On Trial for ‘Excessively Noisy Sex’

| 7/31/2009 3:53:54 PM

megaphoneThe arrest of a woman for having loud sex conjures up echoes of George Orwell’s 1984 for the astute, libertarian magazine Reason. Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill reports on the “bizarre and terrifying situation” for the publication, explaining that 48-year-old Caroline Cartwright of Wearside, England was remanded in custody in April for “excessively noisy sex.”

“How did Cartwright’s expressions of noisy joy become a police case, scheduled to be ruled on at Newcastle Crown Court, one of the biggest courts in the north of England?” O’Neill supposes one might wonder. There’s a heck of an answer:

Because, unbelievably, Cartwright had previously been served with an antisocial behavior order—a civil order used to control the minutiae of British people’s behavior—that forbade her from making “excessive noise during sex” anywhere in England.

That’s right. Going even further than Orwell’s imagined authoritarian hellhole, where at least there was a wood or two where people could indulge their sexual impulses, the local authorities in Wearside made all of England a no-go zone for Cartwright’s noisy shenanigans. If she wanted to howl with abandon, she would have to nip over the border to Scotland or maybe catch a ferry to France.

Antisocial behavior orders (ASBOs), introduced in England in 1998, are civil orders pertaining to citizens who do things that cause (or are likely to cause) harm, alarm, or distress. Hearsay evidence is allowed. In O’Neill’s take, “the ASBO system has turned much of Britain into a curtaintwitching, neighbor-watching, noisepolicing gang of spies.”

Source: Reason

Parker East
8/17/2009 3:33:15 PM

I noticed that mention of factory worker husband too. Thanks for repackaging your thoughts on the story. It proved much more edible food for thought.

julie kate hanus
8/11/2009 3:57:24 PM

Hi, Parker, thanks for writing. What’s interesting here to me, I guess, isn’t digging into a debate over whether or not the intervention was justified—although I personally tend to agree with your assessment that neighborly consideration clearly wasn’t employed. (As to whether or not the Cartwrights were being noisy on purpose, ach, I don’t see much value in speculation.) I appreciated Brendan O’Neill’s take simply for the parallel that he drew to Orwell’s 1984. When the Cartwrights’ ASBO violation made headlines in April, so many articles piled on Caroline, dubbing her “sex crazed” and the like. One particularly stands out in my mind for describing her as having raucous sex with her “factory worker husband.” A true detail, fair enough, but used in a sort-of underhanded way—appealing to stereotypes about class and sexuality, what’s civilized, and more specifically, who is civilized, and, by extension, who needs to be regulated. (Put more simply: If her husband had been a “doctor” … would tabloids have reported the detail with such zest?) So I thought O’Neill had an intriguing point invoking Victorian prudishness, and, in the wash of coverage gawking at the Cartwrights’ sexuality, it was refreshing to read a piece positing the couple as a pair of rebels, and questioning the wisdom of setting a legal precedent. Which is where the 1984 comes in, really: It’s an extreme comparison, I suppose, but that’s also why it works. It gets me thinking about what it means to regulate sexuality—and the role of law in developing and enforcing moral codes. As to your concerns about the reporting all the details, they’re well taken. Next time in such a case ’ll include a more background. Cheers.

Parker East
8/11/2009 1:48:09 PM

In all fairness, the police had to come out to the scene 25 times in the previous two years before the ASBO was ordered. This wasn't just one angry neighbor, either. Once it was the post man. We wouldn't accept someone playing extremely loud discordant music next door to our house from midnight until three AM, why should this be any different. ASBOs are scary, but this is not the case. It's obvious that the couple in question have not tried to do anything to accommodate their neighbors, and I would give you five to one odds that they are actually being intentionally loud because they get off on the idea that others can hear them. I'm in a polyamorous relationship, so I'm definitely no prude, but they transcend the bounds of politeness by being completely inconsiderate of their neighbors wishes. Three hours is a long time to be disturbed by loud noises on a daily basis. This is the kind of sensationalist reporting we get from the MSM, just in the other direction, and I think it is highly irresponsible here too. I would love to get a response from Julie on this.

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