Enforcement of the Child Pornography Laws

Porn Studies > Meese Report Table of Contents

In Chapter 6 we discussed the enforcement of state and federal obscenity laws, and described what we see as a rather consistent pattern of underenforcement of these laws. We do not reach the same conclusion with respect to the child pornography laws. It is plain to us that every unenforced violation of the child pornography laws is an underenforcement that ought to be remedied. We believe that many cases remain uninvestigated, and we believe that state and federal prosecution of child pornography, commercial and noncommercial, needs to be even more vigorous. Nevertheless, it remains the case that the child pornography laws seem now to be the subject of a substantial amount of enforcement efforts on both the state and local levels. The federal statistics are illustrative. From January 1, 1978, to February 27, 1986, one hundred individuals were indicted in the federal system for violation of the federal obscenity laws, and of those indicted seventy-one were convicted.[78] During that same time period, 255 individuals were indicted in the federal system for violation of federal child pornography laws, and of those 215 were convicted. Although these statistics themselves are highly suggestive of a substantial disparity, we believe that, if anything, the statistics understate the disparity. For one thing it is highly likely that in absolute terms there are more violations of the federal obscenity laws than there are violations of the child pornography laws. In addition, it was not until final adoption of the Child Protection Act of 1984 on May 21, 1984, that federal law, following Ferber, finally eliminated the requirement of "obscenity," and of the 255 indictments in fact 183 were secured in the period from May 21, 1984, through February 27, 1986.

This comparatively aggressive approach to enforcement of the federal child pornography laws has been matched by equally vigorous efforts in the vast majority of states. Although we urge even more aggressive enforcement of the child pornography laws at both state and federal levels, we see less systematic under-investigation, under-prosecution, and under-sentencing than seems to exist with respect to enforcement of the obscenity laws.[79] Child pornography seems to be a matter that judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement personnel have, with few exceptions, taken seriously. We are glad that they do, and we urge them to take it even more seriously.

In terms of taking these matters even more seriously, we note again the inseparable relationship between child pornography and child abuse. To take child pornography more seriously is to take sexual abuse of children more seriously, and vice versa. It is apparent that as of the date of this Report the sexual abuse of children is being taken increasingly seriously in this country, and we applaud that increased concern for a problem that has long been both largely unspoken and largely avoided. That situation is changing rapidly, and the increased attention to child pornography is part of the increased attention being given to all forms of sexual abuse of children, whether photographs are part of the act or not. We do not hesitate to support further efforts, in public education, in the education of children, and in law enforcement, to continue to attempt to diminish the sexual abuse of children, regardless of the form it takes.

None of us doubt that child pornography is extraordinarily harmful both to the children involved and to society, that dealing with child pornography in all of its forms ought to be treated as a governmental priority of the greatest urgency, and that an aggressive law enforcement effort is an essential part of this urgent governmental priority. Our unanimity of vigor about child pornography does not surprise us, and we expect that it will not surprise others. We hope that society will respond accordingly.

Porn Studies > Meese Report Table of Contents

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