ChildCare Action Project (CAP): Christian Analysis of American Culture

Pornography and Its Effect on Children: Photographs don't affect us?
By Karen Holgate

It is commonly accepted today that the increasing role of violence depicted in movies and TV is having a negative impact on children's behavior. It needs to be pointed out that pornography can also negatively affect the behavior of those who view it. Psychologists tell us that frequent exposure to violence or sexually explicit material desensitizes the viewer and eliminates any shock or horror ... vulgarity and violence become acceptable. We need to ask ourselves: As a society, have we become so desensitized that we tolerate far more than we should? Have we forgotten the impact on our children? [Worse yet, have we come to morally waive the effects of porn on kids so we may indulge in a few minutes of video festivities? -- TC] Every now and then? Would the presenters of the despicable Massachusetts sex workshop, in which adolescent students were taught about vulgar homosexual sexual acts such as "fisting," have considered putting on such a display only a few years ago? What has changed in our society that they thought they could get away with it today?

"Pornography doesn't hurt anyone." "What I do in my bedroom is my business." "I keep it hidden from my children." "Obscenity is protected by the First Amendment."

The above arguments are lies and/or misunderstandings. Most defensive arguments have been perpetrated by the pornography industry in a successful attempt to quiet the outcry against the disgusting, often violent and graphic sexual depictions shown in pornographic images. By accepting these statements, we become willing participants and accomplices in allowing material that would sicken most of us to continue being distributed in our communities and to our children.

Pornography is the third largest income producer for organized crime-eight to ten billion dollars per year! To fully understand the enormity of the porn industry, consider that it is twice as lucrative as the disposable diaper industry, which a few years ago produced four billion dollars a year (and we see diapers everywhere-often even in places we don't care to see them). Yet pornography still outsells diapers two to one! It too is everywhere; there are more adult bookstores in the United States than McDonald's hamburger outlets.

And it is affecting our children. The largest viewer category for hardcore porn is teenage boys between the ages of 12-17. And while some claim that photographs and movies do not influence us, we need to ask: If photographs don't affect our behavior, then why do companies spend billions of dollars every year for 30- and 60-second ads? Apparently, successful businesses believe visual images influence behavior.

Webster's dictionary defines pornography as "writings, pictures, etc. intended primarily to arouse sexual desire." The intent is to stimulate sexual arousal, and it is very effective.

The National Study Commission on Pornography (1970 and 1986) said, "One in five boys and one in ten girls have their first exposure to hardcore, illegal pornography (obscenity) by age 12." In a 1991 speech, Dr. Victor Cline, a psychiatrist and leading authority on the addictive nature of pornography-especially on teenagers, said, "A New York psychiatrist, Frederick Wortham, works with troubled children who have done terrible things. One day, after many years of working with disturbed children who had committed heinous crimes, he came to the conclusion that a child's mind is like a bank; whatever you put into it you get back ten years later, with interest! There is no way that you can put garbage in a child's mind and not reap negative effects years down the road."

As you read the following statistics, remember the old adage, "A picture is worth a thousand words."

"Ninety-one percent of junior high school age and older boys and eighty-two percent of junior high school age and older girls, admitted seeing X-rated, hardcore pornography; two-thirds of the males and forty percent of the females tried some of the behavior; twenty-five percent of the males and fifteen percent of the females admitted doing some of the things within a few days after exposure." (Dr. Jennings Bryant as reported to Dr. Victor Cline.)

In 1983, there were 22 treatment facilities for teenage sex offenders. By January 1993, there were 755. (The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/17/93)

The Harborview Sexual Assault Center in Seattle, Washington reported that adolescents, many between the ages of ten and fifteen, commit 43 percent of the sex offenses reported to the center.

If pictures don't influence us then how do we explain the incident reported by retired FBI agent William Kelly? In this case, two brothers, ages seven and nine, were left alone with an eight-month-old baby girl. The boys tied her up, raped her with a pencil and a coat hanger and killed her. When the police arrived, they were shocked and asked the boys where they got the idea. The two youngsters led police to their mother's bedroom and from under the bed pulled out a magazine, opened it up and showed the officers a series of photographs. They had copied what they saw in the photos. Photographs don't affect us?

Pornography can be addictive. That doesn't mean that every person who views pornography will become an addict. However, much like alcohol, one never knows until he or she has been exposed. For those who are susceptible, it is the fuel that feeds the fire.

Several years ago Sally Jesse Rafael interviewed four teenage girls who had been addicted to pornography. Three of the girls said they began watching pornographic movies at ages seven, eight, and nine. The other was shown pornography at age three by her father and told to assume the positions depicted so that he could do the same to her.

For pedophiles, pornography often becomes a lure and teaching tool. Many children and their molesters tell the same story. Pornography is used to instruct the child in what the pedophile wants. The child is often told, "See, it is okay. This is what mommy and daddy do." Or, "Would he (or she) do it if it wasn't okay?"

Today pedophiles are accessing children in their own homes and even in libraries via computer chat rooms. Often they become friendly with the children and then transmit porn over the Internet. Parents must be aware of the danger and closely monitor what their children are viewing and know with whom they are communicating on the computer. One way is to keep the computer in a room that is open to all family members. Another is to learn how to access all computer files. Computer literacy is a must for today's parents. It is not unheard of for a pedophile to travel across country to meet and seduce a victim that he met on the Internet or to pay for the child to travel across country to meet the predator. (Efforts are under way by Congress to pass Internet filtering for library computers. California's State Legislature has considered similar legislation. Unfortunately the American Library Association fights any attempt to filter Internet access in libraries.)

Child sexual molestation and rape are too common for us to ignore any longer. Look at the facts:

One out of three girls and one out of seven boys will be sexually molested before age 18. (U.S. Dept. of Justice)

Eighty-seven percent of men who molest girls and seventy-seven percent of the men who molest boys admit to imitating the behavior in pornography. (Drs. Goldstein and Marshall, 1983).

The states with the highest readership of men's magazines also have the highest rape rate. (Baron & Straus, Sexual Stratification, Pornography and Rape in American States, 1983).

In a study of 38,000 sex offenders, 41 percent used some type of pornography just prior to or during the actual act. "The crimes included everything from exhibitionism to murder." (Lt. Darrell Pope, Michigan State Police).

What about the idea that pornography is protected speech? Obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment! Supreme Court Justices have consistently ruled that child pornography, obscenity and matter harmful to minors are both prosecutable and unprotected by the First Amendment. "We hold that obscenity is not within the area of constitutionally protected speech or press." Roth v. U.S. 354 476 (1957)

"This much has been categorically settled by the Court, that obscene material is unprotected by the First Amendment." Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973)

The Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. California (1973) that for pornography to be judged obscene, it must fulfill the following criteria (this ruling is now referred to as the "Miller Standard"):

1. It must appeal to the prurient interest (sick, morbid, or lewd interest in sex).

2. It must be patently offensive (exceed community standards).

3. Taken as a whole, it lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

All obscenity is pornography, however, not all pornography is obscenity. Obscenity is a legal term, which describes hardcore, illegal pornography. The problem in determining what is classified as obscene comes with defining the community standard. This is one of the biggest problems facing society today. The standards have been lowered so much that the school in Massachusetts apparently felt comfortable sending students to a workshop that presented graphic sex, including what in the past, was commonly considered obscene, e.g., fisting.

The Attorney General's Commission on Pornography discovered that 95 percent of the material in adult bookstores qualified as obscenity under the 1973 "Miller Standard." Less than ten percent depicted sex between one man and one woman who were engaged in "normal" sexual relations. (Be warned that the following paragraph is graphic. However, I urge you to read it because of the information contained in it is too ugly for an adult, then how much worse is it for children?)

The commission found that most pornography includes group sex, incest, rape, mutilation, torture (including chains, whips, mousetraps and fish hooks on various genitalia), autoerotic asphyxia (a form of hanging which is promoted in pornography), bestiality (sex with animals), fisting, urination and/or defecation on another person and pseudo-child and child pornography. The truth is that pornographers' greed is infecting our society. Law enforcement, numerous psychiatrists, psychologists, victims, perpetrators and the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography all agree; obscenity is affecting our children and destroying our nation.

The question is: What are we doing about it? Most people are unaware of the graphic, violent nature of hardcore pornography and therefore unaware of the messages it sends and the correlation between porn and the sexual abuse of men, women and children.

What will it take to wake up America? How many innocent children need to suffer before we face the ugly truth about a subject most of us would prefer to ignore? The longer we pretend it doesn't affect us, the longer we pretend our son or daughter or husband or wife is not addicted to it, then the longer we must accept the responsibility for the destruction of the lives of our children and families.

How much longer will we tolerate sex and violence on TV and in the movies? How long before we insist that city councils refuse to renew cable contracts until the companies block all X-rated movies from being transmitted to our homes unless the movies are ordered.? (Cable companies are able to completely block these, including the sound and those annoying wavy lines.)

The ultimate solution rests with us. We can no longer wait for someone else to stand up for our children. That someone else is us and the time is now. Only we can effect change in our communities, in our schools and in our homes. When will we say, "Enough is enough"?


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Since December 5, 2000