As Porn Industry Grows, Prosecutions for Obscenity Plummet

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - At a time when the pornography industry is becoming a sophisticated, billion dollar industry, the Clinton administration has put the brakes on obscenity prosecutions, family groups and congressional leaders are charging.

The pornography industry in the United States has taken off in the past six years, from $3.9 billion in 1993 to more than $8 billion of sexually explicit material sold in 1998. Pornographic materials account for one-tenth of all commerce over the Internet - about $1 billion last year. There are estimated to be over one million pornographic sites currently operating on the Internet, catering to every imaginable sexual proclivity and fetish.

While no one is necessarily pointing to a cause and effect relationship, prosecutions for obscenity and pornographic retailing have dropped dramatically during the Clinton administration.

For example, according to Morality in Media, in 1992 the federal government prosecuted individuals or business 42 times under U.S. statutes 1460-1468 - which deal with obscenity - gaining convictions in 25 cases. By 1997 prosecutions had dropped to six with six convictions, each of them dealing with the sale of child pornography. The rate of obscenity cases that U.S. attorneys decline to prosecute has also risen, from 78 percent in 1992 to 83 percent in 1997.

A June 10, 1998 memo from Assistant Attorney General Eric Holder to federal prosecutors obtained by CNSNews.com reminded them that "priority [in pornography cases] should be given to cases involving large-scale distributors who realize substantial income from multistate operations and cases where there is evidence of organized crime involvement." However, Holder added that "prosecution of cases involving relatively small distributors can have a deterrent affect [sic]."

According to Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), a leader of the congressional Family Caucus, the Clinton administration's record on prosecution for obscenity is "very poor."

"The administration has really disbanded the efforts that had been set up under the Reagan/Bush administration and have failed to prosecute a lot of the pornography cases, especially in the area of child pornography," Pitts told CNSNews.com. Calling for congressional oversight hearings on the issue, Pitts added that "we'd probably need a new administration before the situation [on pornography prosecutions] changes."

John Russell, a spokesperson for the Justice Department, told CNSNews.com that "most of the cases we've followed have been child abuse and exploitation cases, rather than cases involving consenting adults . . . that's been our focus." Requests by CNSNews.com for specific numbers of child pornography prosecutions in the last five years were not answered.

However, said Pitts, other types of pornography distributors should be prosecuted, including large-scale distributors with ties to organized crime and companies that try to hide their size under the guise of several small companies.

"I think the focus of the Justice Department should include all types of distributors," Pitts told CNSNews.com. "Anytime you have any kind of system set up for pornography distribution and utilization, you have an increase in violence against women and children. . . . If you don't go to the source, many times you'll just close one operation and it will pop up somewhere else."

The porn industry itself recognizes the lax prosecution record of the Clinton administration. "When all is said and done, there have been fewer federal prosecutions of the adult industry under the Clinton administration than under the Reagan and Bush, and since if elected, Clinton will be a lame duck with no reason change his hands-nearly-off porn policy, vote for him," read a 1996 editorial in the Adult Video News, a pornography trade publication.

Phil Burress, who with his wife Vicky coordinates National Victims of Pornography Campaign, says that the claim of First Amendment protection for pornography is misleading.

"The pornography industry loves to say that what people do in their own homes is their own business; in other words, they try to tie together the sale of pornography with its use. Those are two separate issues, and there is no constitutional problem" with outlawing the sale and distribution of pornography, Burress told CNSNews.com.

Burress also said that the decline in convictions has more to do with prosecutors who refuse to enforce existing laws, rather than constitutional problems with prosecuting the sale of pornography.

Vicky Burress, in an interview with CNSNews.com, disputed claims that pornography use is a "victimless crime." Said Burress, "I've met with the victims, I've heard their stories, I've cried with them. . . . This affects so many people who can't have a normal relationship because of these images. That's why we're begging the Justice Department to prosecute these crimes."