UK Court Blocks Author From Publishing A Book About His Own Sexual Abuse, At Ex-Wife's Request

from the bwah!?!? dept

There’s no doubt that even closely related or allied countries treat the issue of free speech quite differently. Perhaps our most natural European cultural equivalent, Britain, has laws that I often find either confusing or silly, with a particular eye towards their long-panned libel laws. But even correcting for cultural differences, I’m having a real hard time figuring out how a UK court can issue an injunction barring the publishing of an author’s recounting of his own personal history with sexual abuse at his ex-wife’s request. You’ll have to forgive the vagueness here, because there are simply no names being discussed on the matter due to the ongoing litigation.

A British performing artist has been forced to shelve a book based on his experiences of childhood sexual abuse after his ex-wife obtained an injunction to prevent their young son from reading it. In a case that is alarming freedom of speech campaigners and which publishers say is deeply disturbing, the court of appeal has ordered that the artist cannot publish key sections of the book until the issue has been decided at trial.

However, his ex-wife’s lawyers dispute claims that the case could set a precedent undermining the rights of other authors, arguing that it is concerned only with the rights of one child, who has a number of health problems, who they say would suffer catastrophic psychological distress were he to read parts of his father’s work.

Let me flesh this out for you a bit. A well-known artist in the UK is publishing a memoir, including sections that deal with the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. His ex-wife obtained the injunction on publishing that factual account of his life because she believes it will harm, by her lawyer’s own admission, a single child the two had together. That child is suffering a wide range of health problems, including Asperger’s Syndrome, and the ex-wife is suggesting that reading the father’s account would cause further harm. All of this, by the way, relies on a Victorian-era case the dealt with the intentional psychological harm some guy perpetrated on a woman in a bar by playing a practical joke on her. Seriously, I’m not making that crap up.

To be clear, the injunction is temporary, but the alarming part is that the court seems to be staying the publication in order to ask an incomplete question.

While accepting that there was a public interest in the book being published, the court granted a temporary injunction and ruled that the question of whether the boy’s rights should take priority over those of his father should be decided at a full trial.

The problem here is that the court shouldn’t be tossing that public interest out so easily. Imagine, if you will, a court system that disallows factual information to be revealed simply because someone may find it unpleasant. In this particular case, we have a child with medical issues to consider, a potentially sympathetic “victim”, but it need not be so, based on the law if this case sets the wrong precedent. You might simply see young children used as excuses to keep controversial information from ever seeing the light of day.

Add on top of that the concept of keeping a victim of sexual abuse from being able to do as he pleases with that information and we’re suddenly diving into the arena in which the government is abusing him all over again. Not overtly, of course, but if intimidating homosexuals into staying in the closet is abuse, and it is, the same should be said of abuse-victims being prevented from telling their factual stories. Above and beyond all that, the parents could have tried to reach an agreement to simply not allow their child to read the book until a certain age.

Instead, the mysterious ex-wife is robbing the public of a piece of literature in order to protect her son from being parented. Hey, my UK peeps: either you have free speech or you don’t. I know you don’t have our Constitution, but if the status of speech is such that you can’t write about your own lives, you may have a problem.

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Comments on “UK Court Blocks Author From Publishing A Book About His Own Sexual Abuse, At Ex-Wife's Request”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: SO.....

If the author is famous and the kid has known documented issues, not buying the child the book isn’t going to fix the ex-wife’s problem.

Imagine being a 13-year-old boy who is already teased at school and has issues, and now imagine that your father releases an international best-seller about how he’s homosexual but had been repressing it for years, partially due to the sexual abuse he suffered as a kid, where authority figure X made a sexual plaything out of him.

Short of home schooling the kid and never letting him watch TV/exist on the Internet/read the news, there’s no way to protect him from the aftermath of the book release.

That said, this should never have got this far; this is the sort of thing you work out with your family — estranged or not.

Of course, in this day and age, it’s also possible that this entire thing is a publicity stunt, although that’s a rough thing to do to a kid too.

Sounds like the ex-wife considers that her son has already been negatively affected by his father prior to this. The book could be viewed either as free expression, or as a lever against a failed marriage. Without being allowed to read the text or understand the situation in front of the court, there’s not much more to say here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: SO.....

Freedom is never free.
You want freedom to speak your mind? Then you must also accept that someone else will speak things you don’t want to hear.

Not really sure why one would want to hide things from their child anyway. The experiences my parents have shared with me, even some horrible things, have helped me understand them better and given me knowledge to be a better person.

I suspect the real issue is the ex wife will be embarrassed when her friends are all “like OMG, you were married to a man who took it up the rear?! Like your nasty to sleep with that!”
Unfortunately its far too common for the children of separated parents to be used as pawns.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: SO.....

Imagine a 13 yr ld with similar psychological problems.

There father gets arrested for sexual assault against minors (child porn/peadophilia if you will)

The papers are disallowed from reporting this because the child might read it.

This hypothetical is EXACTLY the same.

AS for the ex-wife.. well what happened to her and huer husband during there marriage might be relevant. What happened to her husband BEFORE they were married and most likely whilst he was a minor is absolutely NOT relevant to her nor to the freakin courts. Nor to his child!

Personally this guy should tell the UK court to get stuffed by publishing it OUTSIDE the UK. Good luck with the courts stopping him, precedent has already established they cannot. (Spycatcher

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: SO.....

“Imagine being a 13-year-old boy who is already teased at school and has issues, and now imagine that your father releases an international best-seller about how he’s homosexual but had been repressing it for years, partially due to the sexual abuse he suffered as a kid, where authority figure X made a sexual plaything out of him.”

Now imagine that there’s a very public lawsuit about how your mother is trying to block him from releasing his own memoirs, with the explanation being that you’re too much of a wimp to handle its contents. Worse, because the book’s publication is being blocked and nobody can read it, gossip and rumour about the book’s contents are all that people have to go on, so your peers can make up any story they want to torment you.

That’s not exactly an improvement on the situation, I think. Perhaps the best situation would be to wait until the child is 18 before publishing the book, but once the book is written and known about publicly, there’s no winners whatever the outcome.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

His wife may have other arguments we are not aware of.

But none that could be valid. It’s his life. He should be able to write about it. Children sometimes find out unpleasant things about their parents, and that’s not the end of the world, whether or not they have Asperger’s and ADD. And the mother has advance notice and could spend that time preparing her son instead of suing. There is not a “right to remain ignorant” that the mother can claim on behalf of her son.

On the other hand…

BHM says that on divorce, she and her ex-husband agreed to a court order that requires them to attempt to prevent their child from discovering information about their past lives “which would have a detrimental effect on the child’s wellbeing”.

This just seems weird to me (although it may explain why the case wasn’t just dismissed.) Who makes such a provision during a divorce? Who suggested it? What was given in return for it? Do both parents have pasts that they really agreed that it should be illegal for them to tell their son, and the court agreed?

After a copy of the manuscript was leaked to BHM, she brought proceedings on behalf of her son

Also weird. Who would leak her the manuscript, and why?

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You sir/madam are a LEGEND!!!!

Also if you didn’t know the idea wasn’t really mine it came from Popehat

Post about the “paste eater”

The original edited posts in original article (look up JustThisGuy)

Julio Escobar says:

Whenever I feel down in the dumps about the state of liberty and freedom here in the US, I just look across the pond to the plight of my (literal) cousins in the UK and feel a little better. Jesus H. Christ, surveillance, censorship and political correctness (which obviously is not the same as politeness)is running bridle deep over there, whereas here it’s only knee-deep…moronic, just moronic. C’mon Britain, you’re better than this!

Duke (profile) says:

For anyone interested, the full judgment can be found here. As with most legal issues, the situation is slightly more complicated than it may appear.

The right that the child is relying on (technically it is the child, not the ex-wife) is a tort that involves intentionally causing someone psychiatric harm. Intentionally causing someone physical harm has been illegal for a long time, the Victorian-era case referred to made psychiatric harm actionable as well (and has been followed and used since then).

As this was a pre-trial injunction the Court had limited evidence to go on, and had to decide whether the child was likely to succeed at trial – and it found he was, given evidence that the child was likely to read the material (the book is dedicated to him, contains parts addressed to him, is being serialised in a national newspaper, will probably be online, will be referred to in Wikipedia articles etc.), the material was likely to cause the child harm (not the stuff about sexual abuse specifically, but a load of stuff about self-harm), and that the father knew this (there was a clause in the parents’ divorce about avoiding harm by disclosing information).

It’s a messy case and situation, but the English legal position is generally to stop publication if there’s a good chance it will be halted after a trial. The only thing the father (and publisher) lose is time and money – and the child has agreed to compensate them for any financial losses.

Anonymous Coward says:

So all the kids he goes to school with now know, because the parents or older siblings have read the newspaper , I’m sure it’s already gotten back to him(kids are ruthless), Note to the mother, you can not protect your child from all the evils of the world, But you can educate so they learn to make better decisions and learn how to deal with things better through understanding.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Hey, my UK peeps: either you have free speech or you don’t. I know you don’t have our Constitution, but if the status of speech is such that you can’t write about your own lives, you may have a problem.”

Stop doing this.

The UK does NOT have free speech, they don’t claim to have free speech, they explicitly limit their speech in myriad ways, and it’s just completely asinine to continually act as though they have free speech but are just bungling it somehow. They don’t. They don’t claim to.

That’s why things like Speaker’s Corners exist in the first place, and even now you can only legally speak freely at a Speaker’s Corner in the UK if you’re standing on a platform of some kind and not on the ground.

It’s dumb, sure, but so is acting like they have anything similar to our First Amendment.

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