Some myths about Denmark

An extract from ‘Whatever happened to sex?’

by Mary Whitehouse

We reproduce chapter 8 below because we believe it is relevant to the current debate about pornography and strengthening the criminal law.  ‘Whatever Happened To Sex?’ was published in 1977 and the conclusions she reached about the government are as true today as they were then.  The only difference now is that pornography is now finding its way on to mainstream television instead of being confined to seedy back streets.  The book as a whole chronicles a very disturbing story of inaction and compromise.


here can be no doubt that the illusion of success which has created an aura around the 'Danish Experiment' has had a profound effect upon the thinking and attitudes, not only of commentators and individuals, but on governments across the free world. I myself found - to my amazement and dismay - during a visit to the Home Office in 1975, that all considerations of pornography and its possible effects upon society had stopped short in 1969 following the publication of Dr Berl Kutchinsky's trivial, now outdated, research into the effect of the repeal of many of the obscenity laws in Denmark.

The apathy of the Home Office, and its willingness to abrogate any further responsibility in this field, was frightening.  How does it come about, I asked myself, that private people make it their business to keep in touch with events and developments in this most crucial area, yet the Home Office apparently just does not want to know?  Does its blindness result from pressure from the Home Secretary - himself under pressure from the anti-censorship lobby - or is it a disturbing example of the dead hand of bureaucracy stifling open discussion and the continuing exchange of evidence and data? I certainly discovered that our 'progressive' Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, has a very non-progressive mind in the true sense of the word.  At the Labour Party Press Conference before the 1974 election, I asked publicly what the Labour Party would do, if returned to office, about indecent display and the sale of pornography.  Mr Jenkins's reply was totally evasive and, when I challenged him personally afterwards, he simply smiled rather smugly and said, 'Some of us do not consider the matter very important, Mrs Whitehouse'.  Well, history may yet show that his complacency was ill advised and his sense of judgement at fault.

Kutchinsky has, over the years, become the 'pet' of the anti-censorship lobby. A key witness in the American Presidential Study (1970) ubiquitous as a defence witness in obscenity trials in Britain and elsewhere, this high priest of 'no censorship' orthodoxy is quoted and misquoted endlessly by the media - the final defence against any who dare raise their voice in concern about the danger of pornography to the quality of our life.

The myths created by the anti-censorship lobby have now become established dogma:

Myth 1: 'People get bored with pornography when it is readily available. Only the tourists but porn in Denmark'.

Here again, Kutchinsky is the key figure. His paper 'The Effect of Pornography on Sex Crimes in Denmark' (1970) was originally published for the American Presidential Commission on Obscenity.

The general interpretation of this study - that people become less interested in pornography as a result of viewing it, and less interested also in engaging in sexually deviant behaviour - has become accepted fact and has profoundly influenced public and official positions throughout the Western world.  It is important, therefore, that one, as it were, researches the research.

It is true that the above conclusions are perfectly valid in terms of this particular piece of research - but what are its peculiarities?  It was, according to Kutchinsky, 'a pilot experiment', an 'exploratory study'.  The subjects of the research were 'more experienced with pornography than the average population of Copenhagen' and did, in fact, 'volunteer' for the experiment. The material was presented to the whole group together - all these things are of significance and raise the question of precisely how 'typical' was this particular cross-section. Kutchinsky himself admits that his 'findings' cannot be considered confirmed by this study and that 'they are unsuitable as a serious debate on the political level'. It is deplorable, indeed culpable, that governments, people in positions of authority and responsible private persons have been enthusiastically prepared to depend upon such superficial research, especially as it was carried out only a year after the final repeal of the obscenity laws in Denmark - long before any trends could validly be assessed. Kutchinsky's research was carried out in Copenhagen only, not in the whole of Denmark, and there are interesting sociological factors in this situation which are of some relevance. Not only is there a steadily declining population in Copenhagen, due to city rebuilding but the population remaining behind tends to be much older than the average of the whole country as the younger people move out into the suburbs. Therefore the very group most likely to commit sexual offences is being continually reduced within the area covered by Kutchinsky's research - a small but significant pointer to the dangers of jumping to conclusions on inadequate data! So do big doors hang on little hinges - not because of the strength of the hinges themselves but because the intellectually committed believe what they want to believe, see what they want to see, and do their best to ensure that the rest of us see it their way too.

No one questioned the validity and seriousness of Kutchinsky's research, and indeed it was immediately and delightedly grasped as received truth by the anti-censorship lobby.  However, in 1974 and 1975 Dr John Court of Flinders University, Adelaide, studied it objectively and in depth.  He discovered for instance, that Kutchinsky had based his conclusions regarding the purchasers of pornography on his sampling of thirty of the sixty sex shops in Copenhagen.  He stood in each one for half an hour, 'eyeballing' the customers as they came in, but not speaking to them.  He concluded, on the basis of this, says Dr Court, 'that foreigners accounted for most of the purchases'. It was on this flimsy data that the myth of 'only tourists' has been built. It is true that, for a short time immediately after the repeal of the laws in 1969, there was a dramatic decline in production of pornographic material in Denmark.  But in the years of 1967/68, when the publishers could still make a huge profit, there was an overproduction of material and with the lowering of retail prices following the change in the law, publishers in 1969 produced little or nothing.  This has been interpreted as a loss of interest by consumers but was, in fact, no more than adjustment to the temporary satiation of the market.  Once that slack had been taken up, production started again - though not, it is true, so much in written material, which declined in popularity when pictorial magazines were freely available.  And it has been in this market that the sales have rocketed.

Court has demonstrated that the said sex shops are established in the most expensive parts of the city of Copenhagen and that it would be impossible to support such high rentals on a three-month tourist system. Sex shops have increased, not decreased, in number in Copenhagen itself - and, of course, it is true that pornography is purveyed as a tourist attraction. But it is equally to be found on bookstalls in the suburbs, while sex shops and live shows are developing in the working class dormitory suburbs and proliferating in towns far beyond Copenhagen. The clientele for these is undoubtedly local and much printed material is in a Scandinavian language. Add to all this the fact that the mail order business in pornography is recognised to be considerable and Kutchinsky's conclusions begin to look very insubstantial indeed, especially as pornography and its sidekicks have become part of the very structure of the economy in Denmark and thus, as David Holbrook has pointed out, 'utterly beyond the access of moral debate'.

The idea that people will become bored with pornography when it is freely available was the view of the Danish Minister of Justice who was responsible for the altered censorship laws. 'Allow obscene literature and people will soon tire of it, the illicit attraction having been removed', he persuaded the Danish Parliament and people. But 'liberalisation' of the law had precisely the opposite effect. Interest shifted from normal erotica into homosexual and bondage material, into sado-masochism and bestiality. Then came the live shows, the abuse of young children as pornographic models, the exploitation of racial prejudice and the public display of performances of racial prejudice and the public display of performances of bestiality. David Holbrook in one of his books cites a report stating that 'a young Danish woman has made a name for herself and a great deal of money appearing with stallions and dogs…Lately the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals petitioned and Courts to prohibit the use of four-footed animals in live and filmed sex scenes with humans'. It is a telling commentary on just how sick the West is that we appear more concerned to protect animals than children - I know of no action in Denmark to petition its equivalent of the NSPCC in defence of the child! The same process is apparent in all those countries which adopt a so-called 'liberal' attitude to pornography.

Already rape as entertainment attracts huge box-office success around the world, as witness A Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs. Manson (Sharon Tate murders) was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1972 - 'Sit in the sun and enjoy your bit of sadism', one reported said cynically. Perverted sexual fantasies, murder for sexual pleasure, sacrificial practices in the context of the occult and orgies stimulated by the use of hard drugs, these are all surfacing in the backstreet world of hard-core porn and their way to the traditional cinema is being paved with films like Straw Dogs, The Exorcist and Last Tango in Paris and with a 'London X' certificate the incredible brutal Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Myth 2: It is possible to protect children, so adults should be free to hear, read and see what they like.

It isn't. But the myth itself pays lip service to what is established international concern to defend the child against adverse and corrupting influences.  The X certificate for films in Britain theoretically protects young people under eighteen.  By making it illegal to sell pornography to anyone under the age of sixteen in Denmark, those in authority theoretically recognise the rights of the child. But in practice, of course, it does not work.  It has proved impossible to keep even fourteen and fifteen year olds out of cinemas where X films are being shown and near pornographic material is so widely on display on hoardings and bookstalls that, in a society which is prepared to give pornography the seal of adult approval, the child is immensely vulnerable.  There is the further, very important, question of what happens to pornography after it has initially been bought.  Research shows that there may be anything from ten to a hundred users of any pornographic publication what the pornographers term the 'ripple effect'.  Another survey showed that only 5% of men who had seen pornographic pictures had actually bought the most recent they had seen.  This particular survey found that amongst females, girls between fifteen and twenty see most pornography while young men between fifteen and twenty nine get the heaviest exposure to it and that more boys than men and more girls than woman are exposed to pornography.

Every normal person, on the both sides of the argument, accepts in theory the need to protect children and of course it is true that society cannot be organised solely around the needs of children.  Nevertheless, we are faced with the fact that when and if society adjusts its standards and accepts the free distribution and display of pornography then inevitably it will fall into the hands of children.  Common sense quite apart from evidence tells us that it will have a deleterious effect upon them.  So we come to the crux of the matter, does the 'right' of the adult to have pornography freely available to him outstrip the 'right' of the child to be protected from it and to grow up in culturally healthy non-exploitive surroundings?  It is abundantly clear that one 'right' will have to be sacrificed to the other.

The UNICEF Declaration of the Rights of the Child states unequivocally, 'The child shall enjoy special protection and shall be given opportunities and facilities' by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity. In the enactment of laws for this purpose the best interests of the child shall be paramount'. No place for pornography there.

Myth 3: (And most important of all). 'When Denmark repealed its censorship laws the sex crimes dropped.

True or false? Both. That which is most obvious is sometimes the most illusive, especially if half-truths and false interpretations are constantly reiterated!

Professor H.J. Eysenck, in his book, Psychology is about People, has this to say about the 'Danish experiment': "Anyone interested in these matters ought to read both sides; they provide a wonderful example of one-sided reporting, biased selection of evidence and failure to base conclusions on the evidence".  Certainly, statistically speaking there has been a marked decrease in the number of less violent sex crimes. When eleven categories of sex-crime have been removed from the Statute Book then of course sex crimes will diminish very significantly!  The simple fact that without law there cannot be crime seems to have escaped the attention of our intellectual progressives!  There has also been a considerable 'liberalisation' of the law as regards incest, the molestation of children and certain classifications of rape. The complacency of politicians and opinion formers as they dabble in half truths and double talk their gloating over the decrease in sex crimes in Denmark drive one to wonder whether if murder and burglary were no longer crimes because of the liberalisation of the law the advocates of permissiveness would claim with satisfaction that the resultant collapse of criminal statistics in these categories was an indication of maturity!

When one looks at the figures for serious sex crimes, rape and attempted rape, which remain on the Statute Book in Denmark, the figures tell a very different story. The Observer reported (26 January 1971) that 'sexual offences reported to the police are now predominantly serious and violent. Rape and assault and battery connected with sadism are more common and crimes of this nature have risen by 5% since 1969' (the year in which pornography was finally legalised). A spokesman for the police said that 'the rise in sex crimes is causing grave concern over the future developments'. That this concern must be increased is evidenced by the fact that 'offences against children since 1970 indicate that here too, a rise in frequency occurred beyond what had been known for a long time' (Dr John Court, Law, Light and Liberty, 1975). And, indeed, the Copenhagen police figures for recorded charges of rape and attempted rape are higher now than at any time before the 'liberalisation' of the law.

There is another matter which has to be taken into account when considering the Danish sex crime figures namely reporting rates. These are obviously influenced by the sexual and moral mores of a particular society as a senior Danish police officer said to me: "This country is now so permissive that behaviour which would previously have been considered criminal is no longer so considered and this is showing in our sex crime figures". Talking about the figures for rape he said "Pre-marital sex is now so normal even in our thirteen and fourteen year olds that it would be a brave girl indeed who would confess that she had to be raped before she could claim to have had intercourse". Even so the figures for criminal rape in Denmark have greatly increased over what they were before the repeal of the sex laws.

How one is able to judge what percentage of criminal cases remain unreported is a valid question. Such information can only be obtained by social survey methods and research carried out in this field in Denmark by Kutchinsky himself shows a decrease in reporting readiness ranging from 10% to 40% over the last ten years. The actual percentage could well have been considerably higher since people surely would find it difficult to remember what they would have done ten years ago when the moral climate was so different to the completely new 'norm' of sexual behaviour which has been established. There is a further 'sieve' which lowers the official figures and it is one which is well enough known even in this country. For a report to be recorded it requires a policeman to take the report seriously and police attitudes can be as affected by changing social attitudes as everyone else's. This is likely to be true even in the case of rape, which is universally considered undesirable and a proper basis for legal action though changes in the level of reporting may well less than in minor sex crime. However, 'it must be noted that the absolute level of reporting is generally believed (in Denmark) to be low with perhaps one in four or five cases coming to the attention of the police'. Five years after the completion of legislative changes, Court claims that there are indications of not lesser but greater social problems. Those which suggest a reduction of problems are either highly questionable on scientific grounds or to be found in the area of minor offences.  This must be interpreted as a Pyrrhic victory if the more serious problems advance unchecked.

One might accept the Kutchinsky theory that freely available pornography reduces sex crime more readily if it could be cross-validated in other countries where a similar trend has been occurring in recent years. The United States does appear to have a slight decline in reported sex offences with a 17% decline in the period 1960-69 but the Justice Department indicates that this is a spurious misleading statistic. It is due to changes in law enforcement policy primarily involving homosexual acts between consenting adults (Victor B Cline, 'Another View: Pornography Effects, the State of Art). The upward trends for Australia and in particular South Australia are unusually steep by world standards and this is clearly related chronologically to the 'liberalising' of the law on books and films in 1970.

By contrast, rather steady rates over a decade have been reported for Austria, Italy, France and Singapore, where pornography has not been legalised and is not widely available. As far as Britain itself is concerned there are disturbing similarities to the Danish situation. Here the problem has been not the repeal by Parliament Stature of its obscenity law, but the nature of the law itself. Roy Jenkins's legislation the Obscene Publications Acts of 1959 and 1964, set out - it really did! - to punish anyone who publishes an obscene article whether for gain or not. A simple enough proposing one would have thought until one looks at the wording of the Act. It declares an article to be obscene 'if its effect or the effect of any one of its parts which if taken as a whole is such as to deprave or corrupt persons who are likely having regard to all the relevant circumstances to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it'.

The use, in a legal context of the phrase 'tend to corrupt and deprave' has been the salvation - if that is the right word - of many a pornographer and the undoing of an equal number of prosecuting counsellors.  The ineffectiveness of the Act is reflected in the mushrooming pornography industry and significantly in the serious sex crime figures. In London where the crime figures are assessed separately from the rest of the country total sex offences are not recorded as such but violent offences and rape are recorded separately. The sharp increase in the number of indictable offences in the mid sixties coincided with the passing of the Obscene Publications Act and it is by no means without significance - though completely ignored in the anticensorship propaganda - that while, for crime in general, the increase between 1969 and 1972 was only 14% for violent crime it was 28% and for rape 33%.

Allowing that year-by-year analyses of crimes can often be misleading the Scotland Yard figures for London over a longer period of time show that there is an unmistakable trend in relation to rape. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner's Annual Reports show that between 1964 and 1975 the figures for reported rape rose from 57 to 167 and the figures for rape offences proven from 44 10 106 over the same period. Increases far outstripping population growth appear to have been occurring since the early sixties and these rises need to be looked at in the prospective of other types of crime.

In Britain's increasingly permissive society the laws governing the age of consent for both homosexuals and heterosexuals are regularly violated. (There is evidence, also, that the Director of public Prosecutions is failing to take action even in admitted cases of incest).

Often it is plausibly suggested by those unfamiliar with the evidence that rises in sexual crimes are just as part of a general trend in increased crime in society and it is true that, in many places, marked rises in some other kinds of crimes are also occurring but the rises apart from violent crime are small compared with the figures cited above. As a matter of fact, crime fell by 3.8% in England and Wales in the period January to September 1973. This was the biggest decline for some years, yet in the same period offences of violence rose by 19.3% and sexual offences rose by 11.5%. Clearly, these problems are more than just another symptom of a sick society: the relatively greater increase suggests that something additional is at work.

More recent figures for rape are difficult to gauge as the feminist movements are having some effect. The establishment of rape crises centres in some countries can be having two possible effects: on the one hand, there is more openness and therefore willingness in the public as a whole to report rape; on the other, women attending such centres are often counselled not to report to the police, so official statistics become artificially depressed.

In America, too, the official sex crime statistics are significant.  As in the European countries, if there is a link between pornography and sex crime, it is likely to show in the years after 1960 when American society was first flooded with porn. And this is precisely what is indicated. Between 1962 and 1972, there was an increase of 124% in 'forcible rape', with the annual rate of increase sharply rising in the last two years. It is perfectly true, of course, that there was a massive increase in crimes of all kinds in America during these years, but while the increase in violent crime generally was greatest in the 1960s, showing a drop of 5% in the early 1970s the reverse was the case as far as rape is concerned.

Mr Raymond White, head of the San Francisco Police Department, Sex Crimes Detail, was asked in 1972 whether 'there is any relationship for the current upswing in rape to the filthy pictures being shown in porn shops'. He pointed to his 'pin map' on his office wall and showed that attacks on women cluster abundantly in the areas around the dirty cinemas and he said: 'Rape attacks are becoming more brutal, bizarre and bestial in character, mirroring the way-out animalism shown in the nearby theatres. In at least four cases the methods of attack almost exactly followed the situation depicted in current shows. In another case a woman raped in a hotel across the street from one of the theatres was bound by a rope and attacked in precisely the manner shown in the film playing at the theatre. In still another instance a woman was taken to an apartment, forced to view a pornographic film then raped by each of the three men'.

It is in America that the link between pornography and the Mafia is already powerfully established. It is a connection acknowledged by Interpol and on which the anxious eyes of police in Britain and other Western countries are fixed.

In the New York Times (10 December 1975) Nicholas Gage reported that organised crime had heavily infiltrated the pornographic film business and is reaping huge profits. An investigation carried out by his paper has found that Mafia money and Mafia members were involved in many aspects of the business including the financing and distribution of films and the ownership of some theatres. This, he said, 'had provided a tremendous new source of revenue for organised crime'. Moreover, it was revealed the great success of these pornographic films Deep Throat had at that time already made $25 million had given several porno moviemakers with Mafia connections the money to go into production and distribution of legitimate films.

'If the trend continues, these people are going to become a major force in the movie industry within a few years', said Captain Lawrence Hepburn of the New York Police Department's organised crime division. 'The movie business is going to be like the garment business, riddled with Mafia influence'. But it appeared that despite the enthusiasm of some pornographic film makers for the Mafia members of the porno industry who had been involved with organised crime had found themselves threatened or even murdered.

There is in America and increasingly so in Britain an astounding public apathy or scepticism which leads many citizens to refrain from reporting to the authorities when they have been the victim of criminal acts. A recent study covering 25,000 households and 10,000 businesses in metropolitan areas of American cities asked people whether they had been raped, robbed, burgled or assaulted during the year and whether they had reported to the police and 62% said they had not done so for one reason or another. This was particularly marked in the case of rape where 'the least publicity can be ruinous to the reputation of the woman concerned". One of the reasons given for not reporting was that "the police would not bother" and in this regard it is worth looking at the situation in Tokyo, the most populous city in the world, where one would expect an eruption of crimes like murder, violent crime and rape which are characteristic of high density population areas as in, say, American cities like New York. But the reverse is the case. In 1973 New York had 1,680 known murders - nearly twice as many as Tokyo - and 3735 reported rapes (the police state that the total figure is certainly much higher) while Tokyo, with its higher population of over nine million had 361. There are many reasons for this disparity - one being the popularity and prestige of Tokyo's large police force. But for the particular concern of this book it is worth looking more closely at the reasons for the low incidence of rape and attempted rape in Tokyo. It has not always been so. In Japan as a whole, and in Tokyo, the figures in 1965 were 11,358 and 1,460, but by 1975 they had been reduced to 6,545 and i000. How? The Japanese police authorities point to their very strict enforcement of the laws against pornography, which is quickly collected and burned, while any public display of indecency on posters and such like is immediately painted out. They have no doubt that their policy has been very effective in the fight against serious sex crimes.

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