Fighting the "most deviant and vile form of pornography"

Once the subject of a national sex scandal, the author now crusades against cyberporn.

Published December 2, 1995 9:08AM (EST)

There are many harms associated with pornography. Probably the most insidious is the way it can in some instances instill sexual violence against children and women. Our concern with the type of pornography that is proliferating on the Internet is that it is the most deviant and vile form of pornography that has ever been openly accessible to the public, particularly to our children.

There was a lot of argument early on that the current obscenity and child porn laws were enough to deal with porn in cyberspace. If that were true, then why is there such an enormous proliferation of child porn and obscenity in cyberspace? Obviously we have a problem here.

There has to be a solid legislative measure that clearly defines what is not protected speech in cyberspace in the same way that the laws have defined what is not protected in the realm of communications we are all familiar with -- print, radio and television. The Exon/Coats amendment sets the kind of standard we are looking for.

At the same time, the industry needs to be part of the solution by cleaning up the bulletin boards and services over which they have control and by creating the technologies needed to help screen out some of the worst materials accessible to minors, so things could be rated similar to the way movies are. For example, if an access provider finds out about obscenity, bestiality or child pornography that's been posted on one of their services or on their own bulletin board, then they need to do something about that, to take measures to block it or to take it off.

There are some other factions on our side of the issue that would hold the industry liable for everything, whether it's on their own syetem or not. We just don't think that's appropriate. You can't hold ATT liable if a mobster in New York uses the phone to call a hit man in L.A. for a murder contract.

Bring Back the Stigma


Civil libertarians can be awfully thin-skinned. In New York
recently, the ACLU took Time Warner Cable TV to court, crying censorship
over the company's plan to scramble the signal of hard-core pornographic
programs on a Manhattan public access channel. The plan would have made the
shows available free of charge to viewers who sent in a card requesting
them. The ACLU's argument, which a federal judge accepted: requiring porn
viewers to fill out such a card might "stigmatize" them.

This case illustrates in a nutshell what parents and thoughtful
commentators find so distressing about the proliferation of pornography and
the general coarsening of the culture. Time Warner didn't propose taking the
shows off the air, only keeping them out of homes where they hadn't been
invited. Yet the court held, in effect, that the delicate sensibilities of
porn consumers were sacrosanct while those of parents and children just
didn't matter.

Few seriously argue that looking at dirty pictures can
permanently damage a youngster. A teenager furtively leafing through
Penthouse magazine is manifesting nothing more than a healthy curiosity
about sex. But if he leafs through Penthouse without feeling furtive,
something has gone wrong: his parents have failed to instill in him the
values of modesty and self-restraint that are the bedrock of middle-class life.

Parents are anxious because instilling those values is far more
difficult in a society that resists distinguishing between the normal and
the deviant -- and shrinks from stigmatizing the latter. In such a society
calls for government censorship are an understandable cry of
desperation. They're also ultimately futile, for both practical and legal
reasons. Deviance will always be with us; and the First Amendment demands a
degree of tolerance.

But while tolerating deviance, we can still stigmatize it. The Geto
Boys have every constitutional right to rap about raping and brutalizing women, but no
decent person would -- or should -- ever publish their records. The guests on the "Jenny
Jones" show have every right to expose their sordid and pathetic
personal lives, but a decent person would not put them on TV.
Unless our cultural leaders prove capable of such commonsense moral
judgments, calls for censorship will only grow louder and more potent.

By Donna Rice Hughes

Donna Rice Hughes is the communications director for Enough is Enough, an anti-pornography lobby based in Fairfax, Va. She is a former Miami model whose widely publicized involvement with Sen. Gary Hart sank the former Colorado Senator's 1988 presidential campaign.

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