June 18, 1977
Section: The World; American Survey;
Pg. 51, Copyright 1977
Pornography: Kid's Stuff American pornographers have seen better days. Within the past year, three men prominent in the ''skin trade" have been convicted on obscenity charges and now, to make matters worse, a few pornographers have earned enough ugly publicity to assure a continued assault on the porno business. They are the publishers of two Los Angeles-based magazines, Lollitots and Nudist Moppets, which specialize in photographs of naked children. The magazines are so patently offensive that even the Adult Film Association of America, which represents almost all of the X-rated theatres, has condemned them, perhaps in the hope of throwing the anti- porn pack off its own tracks.
But a select subcommittee of the house of representatives has recently spent two weeks in Los Angeles holding hearings on the need to control pornography and a bill to outlaw the interstate traffic in pornography involving children under the age of 16.
Some, however, have questioned the need and legal rationale for the proposed bill. State laws already prescribe criminal penalties for adults who abuse children sexually. It is argued that these laws should be better enforced and used against pornographers who depict sexual encounters between adults and children. But actual sexual encounters are rarely depicted in the bulk of kiddie porn; more common are scenes of naked children. Although there is a chance that the bill will run afoul of the first amendment to the constitution, whose guarantees of free expression have traditionally protected adult pornographers. Hollywood is worried. At the hearings in Los Angeles, congressmen heard the actor Richard Dreyfuss say that the bill could result in the imprisonment of the makers of films like "The Exorcist'', in which a child actor, Linda Blair, simulates masturbation in one scene.
While child pornography attracted most attention during the subcommittee's hearings, the congressmen probed a deeper problem: general sexual abuse of children by adults. The legislators heard horror stories about mothers who permitted their daughters to be used by pornographers but, more astoundingly, they heard estimates that 25% of American women had been sexually abused - and not by pornographers - during their childhood. The most startling testimony, however, helped to puncture the myth that child molesters are strangers to their victims: one study showed that nearly 60% of the molesters were close friends of the victim's family or were actual members of the family.
The subcommittee was also told that child abuse, and incest in particular, was linked to other juvenile problems: sexual abuse is one of three main reasons why children run away from home, many of them, paradoxically, to become prostitutes. After hearing this lurid testimony, members of the subcommittee were confident that they could persuade their colleagues to extend a law authorizing federal financing of child abuse treatment centres. Under existing legislation which expires at the end of this month, more than $25m has already been spent. Now there is talk of spending much more.
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