Research on sexual violent pornography discussed in BBC podcast Fortunately
Law Professor. Advisor. Commentator.
Expert on Violence Against Women & Girls
My research and policy work strives to reduce the easy availability, and adverse impacts, of extreme and abusive porn through strengthening regulation and criminal sanctions. In 2021, together with colleagues, Fiona Vera-Gray and I published landmark new research which revealed that 1 in 8 titles on mainstream porn websites described sexually violent activity; it is based on the largest dataset yet collected of online porn content. The study has been reported around the world and forms the evidence-base for many national and international campaigns and policy reforms.
My research with Erika Rackley on rape pornography played a central role in the successful campaign by the End Violence Against Women coalition and Rape Crisis to criminalise the possession of rape porn in 2015. More recently, my work with Hannah Bows revealed that most extreme porn prosecutions are for bestiality imagery, and my evidence to a recent Parliamentary inquiry into pornography recommended extending the extreme porn laws to include incest porn.
The prevalence and easy accessibility of sexually violent and extreme pornography normalises sexual violence.
News & Articles
I am actively engaged in law and policy reform processes in the UK and EU to strengthen the legal regulation of porn websites and other social media platforms, aiming to reduce the extent of sexually violent and non-consensual porn online.
UK’s Online Safety Bill
The UK’s Online Safety Bill provides a valuable opportunity to require porn companies and other platforms to reduce the availability of unlawful pornography online. In particular, it is vital that the large porn companies are included in the scope of the Bill and are proactively regulated and do not go #UnderTheRadar. I gave oral and written evidence to the first Parliamentary committee reviewing the Bill, to the Public Bill Committee and to the Women & Equalities Select Committee inquiry into pornography.
My Pornography Policy Briefing written with Prof Lorna Woods is available here with a summary here. Our written evidence with recommendations to amend the Bill is available here.
Professor McGlynn giving evidence to Parliament on the Online Safety Bill
EU’s Digital Services Act
I worked with the German organisation HateAid, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and Prof Lorna Woods to introduce measures into the EU’s Digital Services Act – landmark legislation regulating internet platforms across the EU – to hold large porn companies accountable for the non-consensual sexual imagery and intimate image abuse on their websites. Together with Prof Lorna Woods, I produced an Expert Opinion justifying these measures. While the European Parliament out these measures forward, unfortunately they were not included in the final legislation. A real opportunity to reduce non-consensual porn online has been missed.
HateAid campaign poster
EU’s amended Digital Services Act fails to better regulate ‘revenge porn’ (Jelena Prtorić, 13 May 2022)
Pornography platforms, the EU Digital Services Act and Image-Based Sexual Abuse (Blog, Clare McGlynn & Lorna Woods, 3 February 2022)
Sexually Violent Porn
How much of mainstream online porn content is sexually violent? My research with Fiona Vera-Gray and colleagues provides some answers. We found that 1 in 8 titles on the landing pages of the most popular porn websites describe sexually violent pornography. In looking at the landing/front pages of the websites, we studied the content a first-time user would view, such as a young teenager. The front page is also the material that the porn companies are choosing to showcase.
Our research raises serious questions about the extent of criminal material freely advertised on mainstream pornography websites, the lack of accountability of porn companies and therefore the efficacy of current regulatory measures: read our policy brief here.
First reported on the front page of the Sunday Times, the research has been reported and translated around the world. It is already leading to change, including the research being included in the New York Times report which led to Mastercard/Visa withdrawing services from Pornhub. It is also cited in many campaigns and law reform efforts across the US, Canada and the UK, including in my own submissions and evidence to Parliament on the need to strengthen regulation via the Online Safety Bill.
Read our blog summarising the findings and our policy briefing
Read more in the HuffPost on our findings on upskirting images
We argue the Terms and Conditions of porn companies are ‘works of fiction’ in this HuffPost blog
See my blog on whether porn should be on the school curriculum.
Watching Porn in Public - a Modern Form of Street Harassment? (HuffPost)
Criminalising Extreme Pornography
Is rape pornography classed as ‘extreme pornography’? Yes, but only thanks to the successful campaign by the End Violence Against Women coalition and Rape Crisis to criminalise the possession of rape porn, resulting in a new criminal offence adopted in 2015. I worked closely with these organisations on the campaign, drawing on my research with Erika Rackley justifying the criminal law on the basis of the cultural harm of extreme porn and that regulation is human rights enhancing. This followed a successful campaign in Scotland, where we supported Rape Crisis Scotland to introduce new restrictions: my comment in The Scotsman here.
Since then, my research with Hannah Bows provides new FOI data on the policing of extreme pornography, revealing information about perpetrators, as well as that the vast majority of prosecutions are for possession of bestiality porn. You can read more about the study in this report in the Huffington Post. Our submission to Parliamentary inquiry into pornography summarising this data is available here.
For more on the rape porn campaign, read my comments in The Guardian, the Observer, the Independent and the BBC.
My debates on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Law in Action.
Why Criminalise the Possession of Rape Pornography (Durham University, 2014)
Sexual violence as a sexual script in mainstream online pornography
Fiona Vera-Gray, Clare McGlynn, Ibad Kureshi & Kate Butterby, British Journal of Criminology 61(5): 1243-1260, 4 April 2021
This article examines the ways in which mainstream pornography positions sexual violence as a normative sexual script by analysing the video titles found on the landing pages of the three most popular pornography websites in the United Kingdom. The study draws on the largest research sample of online pornographic content to date and is unique in its focus on the content immediately advertised to a new user. We found that one in eight titles shown to first-time users on the first page of mainstream porn sites describe sexual activity that constitutes sexual violence. Our findings raise serious questions about the extent of criminal material easily and freely available on mainstream pornography websites and the efficacy of current regulatory mechanisms.
Read the Policy Briefing on this research.
Possessing Extreme Pornography: policing, prosecutions and the need for reform
Clare McGlynn & Hannah Bows, Journal of Criminal Law 83(6): 473-488, 2019
The law criminalising the possession of extreme pornography, first enacted in 2008 and amended to include rape pornography in 2015, continues to generate considerable controversy and calls for reform. In order to inform these ongoing discussions, we undertook a study to find out information about who is being charged with extreme pornography offences and their characteristics in terms of gender, age and ethnicity, as well as data on the specific type of pornography forming the subject-matter of those charges. Utilising freedom of information requests, our study provides valuable new information to help inform debates over the policing of extreme pornography across England and Wales. Overall, we found that the vast majority of those charged were white men across all age groups; that bestiality images formed the most common basis for charging and that, in respect of the data provided, the majority of charges were brought together with other sexual offences.
Regulating pornography: Developments in evidence, theory, and law
Vera-Gray, F. & McGlynn, C. , Research Handbook on Gender, Sexuality, and Law. Ashford, C. & Maine, A. Edward Elgar. 471-483, 2020
It is widely acknowledged that the study of pornography is polarised. Though much attention has been paid to the relationship between pornography and violence, significant gaps in research still exist, and analyses struggle to cover the volume and breadth of mainstream online content. Meanwhile, feminist debates on pornography have become more complex and intersectional theory has helped to direct attention to the interlocking nature of oppression, while also creating methodological challenges. This chapter examines whether recent developments suggest justifications for pornography regulation beyond the current obscenity framing. It argues that we require a deeper understanding of how mainstream online pornography situates, and is situated by, lived inequalities and the structures that maintain them. This shift in focus from a concern with obscenity and causal effects, to an interest in social inequalities and sexual scripts, can better inform a review of pornography regulation in England and Wales.
Would John Stuart Mill have Regulated Pornography?
Clare McGlynn & Ian Ward, Journal of Law and Society 41(4): 500-522, 2014
John Stuart Mill dominates contemporary pornography debates where he is routinely invoked as an authoritative defence against regulation. This article, by contrast, argues that a broader understanding of Mill's ethical liberalism, his utilitarianism, and his feminism casts doubt over such an assumption. New insights into Mill's approach to sex, sexual activity, and the regulation of prostitution reveal an altogether more nuanced and activist approach. We conclude that John Stuart Mill would almost certainly have accepted certain forms of pornography regulation and, in this light, we argue that Mill can provide the foundation for new, liberal justifications of some forms of pornography regulation.
Prosecuting the Possession of Extreme Pornography: A Misunderstood and Misused Law
Erika Rackley & Clare McGlynn, Criminal Law Review (5): 400-405, 2013
On 8th August 2012, Simon Walsh was acquitted of five counts of possessing extreme pornography. The case was not, of course, the first prosecution under the extreme pornography provisions contained in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (CJIA). Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) figures indicate that there were 799 prosecutions in 2011. However, unlike many of the other prosecutions, Walsh’s case was the focus of extensive public debate. It was touted in the press as a ‘landmark’ case defining the boundaries of the extreme pornography provisions, in which ‘common sense prevailed’ through a ‘sensible jury verdict’. The Walsh case provides an opportunity to revisit what continues to be a misunderstood and, in this case, mis-used, law. The CJIA is a flawed piece of legislation. It represents a lost opportunity by the previous Labour Government to take bolder and more intellectually defensible steps to tackle harmful extreme forms of pornography. This marginalisation of feminism is also evident in the debate around the Walsh case. In the end, discussion focussed on practices which when carried out with consent are unproblematic. What the Walsh case highlights is the need to shift debate from the margins of what is included within the law, to focus on the extreme. There is, of course, a role for law in determining the boundaries of the law and legal cases are all about interpretations on the edge of the law – the simple cases being clear-cut. But, we have lost sight of what, in our view, should be the focus of laws on extreme pornography, namely the pornographic images of rape which inexcusably remain beyond the law.
Pornography, Pragmatism and Proscription
Clare McGlynn & Ian Ward, Journal of Law and Society 36(3): 327-351, 2009
The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 criminalizes the possession of extreme pornography, namely, images of bestiality, necrophilia, and life-threatening or serious violence, and is the immediate context for this article which seeks to present a pragmatic liberal humanist critique of pornography regulation. Such a critique, derived in particular from the writings of Nussbaum and Rorty, presents an alternative case for regulation, eschewing the visceral competing fundamentalisms which characterized the ‘porn wars’ of the 1980s and 1990s. Whilst moral and epistemological philosophers squabble with radical feminists and radical libertarians, extreme pornography can nurture real injustice and ruin real lives. A pragmatic liberal humanism demands a pragmatic response to extreme pornography. The first part of this article will revisit the longer history of the ‘porn wars’; the second describes the parameters of a pragmatic liberal humanist critique; the third examines the shorter history of pornography regulation written into the provisions now enacted in the 2008 Act.
Criminalising Extreme Pornography: A Lost Opportunity
Clare McGlynn & Erika Rackley, Criminal Law Review (4): 245-260, 2009
This article considers provisions criminalising the possession of ‘extreme pornography’ in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. It begins by outlining the current criminal law regime governing pornography, before considering the new measures in detail. We highlight the areas which are most likely to witness challenges, and the areas about which confusion seems inevitable. We close by considering the arguments for proscribing the possession of extreme pornography and possible ways forward, while recognising that, regrettably, the legislative opportunity to take action in this field has most likely now been lost.
Striking a Balance: Arguments for the Criminal Regulation of Extreme Pornography
Clare McGlynn & Erika Rackley, Criminal Law Review 677-690, 2007
Discusses the Government proposals, set out in its 2005 consultation paper, regarding the criminalisation of possession of extreme pornographic material. Highlights the murder case which helped spur the Government into action, the types of material identified in the proposals and what they aim to achieve. Explores the responses received to the consultation, noting areas of agreement and dissention between respondent groups. Argues in favour of a categories based approach to regulating pornography which focuses on "harm to women" rather than on a tendency to "deprave and corrupt".
Positions on the Politics of Porn: a debate on Government plans to criminalise the possession of extreme pornography
Clare McGlynn, Erika Rackley, N Westmarland, Durham University, 2007