The British Board of Film Classification is the
body responsible for classifying films, videos and DVDs in the UK.
In 1999/2000 it issued a consultation paper which set out to revise
the guidelines which set what was permissible in movies within each
of its categories. Below is The Spanner Trust's response. A link
to the BBFC web site is shown to the right.
Set up in the wake of the conviction of
a number of gay men for consensual sexual sadomasochism (SM) in
1990, The Spanner Trust has a number aims, the primary of which
is to advocate and lobby for a change in the law of the UK on consensual
The legal judgements in the Spanner case
made illegal a narrowly defined set of consensual activities - namely
those where lasting harm or damage results. This could be interpreted
to cover whipping and flogging and tattooing and piercing in a sexual
context. The judgements took no account of the consensual nature
of the activities.
All other SM activity is legal. So bondage,
fetishism, role-play, fantasy re-enactment and most forms of corporal
punishment remain legal. And legal judgements since the original
'Spanner' trials have cast doubt on the enforceability of the original
judgement. (We can supply all the relevant legal references if necessary).
And while it is the primary aim of The Spanner
Trust to reverse the original legal ruling, our aim is also to educate
the public and the legislative bodies about consensual SM in general.
Consensual sadomasochism is a common activity
amongst adults in the UK. Such activity can range from dressing
up, fantasy role play and light bondage through domination, fetishism
and restraint to prolonged captivity, whipping and permanent marking.
All such activities take place within a trusting relationship of
short or long duration and are designed for mutual pleasure. Most
important of all they are consensual activities between adults.
Just as actors re-enacting a murder are
not guilty of murder (and are not actually murdering anyone) so
two adults re-enacting a rape or a captivity scene are not actually
engaged in non-consensual rape or imprisonment.
Sadomasochism raises mixed emotions in the
general public which often finds it hard to distinguish it from
violence and other non-consensual activities.
Much of this is due to a confusion between
the external superficial appearance of consensual SM activities
(which may be fantasy re-enactments of non-consensual activities)
and real unconsensual control, domination and violence.
This confusion is cleared in part when interested
parties attend SM events and come across sexual SM materials whether
they be written or visual (both still and moving). In the media
it is always important that the consensual nature of SM activity
is made clear to the reader or viewer.
It is of concern to us, therefore, that
your guidelines fail to take note of the difference between the
portrayal of actual violence and re-enactment of consensual SM scenes.
With general sex education, it is accepted,
even in your own draft guidelines (page 6 - SEX - paragraph 3) that
the explicit portrayal of sexual activity can be in the public interest.
Sexual education covers a wide remit and
has to cover the whole gamut of human sexual activity including
both homosexuality and heterosexuality, fetishism and transsexuality/transvestisism.
As with all variations of sexual activity, SM sex can be done well
or badly, safely or unsafely. And as with general sex education
covering the wide range of legal adult sexual activities, SM deserves
to be treated equally.
We would agree with your general guidelines
that anything which encourages the viewer to commit illegal activities
should be monitored carefully. Yet even within this it seems acceptable
to show films which show murders taking place, banks being robbed
and illegal drugs being taken.
It is important that the BBFC guidelines
distinguish between the portrayal of illegal sexual activities -
namely unconsensual sex and violence - and SM activities which may
too involve "forcible restraint, pain or humiliation"
(last paragraph page 6 - Sex).
It is not difficult to ensure that in any
video or film being considered, the consensual nature of the activity
is made clear. No-one consents to being raped though many consent
to activities which re-enact rape fantasies. Consent is the key
which distinguishes one from the other yet the BBFC's guidelines
ignore this completely.
Finally we question the definitions of 'mutilation'
and 'torture' in the last paragraph of that section. To many, a
tattoo, a scarification or a body piercing are an adornment; to
others they are a mutilation.
Following your guidelines to their logical
conclusion, for example, you would not grant a certificate to a
video of a male circumcision. Many consider it a mutilation yet
many orthodox Jews viewers of such a video would gain pleasure from
seeing it. And the subject of the mutilation (an 8-day old male
infant) could hardly be deemed to have consented.
The word 'torture' usually means non-consensual
infliction of pain on another. Yet many adults engaging in SM activities
would use the same word to describe some of their consensual activities.
In summary, your guidelines on violence
and sex ignore the very real difference between consensual and non-consensual
sexual activity. In fact people engaging in SM activity never refer
to their activity as violence. Yet your wording fails to recognise
This is not an easy issue to unravel and
we would welcome an opportunity to discuss this submission and your