“Obscenity” Challenged in the UK’s R v. Peacock Sexual Liberties Verdict

On 6 January 2012 in Courtroom 7 of Southwark Crown Court, R v. Peacock concluded with the unanimous acquittal of Michael Peacock, who was charged with six counts of obscene publication. The charge came under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 (OPA) of England and Wales for publishing obscene articles “likely to ‘deprave and corrupt,’” distributing DVDs featuring male fisting, urination (watersports) and BDSM, as well as running a gay escort site and advertising pornographic DVDs on the website Craigslist. While all the sexual acts portrayed in the DVDs he distributed are legal to perform, the OPA could criminalize them according to its “deprave and corrupt” test. This verdict is a unique challenge to OPA after clarifying the law as it relates to depictions of acts like fisting and urination in pornography, raising the question of how the limits of “obscenity” should be defined. Michael Peacock is the only person to have ever pleaded not guilty to a charge under OPA. The verdict has been considered a victory for sexual liberties and gay rights.

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