In Paris Adult Theater I v. Slaton, 413 U.S. 49, 57 (1973), the U.S. Supreme Court held that there are “legitimate [governmental] interests at stake in stemming the tide of commercialized obscenity, even assuming it is feasible to enforce effective safeguards against exposure to juveniles.” [Italics added] In other words, even if we were to succeed in shielding children from exposure to hardcore adult pornography on the Internet and elsewhere, the federal and state governments would still be justified in enforcing obscenity laws.

When it comes to the Internet, however, in the United States there are at present NO legal safeguards to protect children from exposure to pornography, and in large measure we can thank the Supreme Court itself for this tragic state of affairs.

In Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844 (1997), the Supreme Court invalidated the Communications Decency Act of 1996, a law intended to restrict children’s access to “indecent” content on the Internet. In 2009, the Court also announced that it would not review a lower federal court decision (ACLU v. Mukasey, 534 F.3d 181) which invalidated the Child Online Protection Act of 1998. COPA would have required websites that commercially distribute sexual materials deemed “harmful to minors” to take reasonable steps to keep minors away.

Today, if a child were to walk into an “adult bookstore,” he would normally be told to leave, because it is against the law to sell pornography to children in real space. But if that same child were to “click” to most commercial websites that distribute adult pornography, he could view hardcore adult pornography free of charge and without restriction, because when it comes to cyberspace, the courts think parental use of filters is an adequate solution to the problem.

Parents are indeed the “first line of defense” when it comes to protecting children from harmful Internet content, but no matter how hard the government tries to educate and motivate parents, many will not install and use filter technology on computers under their control. The reasons include the cost and difficulty of installing filters, the problem of over-blocking, parental language barriers, illiteracy and disabilities and parental naïve, indifference and abuse.

Moreover, most children can access the Internet outside the home at a school, library, friend or relative’s house or job or via a mobile device (e.g., laptop or cell phone); and all it takes is one child in a group of friends to have unrestricted access to the Internet for all to have access.

But it isn’t just the Courts who are to blame for the failure to protect children from exposure to Internet pornography. Congress, the U.S. Justice Department and FBI also share responsibility.

In 1996, Congress amended two sections of the criminal obscenity laws [18 USC 1462 & 1465] to clarify that distribution of obscene matter is prohibited on the Internet. The Congressionally created COPA Commission also included the following Recommendation in its 2000 Final Report (available at http://www.copacommission.org/report/recommendations.shtml):

Witnesses appearing before the COPA Commission testified that distribution over the Internet of obscene material…and harmful to minors material continues to grow in a troubling manner. Law enforcement resources at the state and federal level have been focused nearly exclusively on child pornography and child stalking…

Specifically, the Commission recommends that Government at all levels fund aggressive programs to investigate and prosecute violations of obscenity laws…This investigation and prosecution program should supplement the Government’s existing effort to investigate and prosecute child sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, and child pornography…Such a program should be of sufficient magnitude to deter effectively illegal activity on the Internet.

Despite this recommendation, the Justice Department and FBI continue to focus almost exclusively on child pornography and child stalking. Under the Bush administration there were successful prosecutions against online commercial distributors of hardcore adult pornography, proving that obscenity laws can be enforced. But these prosecutions were too few and far between to effectively deter online distribution of hardcore adult pornography. Since the 2008 presidential election, the Justice Department (including the FBI) has not initiated any new adult obscenity cases. Congress hasn’t uttered a peep about the failure to enforce obscenity laws.

What then are the consequences of our nation’s failure to protect children from online exposure to hardcore adult pornography which depicts, among other things, bestiality, bondage, excretory activities (urine and feces), group sex, incest, marital infidelity, prostitution, rape, rough sex (strangulation and slapping), sexual murders, teen sex, torture and unsafe sex galore?

Common sense should inform us that when children are exposed to materials like those described above, their attitudes about sex, their sexual desires and their sexual behavior can be influenced for the worst. The evidence compiled in this paper supports that common sense assessment. The evidence is not intended to be exhaustive. It is the tip of the iceberg.

In September 2009, Morality in Media published a 40-page report entitled, “How Adult Pornography Contributes to Sexual Exploitation of Children.” The works cited in this report (supplemented by 175 pages of appendices) include news articles, social science studies, court cases, Congressional testimony, and books published from 1980. The 40-page report with appendices is posted at www.moralityinmedia.org (Pornography Effects…Children).

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By: Robert Peters
Date: 2011

 

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