Americans Wouldn't Know It, but Pornography Is Illegal

By Roemhildt, Rachel A. | Insight on the News, December 14, 1998 | Go to article overview
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Americans Wouldn't Know It, but Pornography Is Illegal


Roemhildt, Rachel A., Insight on the News


Although the Clinton administration is fighting kiddie porn on the Internet, the adult sex industry flourishes. Hard-core smut remains against the law, but few purveyors are arrested.

Although sexually graphic material is readily available in magazines, on videotape and across the Internet, most people don't know that much of it remains against the law. "Soft" pornography is legal, but hard-core porn -- which usually depicts genital penetration -- is not. The fact is, obscenity generally is not prosecuted in the free-for-all atmosphere that characterizes contemporary America.

"It's a great time to be an adult retailer" chortled Paul Fishbein, publisher of Adult Video News, in his industry trade paper last spring. "Sex sells, and the consumer wants sexually oriented material every day."

Out of 70,587 criminal cases filed in 93 federal districts during the 1996 fiscal year (the latest year for which statistics are available), only six involved obscenity violations, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Obscenity prosecutions were higher in past administrations, peaking in 1989 when 78 prosecutions were filed under President Bush -- the "repressed years" as Fishbein calls them.

In a 1992 campaign letter to Morality in Media, presidential candidate Bill Clinton promised that "aggressive enforcement of federal obscenity laws by the Justice Department -- particularly by the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section -- will be a priority in a Clinton-Gore administration." During Clinton's first term, however, prosecutions of obscenity violations plummeted. While Attorney General Janet Reno fights "kiddie porn" on the Internet -- kiddie porn is where "our money and manpower are directed" according to Justice Department spokesman John Russell -- adult hardcore porn flourishes.

"President Clinton is a total supporter of the industry, and he's always been on our team," David Schlessinger of the adult-oriented Vivid Videos told TV Guide. "It's not that Clinton has been outwardly supportive of the adult industry, but rather that he hasn't tried to quash it the way Republicans did back in the 1980s."

Although the president recently signed into law the Child On-Line Protection Act, or COLPA, which gives children some protection from Internet smut, the administration unexpectedly opposed COLPA in the final weeks before the bill passed. The act was one of the last items agreed to in the omnibus spending bill that passed the 105th Congress.

Meanwhile, Morality in Media has mounted its 11th annual White Ribbon Against Pornography Campaign, focusing on "aggressive enforcement" of federal obscenity laws.

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