Failure to investigate obscenity crimes undermines FBI efforts to curb child pornography

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NEW YORK (4/28/08) – On April 28, Morality in Media President Robert Peters released the following open letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller, in response to Mr. Mueller’s statement during a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week that “We’re losing” the war against child pornography.

Dear Mr. Mueller:

It doesn’t surprise me that we are losing the war against child pornography. I still recall the shock I felt upon hearing that the U.S. Justice Department’s focus under Janet Reno was on apprehending suspected child molesters, not on curbing child pornography as such.

This seemed awfully stupid to me, since it is child pornography that often fuels a molester’s sexual fantasies, and surveys indicate that high percentage of persons arrested for possessing or distributing child pornography have molested a child or attempted to do so.

Thankfully, former Attorney General Ashcroft began to change that policy, but from what I read it would appear that law enforcement energies are still focused primarily on apprehending suspected child molesters. Meanwhile, child pornography proliferates.

The Supreme Court also made it more difficult to prosecute sexual exploitation of children cases when it invalidated the “pseudo child porn” law in 2002. As the dissent pointed out in that case, a limiting construction could have saved that important law.

The FBI also makes it difficult to successfully wage war against child pornography by refusing to devote more than token resources to combating obscenity and by refusing to investigate obscenity crimes that do not depict the most extreme hardcore pornography.

The explosion of obscenity contributes to sexual exploitation of children in a number of ways. First, child molesters use “adult” obscenity (i.e., no minors depicted) to entice, arouse, desensitize and instruct their child victims. See, e.g., Kenneth Lanning, “Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis,” National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, pp. 55-57, 70 (2001).

Second, there is growing evidence that many men arrested on sexual exploitation of children charges began their downward spiral by viewing not child pornography but “adult” obscenity. For example, in the article, “Confessions of a child porn addict” (Buffalo News, 10/17/07), we read:

“Clarence once enjoyed the adult pornography sites he viewed on the Web. But after a while, the thrill was gone. So he started clicking on some of the ads that popped up on his computer screen above the naked men and women he was watching. He was seeing something new – young teenagers and even young children, posing in the nude, having sex with each other, or being molested by adults. At first, [Clarence] was appalled. But once the shock wore off, he couldn’t get enough. Like thousands of other men…, he was hooked…”

Third (& related to the second), much obscenity features teens who may be at least 18 but who are promoted for their youth. A citizen complaint made recently to the tip line included links for “XXX Teen Movies” and “Hardcore Real Babysitter Videos.” Even mainstream hotels promote youth oriented pornography. Here are the titles of some films shown at Marriott Hotels where my wife and I stayed last year while visiting family: “Hustlers Barely Legal,” “Young Bait,” “Tight Virgin Holes,” “So Young So Tight,” and “Eighteen and Corrupted.”

Fourth, there is growing evidence that many men who are addicted to obscenity use prostitutes to act out their porn fueled fantasies. See, e.g., the article, “Help for the Sexually Desperate” (Christianity Today, 3/7/08) (“Viewing pornography is nearly always accompanied by masturbation…‘If a guy masturbates to something it would take a prostitute to do, he’s more likely to find one.’”). To the extent that addiction to pornography helps maintain or increase the demand for prostitutes, it also helps maintain or increase the demand for women and children who are trafficked into prostitution.

Fifth, addiction to obscene materials is also destroying countless marriages, which puts children at greater risk for sexual abuse. See, e.g., “One-parent Households Double Risk of Child Sexual Abuse,”, 3/14/07.

In addition to protecting children from sexual exploitation, the Justice Department and FBI should also be doing all they can to protect children from exposure to Internet obscenity. In the late 1990s, Congress twice enacted legislation to protect children from Internet pornography, but the Supreme Court invalidated the CDA in 1997, and COPA has been tied up in the courts since 1998.

The Congressionally created COPA Commission concluded in its October 2000 Final Report: “Law enforcement resources at the state and federal level have focused nearly exclusively on child pornography and child stalking. We believe that an aggressive effort to address illegal, obscene material on the Internet will also address the presence of harmful to minors material.”

It wouldn’t require a tremendous allocation of investigative and prosecutorial resources to substantially reduce traffic in obscene materials because much if not most hardcore pornography is controlled by a relatively small number of companies based in the U.S. But it would require a commitment.

I hope you succeed in your requests for ISP record retention and for more Agents to help in the war against child pornography. I also hope the Justice Department and FBI will change their counter productive obscenity enforcement policies that make it more difficult if not impossible to win that war.


Robert Peters
President of Morality in Media

Author: MIM   04/28/2008

The Numbers


NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.


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