Personal Comments by Commissioner James Dobson

Part: 
One
Chapter: 
3

Now that the work of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography has come to an end, I look back on this fourteen month project as one of the most difficult, and gratifying, responsibilities of my life. On the down side, the task of sifting through huge volumes of offensive and legally obscene materials has not been a pleasant experience. Under other circumstances one would not willingly devote a year of his life to depictions of rape, incest, masturbation, mutilation, defecation, urination, child molestation and sadomasochistic activity. Nor have the lengthy and difficult deliberations in Commission meetings been without stress. But on the other hand, there is a distinct satisfaction in knowing that we gave ourselves unreservedly to this governmental assignment and, I believe, served our country well.

I now understand how mountain climbers must feel when they finally stand atop the highest peak. They overcome insurmountable obstacles to reach the rim of the world and announce proudly to one another, "we made it!" In a similar context, I feel a sense of accomplishment as the Commission releases its final report to the President, the Attorney General, and the people. For a brief moment in Scottsdale last month, it appeared that our differing philosophies would strand us on the lower slopes. And of course, we were monitored daily by the ACLU, the pornographers, and the press, who huddled together and murmured with one voice, "they are doomed!" But now as we sign the final document and fling it about to the public, it does not seem pretentious to indulge ourselves in the satisfaction of having accomplished our goals. By George, I think we made it!

Let me indicate now, from the viewpoint of this one Commissioner, what the final report is and is not. First, it is not the work of a biased Commission which merely rubberstamped the conservative agenda of the Reagan administration. A quick analysis of our proceedings will reveal the painstaking process by which our conclusions were reached. If the deck were stacked as some have suggested, we would not have invested such long, arduous hours in debate and compromise. Serving on the Commission were three attorneys, two psychologists, one psychiatrist, one social worker, one city council member, one Catholic priest, one federal judge and one magazine editor. Some were Christians, some Jewish, and some atheists. Some were Democrats and some Republicans. All were independent, conscientious citizens who took their responsibility very seriously. Our diversity was also evident on strategic issues about which society itself is divided. Our voting on these more troublesome matters often split 6-5, being decided by a swing member or two. Some whitewash! So the characterization of this seven man, four woman panel as an ultraconservative hit squad is simply poppycock. Read the transcripts. You will see.

Second, the final report does not do violence to the First Amendment to the Constitution. The Miller standard, by which the Supreme Court clearly reaffirmed the illegality of obscene matter in 1913, was not assaulted during any of our deliberations. No suggestion was made that the Court had been too lenient . . . or that a Constitutional Amendment should lower the threshold of obscenity ... or that the justices should reconsider their position. No. The Miller standard was accepted and even defended as the law of the land. What was recommended, to the consternation of pornographers, was that government should begin enforcing the obscenity laws that are already on the books ... criminal laws that have stood constitutional muster! Considering the unwillingness of our elected representatives to deal with this issue, that would be novel, indeed.

Third, the hearings on which this report was based were not manipulated to produce an anti-pornography slant. Every qualified libertarian and First Amendment advocate properly requesting the right to testify was granted a place on the agenda, limited only by the constraints of time. A few individuals and organizations on both sides of the issue were unable to testify because the demand far exceeded available opportunities. However, objective procedures were established to deal fairly with those wishing to be heard, and complaints alleging bias were, I believe, unfounded. In fact, several organizations were asked to speak on behalf of sexually explicit materials but either declined or failed to appear. It is true that more witnesses testified against pornography than those who favored it, but that was a function of the disproportionate requests that were received by the executive director. Furthermore, I think it also reflects a disproportionate number of American citizens who oppose the proliferation of obscenity.

Looking now at the other side of the coin, let me express what the final report is and what I believe its impact is likely to be. First, the Commission expressed an unmistakable condemnation of sexually explicit material that is violent in nature. We were unanimous in that position throughout our deliberations. There is no place in this culture for material deemed legally obscene by the courts which depicts the dismemberment, burning, whipping, hanging, torturing or raping of women. The time has come to eradicate such materials and prosecute those who produce it. There was no disagreement on that point.

Second, we were also unanimous in our condemnation of sexually explicit materials which depict women in situations that are humiliating, demeaning and subjugating. I can still recall photographs of nude young women being penetrated by broom handles, smeared with feces, urinated upon, covered in blood or kneeling submissively in the act of fellatio. Most American citizens have no idea that such gruesome scenes are common in the world of obscene publications today. When asked to describe pornography currently on the market, they think in terms of airbrushed centerfolds in the popular "men's magazines." But steady customers of pornography have long since grown tired of simple heterosexual nudity. Indeed, a visit to an adult bookstore quickly reveals the absence of so-called "normal" sexuality. The offerings today feature beribboned 18-to-20 year old women whose genitalia have been shaved to make them look like little girls, and men giving enemas or whippings to one another, and metal bars to hold a woman's legs apart, and 3-foot runner penises and photographs of women sipping ejaculate from champagne glasses. In one shop which our staff visited on Times Square, there were 46 films for sale which depicted women having intercourse or performing oral sex with different animals ... pigs, dogs, donkeys and horses. This is the world of pornography today, and I believe the public would rise up in wrath to condemn it if they knew of its prominence.

Finally, our Commission was unanimously opposed to child pornography in any form. Though categorically illegal since 1983, a thriving cottage industry still exists in this country. Fathers, step-fathers, uncles, teachers and neighbors find ways to secure photographs of the children in their care. They then sell or trade the pictures to fellow pedophiles. I will never forget a particular set of photographs shown to us at our first hearing in Washington, D.C. It focused on a cute, nineyear-old boy who had fallen into the hands of a molester. In the first picture, the blond lad was fully clothed and smiling at the camera. But in the second, he was nude, dead and had a butcher knife protruding from his chest. I served for 14 years as a member of a medical school faculty and thought I had seen it all. But my knees buckled and tears came to my eyes as these and hundreds of other photographs of children were presented ... showing pitiful boys and girls with their rectums enlarged to accommodate adult males and their vaginas penetrated with pencils, toothbrushes and guns. Perhaps the reader can understand my anger and disbelief when a representative for the American Civil Liberties Union testified a few minutes later. He advocated the free exchange of pornography, all pornography, in the marketplace. He was promptly asked about material depicting children such as those we had seen. This man said, with a straight face, that it is the ACLU's position that child pornography should not be produced, but once it is in existence, there should be no restriction on its sale and distribution. In other words, the photographic record of a child's molestation and abuse should be a legal source of profit for those who wish to reproduce, sell, print and distribute it for the world to see. And that, he said, was the intent of the First Amendment to the Constitution!

Speaking personally, I now passionately support the control of sexually explicit material that is legally obscene, whether it relates to children or adults. Though the Commission has dealt at some length in its report with specific "harms" associated with pornography, I would like to list the dangers here from my own point of view. Our critics have alleged that the Commission wishes to usher in a new era of sexual repression ... that we favor governmental interference in America's bedrooms and even in our thoughts. That is nonsense. On the other hand, I have seen enough evidence in the past year to convince me of the devastation inflicted on victims of pornography. It is on their behalf that we must intervene. Here, then, are the harms as I perceive them:

  1. Depictions of violence against women are related to violence against women everywhere. Though social research on this subject has been difficult to conduct, the totality of evidence supports the linkage between illustration and imitation. Furthermore, pornography perpetuates the so-called "rape myth" whereby women are consistently depicted as wanting to be assaulted even when they deny it. They are shown as terrified victims in the beginnings of rape scenes, but conclude by begging for more. Men who want to believe that women crave violent sex can find plenty of pornographic evidence to support their predilections.
  2. For a certain percentage of men, the use of pornographic material is addictive and progressive. Like the addiction to drugs, alcohol or food, those who are hooked on sex become obsessed by their need. It fills their world, night and day.And too often, their families are destroyed in the process.
  3. Pornography is degrading to women. How could any of us, having heard Andrea Dworkin's moving testimony, turn a deaf ear to her protest? The pornographic depictions she described are an affront to an entire gender, and I would take that case to any jury in the land. Remember that men are the purchasers of pornography. Many witnesses testified that women are typically repulsed by visual depictions of the type therein described. It is provided primarily for the lustful pleasure of men and boys who use it to generate excitation. And it is my belief, though evidence is not easily obtained, that a small but dangerous minority will then choose to act aggressively against the nearest available females. Pornography is the theory; rape is the practice.
  4. It appears extremely naive to assume that the river of obscenity which has inundated the American landscape has not invaded the world of children. This seven billion-dollar industry pervades every dimension of our lives. There are more stores selling pornographic videos than there are McDonald hamburger stands. More than 800,000 phone calls are made each day to dial-a-porn companies in New York (180,000,000 in 1984), many placed by boys and girls still in elementary school. Furthermore, recent clinical observations by Dr. Victor Cline and others have indicated that a growing number of children are finding their parents' sexually explicit videos and magazines, and are experimenting with what they have learned on younger children. The problem is spreading rapidly. Obviously, obscenity cannot be permitted to flow freely through the veins of society without reaching the eyes and ears of our children. Latchkey kids by the millions are watching porn on Cable TV and reading their parents' adult magazines. For 50 cents, they can purchase their own pornographic tabloids from vendor machines on the street. Or they can hear shocking vulgarities for free on their heavy metal radio stations. At an age when elementary school children should be reading Tom Sawyer and viewing traditional entertainment in the spirit of Walt Disney,they are learning perverted facts which neither their minds nor bodies are equipped to handle. It is my belief, accordingly, that the behavior of an entire generation of teenagers is being adversely affected by the current emphasis on premarital sexuality and general eroticism seen nightly on television, in the movies, and in the other sources of pornography I have mentioned. It is not surprising that the incidence of unwed pregnancy and abortions has skyrocketed since 1970. Teens are merely doing what they've been taught-that they should get into bed, early and often. And to a large degree, pornography has done this to them.
  5. Organized crime controls more than 85 percent of all commercially produced pornography in America. The sale and distribution of these materials produces huge profits for the crime lords who also sell illegal drugs to our kids and engage in murder, fraud, bribery and every vice known to man. Are we to conclude that the 7 billion (or more) tax-free dollars that they receive each year from the pornography industry is not harmful to society? Is malignant melanoma harmful to the human body?
  6. Pornography is often used by pedophiles to soften children's defenses against sexual exploitation. They are shown nude pictures of adults, for example, and are told, "See. This is what mommies and daddies do." They are then stripped of innocence and subjected to brutalities that they will remember for a lifetime.
  7. Outlets for obscenity are magnets for sex related crimes. When a thriving adult bookstore moves into a neighborhood, an array of "support-services" typically develops around it. Prostitution, narcotics and street crime proliferate. From this perspective, it is interesting that law enforcement officials often claim they do not investigate or attempt to control the flow of obscenity because they lack the resources to combat it. In reality, their resources will extend farther if they first enforce the laws relating to pornography. The consequent reduction in crime makes this a cost-effective use of taxpayers' funds.
  8. The City of Cincinnati, Ohio has demonstrated how a community can rid itself of obscenity without inordinate expenditures of personnel and money.

  9. So-called adult bookstores are often centers of disease and homosexual activity. Again, the average citizen is not aware that the primary source of revenue in adult bookstores is derived from video and film booths. Patrons enter these 3 by 3 foot cubicles and deposit a coin in the slot. They are then treated to about 90 seconds of a pornographic movie. If they want to see more, they must continue to pump coins (usually quarters) in the machine. The booths I witnessed on New York's Times Square were even more graphic. Upon depositing the coin, a screen was raised, revealing two or more women and men who performed live sex acts upon one another on a small stage. Everything that is possible for heterosexuals, homosexuals or lesbians to do was demonstrated a few feet from the viewers. The booths from which these videos or live performers are viewed become filthy beyond description as the day progresses. Police investigators testified before our Commission that the stench is unbearable and that the floor becomes sticky with semen, urine and saliva. Holes in the walls between the booths are often provided to permit male homosexuals to service one another. Given the current concern over sexually transmitted diseases and especially Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), it is incredible that health departments have not attempted to regulate such businesses. States that will not allow restaurant owners or hairdressers or counselors or acupuncturists to operate without licenses have permitted these wretched cesspools to escape governmental scrutiny. To every public health officer in the country I would ask, "Why?,
  10. Finally, pornography is a source of significant harm to the institution of the family and to society at large. Can anything which devastates vulnerable little children, as we have seen, be considered innocuous to the parents who produced them? Raising healthy children is the primary occupation of families, and anything which invades the childhoods and twists the minds of boys and girls must be seen as abhorrent to the mothers and fathers who gave them birth. Furthermore, what is at stake here is the future of the family itself. We are sexual creatures, and the physical attraction between males and females provides the basis for every dimension of marriage and parenthood. Thus, anything that interjects itself into that relationship must be embraced with great caution. Until we know that pornography is not addictive and progressive ... until we are certain that the passion of fantasy does not destroy the passion of reality ... until we are sure that obsessive use of obscene materials will not lead to perversions and conflict between husbands and wives . . . then we dare not adorn them with the crown of respectability. Society has an absolute obligation to protect itself from material which crosses the line established objectively by its legislators and court system. That is not sexual repression. That is self-preservation.

If not limited by time and space, I could describe dozens of other harms associated with exposure to pornography. Presumably, members of Congress were also cognizant of these dangers when they drafted legislation to control sexually explicit material. The President and his predecessors would not have signed those bills into criminal laws if they had not agreed. The Supreme Court must have shared the same concerns when it ruled that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendmentreaffirming the validity and constitutionality of current laws. How can it be, then, that these carefully crafted laws are not being enforced? Good question! The refusal of federal and local officials to check the rising tide of obscenity is a disgrace and an outrage. It is said that the production and distribution of pornography is the only unregulated industry remaining today ... the last vestige of "free enterprise" in America. Indeed, the salient finding emerging from 12 months of testimony before our Commission reflected this utter paralysis of government in response to the pornographic plague.

As citizens of a democratic society, we have surrendered our right to protect ourselves in return for protection by the State. Thus, our governmental representatives have a constitutional mandate to shield us from harm and criminal activity . . . including that associated with obscenity. It is time that our leaders were held accountable for their obvious malfeasance. Attorney General Meese, who has courageously supported other unpopular causes, has been reluctant to tackle this one. He is reportedly awaiting the final report from the Commission before mobilizing the Department of Justice. We will see what happens now. But his predecessors have no such excuse for their dismal record. Under Attorney General William French Smith, there was not a single indictment brought against producers of adult pornography in 1983. None! There were only six in 1982, but four of those were advanced by one motivated prosecutor. In 1981 there were two. Of the 93 United States Attorneys, only seven have devoted any effort to the prosecution of obscenity. Obviously, the multi-billion dollar porn industry is under no serious pressure from federal prosecutors.

Considering this apathy, perhaps it is not surprising that the Department of justice greeted our Commission with something less than rampant enthusiasm. For example, the first Presidential Commission received two million dollars (in 1967 money) and was granted two years to complete their assignment. Our Commission was allocated only $500,000 (in 1985 money) and was given one year in which to study an industry that had expanded exponentially. Repeated requests for adequate time and funding were summarily denied. Considering the Presidential mandate to establish the Commission, the Department had no choice but to execute the order. But it did very little to guarantee its success or assist with the enormous workload. Quite frankly, failure would have been inevitable were it not for the dedication of eleven determined Commissioners who worked under extreme pressure and without compensation to finish the task. We were also blessed with a marvelous staff and executive director who were committed to the challenge.

Other branches of government must also be held accountable for their unwillingness to enforce the criminal laws. The United States Postal Service makes virtually no effort to prosecute those who send obscene material through the mail. Attorney Paul McGeady testified that there are conservatively 100,000 violations of 18 USC 1461 every day of the year. Likewise, the Federal Communications Commission and Interstate Commerce Commission do not attempt to regulate the interstate transportation of obscene material. Eighty percent of all pornography is duced in Los Angeles County and then shipped to the rest of the country. It would not be difficult to identify and prosecute those who transport it across state lines. The Federal Communications Commission does not regulate obscenity on cable or satellite television. The Customs Service makes no effort to prevent adult pornography from entering this country, and catches only five percent of child porn sent from abroad. The Internal Revenue Service permits organized crime to avoid taxes on the majority of its retail sales, especially the video booth market. The Federal Bureau of Investigation assigns only two of 8700 special agents to obscenity investigation, even though organized crime controls the industry. And on and on it goes.

Local law enforcement agencies are equally unconcerned about obscenity. The City of Miami has assigned only two of 1,500 policemen to this area, neither of which is given a car. Chicago allocates two of 12,000 officers to obscenity control. Los Angeles assigns 8 out of 6,700, even though Los Angeles is the porn capital of the country. Very few indictments have been brought against a pornographer in Los Angeles County in more than ten years, despite the glut of materials produced there. Another serious concern is also directed at the court system and the judges who have winked at pornography. Even when rare convictions have been obtained, the penalties assessed have been pitiful! Producers of illegal materials may earn millions in profit each year, and yet serve no time in prison and pay fines of perhaps $100. One powerful entrepreneur in Miami was convicted on obscenity charges for the 61st time, yet received a fine of only $1600. The judge in another case refused to even look at child pornography which the defendant had supposedly produced. He said it would prejudice him to examine the material. That judge had never sentenced a single convicted pornographer to a day in prison. Is there any wonder why America is inundated in sexually explicit material today?

So we come to the bottom line. We've looked at the conditions that have led to the present situation. Now we must consider the mid-course maneuvers that will correct it. I believe the suggestions offered in the Commissioner's final report, herein, will provide an effective guide toward that end. We have not merely attempted to assess the problem; we have offered a proposed resolution. The testimony on which it is based make it clear that we are engaged in a winnable war! America could rid itself of hard core pornography in 18 months if the recommendations offered in the following report are implemented. We have provided a road-map for fine tuning federal and state legislation and for the mobilization of law enforcement efforts around the country. Accordingly, it is my hope that the effort we invested will provide the basis for a new public policy. But that will occur only if American citizens demand action from their government. Nothing short of a public outcry will motivate our slumbering representatives to defend community standards of decency. It is that public statement that the pornographers fear most, and for very good reason. The people possess the power in this wonderful democracy to override apathetic judges, uninterested police chiefs, unmotivated U.S. Attorneys, and unwilling federal officials. I pray that they will do so. If they do not, then we have labored in vain. If wisdom more often than not results from the simultaneous practice of several key virtues-among which must surely be numbered prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude-then the eleven members of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography were no more likely or qualified than any other group of eleven Americans to undertake the study of this most complex and divisive subject.