Rape pornography, cultural harm and criminalisation
In 2015 the offence of possessing extreme pornography (Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, s 63) was extended to cover the possession of pornographic images of rape. Proponents of the legislation claim that rape pornography is ‘culturally harmful’, because it normalises and legitimates sexual violence. Critics have dismissed ‘cultural harm’ as poorly defined and lacking evidence. However, critical engagement with, and development of, this concept has been limited on both sides of the debate.
This article fills that gap through a sustained theoretical exposition of the concept of cultural harm and detailed analysis of its role in justifying the criminalisation of rape pornography. It makes the case that at least some rape pornography is culturally harmful, but nevertheless concludes that criminalisation of the possession of rape pornography is not an appropriate response to that harm.