC), a popular Johannesburg radio station began receiving calls about a peculiar incident.

A truck had lost its load along the M2 highway and people were scurrying to pick up what they believed to be tiny nuggets of unprocessed gold. The highway became congested as motorists pulled over to join the search. Even for a city that rose from the dust of a gold rush, this was a bizarre scene.

The first radio caller was giddy with excitement, as was the second. The third did what South Africans do best: he made light of an otherwise confusing and anxious day in the young nation’s history. “It’s manna from heaven,” the caller said. “Zuma’s just been recalled and already the roads are paved in gold.” Nine years into the president’s disastrous rule, South Africans had not lost their sense of humour – and were awaiting a new dawn. The police cleared the scene along the M2, no one proclaimed a worthy find and the nation returned to waiting for Zuma’s next move.

Technically, the president did not have to resign as head of state, despite the opposition of the ANC, the proud liberation movement turned ruling party that Zuma led for a decade until December 2017. Realistically, he had no options left.

With an overwhelming majority in parliament, the ANC was ready to table a motion of no confidence the next day. Defiant to the end, these final hours on the eve of Valentine’s Day were Zuma’s last stand.

They called him the “unstoppable tsunami” and with good reason. Zuma damaged South Africa and the ANC in ways only history will fully capture. He wrecked a country struggling to rebuild itself under the shadow of apartheid. Under his rule, the economy stagnated, unemployment rose, poverty grew, violent crime spiked and corruption became endemic.

“South Africa was headed in the wrong direction,” says Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Democratic Alliance, the official opposition, which governs in cities including Johannesburg and Cape Town. “We are going to look back at the past ten years and think of it as a lost decade,” the political analyst Stephen Grootes concludes.

Zuma lurched from one scandal to the next. He was acquitted of rape, avoided almost 800 corruption charges for over a decade and nearly crashed the economy by recklessly firing a respected finance minister. Taxpayers were misled over exorbitant upgrades to his private mansion (a swimming pool was defended as a fire-fighting feature) and his friendship with the controversial Gupta family placed him at the heart of what became known as “state capture”: the looting of state coffers through the corruption of senior government officials.

“State and independent institutions were repurposed for the enrichment and protection of Jacob Zuma,” says political commentator Justice Malala. “He went through the guts of the framework, pulled out the institutions he needed and systematically broke them down or took away their independence.”

The institutions ranged from the tax revenue service to the public broadcaster, from the police to the prosecuting authority, and from the intelligence services to crucial industries such as mining.

Although constitutionally barred from governing beyond 2019, Zuma was widely believed to have engineered a plan to hold on to power (and avoid prosecution) through his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was campaigning to take over from him. By December, when the ANC met to pick its next leader, who would go on to become the country’s president in 2019, a mood of despair and hopelessness had set in.

The race was close. In the end, 179 votes out of nearly 5,000 cast separated Dlamini-Zuma from her challenger, Cyril Ramaphosa, a former union leader and businessman who had campaigned on an anti-corruption and pro-growth platform.

Ramaphosa’s victory in mid-December was a turning point. It removed the prospect of Zuma’s continued rule, began an instant shift in political power and sparked a moment of renewed hope. Ramaphosa had his own controversies, but was viewed as largely incorruptible. He had risen through the trade unions, served the ANC and built his wealth in the private sector. 

Following Ramaphosa’s election, the extent of state capture emerged through superb investigative journalism.

Politically driven prosecutions fell away, a hugely unpopular nuclear energy deal with Russia was frozen and, as Zuma was being recalled, police cars arrived outside the home of the Gupta family.

And yet, the president refused to leave the Union Buildings quietly, prompting comparisons with Margaret Thatcher. “He was the worst possible combination of ignorance, selfishness and incompetence that could have been inflicted upon the long-suffering people of South Africa,” read an editorial in the Daily Maverick on 13 February. “Now, stripped to the bare essence of being Zuma, the final image emerges, one of the selfish man who cared only for himself.”

Journalist Richard Poplak concluded: “What is born in chaos dies in chaos.”

 Zuma’s departure allows for the rebuilding to begin. The role played by the media, civil society – which found its voice during the Zuma years – and the judiciary (particularly the constitutional court) is being recognised. New president Ramaphosa delivered an inspiring state of the nation address the day after being sworn in.

“You can survive bad leadership, but what you won’t survive is bad institutions,” Mmusi Maimane told me.

There are no delusions over the epic challenges ahead. Unemployment is at 27 per cent (and is much higher for young, black South Africans) and GDP growth is stranded at 1 per cent. However, there is optimism, too: the “lost decade” is over and the Rainbow Nation’s renewal has finally begun. 

This article first appeared in the 22 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia