In accepting appointments to the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography, we both
believed that stimulation of a national dialogue and debate on this very controversial
subject was well within the purview of the government and in the best interests of the
country. To this challenging commitment we bring very different personal and professional
expertise. Dr. Judith Becker is a behavioral scientist whose career has been devoted to
evaluating and treating victims and perpetrators of sexual crimes. Mrs. Ellen Levine is a
journalist and editor who has focused on women's news. Although our backgrounds are
different, we have found throughout the hearings and Commission meetings that we share
similar views about the nature of the testimony presented and alternative ways in which
the issue of obscenity might be approached. We have, therefore, decided to submit
this joint statement.
- The Process
During its public hearings, the Commission has accomplished much, garnered some press
attention, and, as anticipated, created a certain amount of controversy. Our hope is that
the past year's work will not end with the publication of this report, but will begin a
process of discovery and disciplined study of the complicated problems associated with
We would be remiss, however, if we did not point out the limitations inherent in the
investigative process we have just finished, because in some serious ways, the
Commission's methods themselves have hindered the adequate pursuit of information.
- The Limitation of the Public Forum
All meetings and hearings have been held as public forums, according to law, and
although we do not suggest that it should have been otherwise, we must emphasize that such
an open forum naturally inhibits a frank and full discussion of a subject as personal,
private and emotionally volatile as the consumption of pornography. In collecting the
testimony of victims, it was difficult enough to find witnesses willing to speak out about
their intimate negative experiences with pornography. To find people willing to
acknowledge their personal consumption of erotic and pornographic materials and comment
favorably in public about their use has been nearly impossible. Since such material is
selling to millions of apparently satisfied consumers, it seems obvious that the data
gathered is not well balanced.
- The Constraints of Time and Money
A number of factors directly affecting the Commission complicated its work and strained
its abilities to work as thoroughly and effectively as it might have. Both the time and
the money needed to work through these complications was lacking and hence they were
- The very word pornography, with its negative connotation, imposes impediments to an
open-minded and objective investigation. Every member of the group brought suitcases full
of prior bias, including previous personal exposure, religious, ethical, social, and even
professional beliefs. To some a discussion of pornography raises concerns of sincerely and
deeply felt moral imperatives; to others it is a feminist issue of violence against women;
and to still others, it is a lightning rod attracting debates about First Amendment
guarantees with the threat of censorship seen as the overriding danger. Full airing of the
differences of the members of the Commission and establishment of a wide and firm common
ground was not possible in the time and with the funds allotted.
- The issue of pornography has confounded people for centuries and has long been a
subject of sincere disagreement among decent people. Pornography has religious, ethical,
social, psychological and legal ramifications. The idea that eleven individuals studying
in their spare time could complete a comprehensive report on so complex a matter in so
constricted a time frame is simply unrealistic. No self-respecting investigator would
accept conclusions based on such a study, and unfortunately the document produced reflects
- The variety of pornography, in its forms, qualities, and intensities of expression is
vast. The Commission concentrated almost exclusively on formulating recommendations aimed
at law enforcement. While that fulfills the Commission's mandate, we believe that the core
issues involving pornography and its prevalence are more usefully viewed as health and
welfare concerns. As such, they would properly be matters for research by committees
established by the National Institute of Mental Health.
Given the varied backgrounds of the commissioners, the depth and complications of the
subject historically, and the variety of the materials available today, the Commission's
most severe limitation was imposed by a lack of time and money to complete a thorough
Because it has been sixteen years since the last Commission on this topic met and it is
likely to be years before another government group tangles with these questions, we
believe it would have been reasonable to grant the group, if not more money, at least more
time, as requested.
- The Mandate
- The first element of the Commission's mandate was the assessment of the problem's
dimensions. While there is little doubt about the proliferation of pornography since 1970,
no serious effort has been made to quantify the increase, either in general or
specifically as to the various types of pornography sold. We do not even know whether or
not what the Commission viewed during the course of the year reflected the nature of most
of the pornographic and obscene material in the market; nor do we know if the materials
shown us mirror the taste of the majority of consumers of pornography. The visuals, both
print and video, were skewed to the very violent and extremely degrading. While one does
not deny the existence of this material, the fact that it dominated the materials
presented at our hearings may have distorted the Commission's judgment about the
proportion of such violent material in relation to the total pornographic material in
distribution. The Commission's investigations did reveal that technological innovations
have created a new delivery system for the consumption of pornographic and erotic material
(notably via home video and cable). Since the home video industry is still young, it is
reasonable to assume that the supply and public demand for pornographic materials may
increase. Some recent industry figures actually show video purchases and rentals of
pornography on the increase. There is, however, a significant corresponding decrease in
both the number of adult theaters in this country and the circulation figures of the
so-called skin magazines. This may indicate that although there is a change in the way in
which pornography is purchased, there is actually a stable (nongrowth) market for it. We
simply do not know.
Because of the stunning change in the way in which people now receive erotic stimuli (a
shift from print to video), we suggest that research be conducted to discover whether and
to what extent video makes a greater or stronger impression on the vulnerable users,
particularly children and adolescents, than does print.
- One critical concern of this Commission was to measure and assess pornography's role
in causing anti-social behavior; but although the Commission struggled mightily to agree
on definitions of such basic terms as pornography and erotica, it never did so. This
failure to establish definitions acceptable to all members severely limited our ability to
come to grips with the question of impact. Only the term "obscenity," which has
a legal meaning, became a category we all understood. In fact, the commission failed to
carve out a mutually satisfactory definition of antisocial behavior. In this statement, it
should be noted, therefore, we use the phrase "antisocial behavior" to describe
forced sexual acts: acts involving coercion of any kind or lack of consent. We do not
include (as certain commissioners desired) such private sexual practices as masturbation,
homosexuality between consenting adults or premarital sex, practices that are not the
province of government to regulate.
- The final responsibility of the Commission was to recommend to the Attorney General
specific measures to limit the spread of pornography. While much of the Commission's time
was spent on these proposals, only the child pornography recommendations received thorough
discussion. Accordingly we strongly endorse those proposals.
We reiterate our strong belief that the paucity of certain types of testimony,
including dissenting expert opinion and the haste and absence of significant debate with
which other recommendations and their supporting arguments were prepared did not leave
adequate time for full and fair discussions of many of the more restrictive and
controversial proposals. Consequently, while we endorse many of these recommendations, we
dissent on some, for reasons of critical policy differences, lack of clarity and more
importantly, because evidence essential to a considered evaluation of the proposals was
For example, the concept of mandatory sentencing supported in several recommendations
is a theory hotly debated by both law enforcement personnel and experts specializing in
penal reform. Little testimony was heard on the merits or liabilities of this concept with
the exception of pleas from understandably frustrated prosecutors discouraged by light
sentencing. Without reasoned assessment of this problem, we cannot support the proposal
for mandatory sentencing. Other specific recommendations with which we disagree will
- Congress should enact a forfeiture statute to reach the proceeds and instruments of
any offense commited in violation of the Federal obscenity laws.
- Congress should amend the Federal laws to eliminate the necessity of proving
transportation in interstate commerce. The laws should be enacted to only require proof
that the distribution of the obscene material "affects" interstate commerce.
- Congress should enact legislation making it an unfair business practice and an unfair
labor practice for any employer to hire individuals to participate in commercial sexual
- State legislatures should amend, if necessary, obscenity statutes to eliminate
misdemeanor status for second offenses and make any second offense punishable as a felony.
- State legislatures should enact, if necessary, forfeiture provisions as part of the
state obscenity laws.
- The President's Commission on Uniform Sentencing should consider a provision for a
minimum of one year imprisonment for any second or subsequent violation of Federal law
involving obscene material that depicts adults.
- Legislatures should conduct hearings and consider legislation recognizing a civil
remedy for harms attributable to pornography.
- Any form of indecent act by or among "adults only" pornographic outlet
patrons should be unlawful.
- Testimony on Social Science Data
We have limited our comments here to the relatively bias-free testimony and
Our interpretation of the material presented is, consequently, somewhat different from
that of other Commission members. It has led us to a different emphasis in priorities and
The Commission sought to break down pornography into the various types of sexually
explicit material available in our society. Unfortunately, social science research to date
has not uniformly followed any such categorization (although we certainly suggest that
future researchers consider this option), and the attempt to force the available social
science data to fit the Commission's categories is fruitless. That is why in this
statement the conclusions and interpretations of what the social science data says and
does not say follow the research, not the Commission, categories.
First, it is essential to state that the social science research has not been designed
to evaluate the relationship between exposure to pornography and the commission of sexual
crimes; therefore efforts to tease the current data into proof of a causal link between
these acts simply cannot be accepted. Furthermore, social science does not speak to harm,
on which this Commission report focuses. Social science research speaks of a relationship
among variables or effects that can be positive or negative.
Research has evaluated adults rather than children, and it is the latter who are most
likely to be influenced by pornography. Studies have relied almost exclusively on male
college student volunteers, which means that the "generalizability" of this data
is extremely limited. The only other category studied in depth is sex offenders.
Information from the sex-offender population must be interpreted with care because it may
be selfserving. The research conducted to date has been correlational and experimental.
Despite these limitations, the research data can be interpreted to indicate the following:
- In a laboratory setting, exposure to sexually violent stimuli has a negative effect on
research subjects as measured by acceptance of rape myth and aggression and callousness
toward women. We do not know, however, how long this attitudinal change is sustained
without further stimulation; more importantly, we do not know whether and why such an
attitudinal change might transfer into a behavioral change. There is reason for concern
about these findings because we do know that experience with sex offenders indicates they
harbor belief systems and attitudes consistent with deviant sexual practices (e.g.
"women enjoy being raped" or "sexual acts with a child are a way of showing
love and affection to that child"). We know further that such attitudes appear to be
a precursor and maintainer of actual deviant behavior in an offender population. Although
we believe the potential exists for attitudinal changes to translate into behavioral
changes in some circumstances, this possibility needs considerable additional
- Very little social-science research has been conducted evaluating the impact of
non-violent degrading material on the average adult. Furthermore, there is a problem of
definition about what constitutes "degrading material." We strongly encourage
further research to define and evaluate the impact of such material.
- Although research findings are far from conclusive, the preponderance of existing data
indicates that non-violent and non-degrading sexually explicit materials does not have a
negative effect on adults.
- In documents attached to the main report mention has been made of a possible
relationship between circulation rates of pornographic magazines and sex crime rates. One
of the authors of the study on which the Commission has based its conclusion, Murray
Straus, has written to explain his own research, which he suggested was being
misinterpreted. "I do not believe that this research demonstrates that pornography
causes rape. . . .In general the scientific evidence clearly indicates that if one is
concerned with the effects of media on rape, the problem lies in the prevalence of
violence in the media, not on sex in the media."
- To date there is no single comprehensive theory that is agreed upon to explain the
development of paraphilic behavior. Human behavior is complex and multicausal. To say that
exposure to pornography in and of itself causes an individual to commit a sexual crime is
simplistic, not supported by the social science data, and overlooks many of the other
variables that may be contributing causes. Research must be conducted on the development
of sexual interest patterns if we are to understand and control paraphilic behavior.
- Unfortunately little is known about the impact of sexually explicit material on
children. Ethically and morally one could not and would not conduct experiments to examine
such a relationship. We do know that adolescents and young adults are large consumers of
these materials, and little is yet known about its impact on this population. We
underscore the statement made in the main body of the Commission's report regarding social
science research: "In many respects, research is still at a fairly rudimentary stage,
and with few attempts to standardize categories of analysis, self-reporting
questionnaires, types of stimulus materials, description of stimulus materials,
measurement of effects and related problems. We recommend that moneys be made available to
fund further research on this topic."
- Enforcement Priorities
We have been encouraged by testimony from federal, state, and local officials that
those involved in the heinous crime of child pornography are being prosecuted vigorously
and that this effort is a national priority. We applaud that action and believe that this
prosecution should continue to be a number one priority in law enforcement resource
On the other hand, we have heard frequently that there is virtually no enforcement of
adult obscenity laws. Our analysis of the data leads us to believe that the sexually
violent material that is unquestionably obscene and described in the main report is of
sufficient concern to warrant intensified prosecution. We are concerned about such
material because the violence and the eroticization of that violence may indeed be a
potentially explosive mix. Even in this category, however, social science research does
not claim a casual link.
The social science data, however, provides even less basis for the claim of a causal
link between non-violent degrading and humiliating pornography and sexual violence. One
might assume that this material may teach offensive, though not necessarily criminal,
behavior to certain vulnerable consumers.
Accordingly, in communities where standards so dictate, prosecution of non-violent
degrading obscene materials may assume a lesser priority. It is in this area of
non-violent degrading and humiliating pornographic images that the most controversy may
arise. What is seen as degrading by one viewer may in fact not be so seen by another, much
in the same way that one person's erotica is another's pornography. But this is one of the
categories about which much needs to be learned. Perhaps there is a distinct difference
between what men see as degrading to women and what women consider to be degrading.
As vital as this category of non-violent degrading material may be to the ultimate
understanding of the effects of pornographic material in society, we caution against an
overinclusive interpretation of it. The Report suggests that most of the pornographic
material in circulation now belongs in this category. We have not been able to draw this
conclusion based on evidence presented. As stated earlier, attempts to quantify the
materials in circulation and the particular character of the content of that material
remain only "guesstimates."
- What of Our Children?
The most disturbing issue facing the panel this year was the concern about children and
their exposure to child and adult pornography. Adolescents are acknowledged as an enormous
market for pornographic materials, and despite legislative efforts to restrict access,
this material remains easily available to youngsters.
In fact, from an early age American children are bombarded by very stimulating sexual
messages, most of which are not pornographic but certainly are frightening. This year, for
example, the AIDS epidemic has prompted health officials to broadcast urgent radio and
television warnings against homosexual anal intercourse and group sex and pleas for the
use of condoms.
Because children may have trouble with these very public messages, and because too many
young people get too much of their sex education from pornographic magazines and films, we
strongly support relevant school sex education programs. Appropriate and accurate
information about loving sexual experiences can help inoculate children against the
potential damage from early exposure to negative images. Furthermore, we urge parents to
monitor carefully their own children's exposure to these materials.
There cannot be enough done to protect our children-both from people who would abuse
and seduce them into the abhorrent world of child pornography and from the unwelcome
intrusion of too many sexual messages. And we urge that child pornography prosecutions be
given priority over all other forms of obscenity violations.
Why does pornography thrive and proliferate today? Is the demand for pornography a
mirror or a beacon? Why do consumers support a multi-million dollar market for such a
variety of products? Is lack of vigorous law enforcement to blame? Is society more
tolerant of pornography than ever before? Is society's perception of what constitutes
pornography changing? Do the production and increasing sophistication of sexually explicit
materials in themselves stimulate more interest in pornographic magazines, films and
videos? Or vice-versa? Or are other social forces chiefly to blame?
The most knowledgeable observers suggest that these are complex and difficult
questions, ones that cannot be easily answered and which in our opinions this Commission
did not adequately address.
Consider what has occurred during the past two decades. The birth control pill has
become widely used, with an associated increase in sexual activity. The mobility of the
population continues to increase, with a subsequent breakdown in community attachments for
more and more people. The divorce rate has skyrocketed. We have a national drug abuse
problem. The Vietnam war has taken its toll on the national psyche. Twenty-five million
additional women have joined the work force. The so-called Sexual Revolution has come and
gone (Time magazine on April 9, 1984, announced its demise). Has not each of these factors
and others had a role to play in the growth of pornography?
After a year of forums and deliberations, it is tempting to join in offering simple
solutions to complex problems, in the form of the Commission's Recommendations. But we are
not persuaded to do so. We believe it would be seriously misleading to read this report
and see a green light for prosecuting all pornographers. We still know too little about
why many men and some women use and enjoy pornography; if and why women's and men's sexual
arousal response patterns to pornography differ. We still have more questions than answers,
and we stress the need for both non-governmental solutions and tolerance for the views of
The commission of sexual crimes, the degradation of women, and the abuse and
mistreatment of children are terrible and pressing problems that concern us urgently. As
we face up to the extensive public consumption even of certain types of extreme
pornographic materials, a need for massive public reeducation about potential problems
associated with them seems strongly indicated. We cannot tolerate messages of sexual
humiliation directed to any group. But to make all pornography the scapegoat is not
constructive. In the absence of significant social sanctions against pornography, the
possibility of halting its use seems as slim as was the chance of halting the sales of
liquor during Prohibition. In conclusion we repeat that we face a complex social and legal
problem that requires extensive study before realistic remedies can be recommended.