In 2008 a new criminal offense for possession of “extreme” pornography was introduced in England and Wales, and later amended and adopted by Scotland and Northern Ireland. Extreme pornography is defined as any image that depicts explicitly or in a realistic way, actions which harm life or are likely to cause serious injury to genitals or other body parts; acts of rape or other nonconsensual sexual penetration; images of bestiality or necrophilia; or acts that are otherwise grossly offensive, disgusting, or obscene.
Section 63(7)(A) of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act of 2008 (the Extreme Pornography Act or EPA) was prompted by a high-profile case in 2003 in which a young woman was killed by a male acquaintance who was fond of snuff films. Graham Coutts, 36 had begun having sexual fantasies of strangling women around age 15, and finally turned his dreams into reality with Jane Longhurst, 31. After picking Jane up for a planned visit with her friend, Coutts wrapped a pair of his girlfriend’s tights around Jane's neck and strangled her to death while masturbating. He then hid her body in a cardboard box and moved it to a storage facility, where it remained for about six weeks. There is some evidence that Coutts had sex with the dead body during one or more of his many visits to the facility.
The EPA was not without controversy. Some people were concerned that unconventional but consensual acts such as fisting or urethral sounding might be criminalized. Others were not happy that the law focused on prosecuting porn consumers rather than commercial producers or websites hosting obscene material. Some felt the law could be misinterpreted; the authors in the current study, for example, suggest that the language of the law has become more of an act to protect animals than the victims of exteme sexual abuse.
When the legislation was first introduced, it was believed the number of prosecutions under the law would be about 30 per year, and law enforcement agencies were told not to proactively investigate extreme pornography offender but to utilize the law when violations occurred as a result of another investigation or parole violation. The actual number of incidents reported however, turned out to be considerably higher, rising to 254 arrests in 2015-16, and 337 in 2016-17.
The current study examined all 591 arrests involving extreme pornography occurring between 2015 and 2017. Sixty-two percent of these arrests resulted in convictions.
The most significant findings were that:
- 86% of the convictions involved bestiality images
- 64% involved an additional offense, such as drugs, theft, property damage, animal or human sexual abuse
- 42% of the co-occurring crimes were sexual in nature, including direct contact offending and child pornography
- The age of collectors ranged from 15 to 89 with no group representing a majority
The findings of this study are significant, suggesting that viewing and collection of animal pornography may be an indicator of increased risk to commit contact sexual offenses.