October 2009 – Morality in Media (MIM), founded in 1962, is the nation’s oldest not-for-profit organization with the express purpose of combating pornography. MIM maintains the National Obscenity Law Center, a clearinghouse of legal information on obscenity laws. It also offers public information programs to educate and motivate citizens to get involved in their communities in the fight against pornography. (See below for more information.)
In recognition of Pornography Awareness Week October 25-November 1, Robert W. Peters, president of MIM since 1992, talked with AFA Journal about the porn issue in the U.S.
AFA Journal: How did you come to be a warrior in the campaign against pornography?
Robert Peters: Growing up, I thought about becoming a civil engineer, a physician, a clinical psychologist, a professional football player and an attorney.
But God has a way of interfering with our plans. I came back to a faith in Jesus Christ when I was in law school. For the next 10 years my desire was to be in full-time Christian ministry of some kind. But that door never opened. What opened was involvement in citizenship issues.
To make a long story short, my pastor decided to speak out against the New York City “gay rights bill.” He needed help, so I got drafted in 1977 into what was then called the God and Country movement.
In May 1985, I accepted a job as staff attorney at Morality in Media, expecting to stay two to three years. Going on 25 years later, I am still at MIM.
AFAJ: Remind us of the difference between pornography and obscenity.
RP: The term pornography is not a legal term. In the 1973 Miller v. California case, the U.S. Supreme Court observed that the word “derives from the Greek (porne means harlot, and graphos means writing).” The Court went on to say (quoting from a Webster’s dictionary), “The word now means ‘1. a description of prostitutes or prostitution 2. a depiction (as in a writing or painting) of licentiousness or lewdness: a portrayal of erotic behavior designed to cause sexual excitement.’” The Biblical word fornication derives from the same Greek root.
The term obscenity is a legal term, and in Miller the Court established a three-part test for determining whether a “work” (material or live performance) is obscene and therefore unprotected by the First Amendment. A shorthand version of that test is that to be obscene, a work must depict hardcore sexual conduct in a patently offensive manner and must, when taken as a whole, appeal to the prurient interest in sex and lack serious value.
At one point in the Miller case, the Court stated that its three-part test was intended to isolate “hardcore pornography” from the protection of the First Amendment. Typical “hardcore pornography” (e.g., a magazine, DVD or Web site) consists of little if anything more than one depiction of hardcore sex after the other.
AFAJ: Can you cite some figures to illustrate how big the porn industry is these days.
RP: I don’t think anyone knows for sure how big the pornography “business” is. For years now, people have been talking about $10-$15 billion in the United States alone. And that doesn’t include all of the free stuff that is out there now.
But there are countervailing factors including these: inflation, the cost of pornography, addiction (much if not most pornography is consumed by a relatively small percentage of males who are addicted to it), marketing (people who would never seek out pornography are being lured into it by aggressive and deceptive marketing), and children (many pornography consumers are now children).
In 2006 Morality in Media commissioned Harris Interactive to ask the following question in a national opinion poll, “Do you consider it to be morally acceptable to view pornographic Web sites and videos?” Of those who responded, 73% said, “No.” Only 21% said, “Yes.” According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center (“Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes: 1987-2007”), 70% disagreed with the statement, “Nude pictures and X-rated videos on the Internet provide harmless entertainment for those who enjoy it.”
AFAJ: What are the two greatest social costs of pornography in our society?
RP: Much of the debate about pornography over the decades has been over the question, “Does pornography ‘cause’ sex crimes in general and rape in particular?” In my opinion, this is a dishonest question because when it comes to human behavior “causation” is difficult to determine conclusively. It is also my opinion, however, that the evidence is overwhelming that pornography is a “causative factor” in many sex crimes, including rapes.
Sex crimes, however, affect a relatively small percentage of the population. In contrast, the breakdown of the family is harming countless individuals (young and old), as well as society; and addiction to pornography is contributing to the breakdown of family life.
Related to my concern about the breakdown of the family, is my concern about the effects of pornography on children and young adults. Over the years I have talked to many men with a pornography problem (past or present). With few if any exceptions, the man said his problem had begun during childhood, often in grade school. For that reason, I view most men as victims of pornography, even though many males ultimately also become victimizers.
When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, the primary form of pornography was soft-core. In most communities it was available only in a few retail outlets, and it would take courage to buy it! For the most part, hardcore pornography was sold only in large city “adult bookstores” which were difficult to reach even for most adults and off limits to children.
Today, hardcore pornography is just about everywhere – in mainstream retail outlets and newsstands, in “adult businesses” which have opened in cities of all sizes, on cable and satellite TV pay channels, and on the Internet. Particularly on the Internet, hardcore pornography is readily available to children, without cost and without the need to verify age; and survey after survey indicates that large numbers of children are being exposed to Internet pornography.
My concern is that a growing number of young men prefer pornography (and stripping and prostitution) to marriage; and if they do marry one day, they will bring their addiction(s) into their marriages and severely damage or destroy those marriages. Females of any age do themselves and their boyfriends or spouses no favor by ignoring a pornography habit.
AFAJ: What are some of MIM’s victories over the years?
RP: In 1968, Fr. Morton Hill, Morality in Media’s founder and its president from 1962 to 1985, was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to serve on the Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. The Commission issued a majority report in 1970 recommending that obscenity be legalized for consenting adults. Fr. Hill and another Commission member issued a report calling the majority report a “Magna Carta for the pornographer.” President Richard Nixon and Congress subsequently rejected the majority report, and in 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court cited the Hill-Link minority report in upholding obscenity laws.
In 1983, Fr. Hill also organized a meeting at the White House between President Ronald Reagan and national leaders concerned about the proliferation of pornography. The meeting was instrumental in the formation of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography in 1985 and the creation of a Justice Department Obscenity Enforcement Unit in 1987, which vigorously enforced federal obscenity laws against interstate distributors of hardcore pornography from 1987 to 1992.
Over the years MIM has also participated in many legislative victories at federal, state and local levels, including the enactment of indecency controls on leased-access cable TV channels (1996) and the enactment of a federal law extending tough RICO penalties to obscenity crimes (1984).
These days victories are fewer and further between, but I came to the conclusion some time ago that between the two choices, surrendering to evil or resisting it, the latter was the choice for me.
AFAJ: What can a lone private citizen do to combat porn in our culture?
RP: There is no question in my mind that there is strength in numbers, and what we will need to reverse the flood tide of moral evil that is engulfing our nation (and its children in particular) are groups large and small all across the U.S. taking a stand against the onslaught in their communities and networking with other groups doing the same.
But there are times when you or I may be the only voice of protest! If millions of Americans would say to themselves, “I don’t care how busy or tired I am; I don’t care what others do or don’t do; I’m going to do the right thing,” things would begin to change for the better. And if many individuals began doing this, groups would soon begin forming all across the nation.
I think most Americans are familiar with Edmund Burke’s statement, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” But Burke said something else that I think is just as important: “Don’t make the mistake of doing nothing because you can’t do everything.”
As for specifics, three action steps come to mind.
First, don’t be part of the problem. Something is seriously wrong if we profess to be concerned about pornography and other morally offensive content in the marketplace and media, and we then choose to view it. Close to half of the American people attend church or another house of worship each week. If just half of us began walking the walk during the remainder of the week, the market for cultural trash would decrease significantly.
Second, make complaints. With the level of moral disintegration that we are experiencing today, no one can respond to every assault upon moral values and decency. We need to find a middle road, not responding to every offense, but also not ignoring every offense. (See below.)
Clearly, one person can make a difference and often does, so people need to have faith and not make the mistake of doing nothing because they can’t do everything. We should also remember to thank businesses that respect community standards.
And third, we should all be praying, remembering the words of our Lord, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”
What? AARP pushing porn?
A recent MIM newsletter took on the American Association of Retired Persons. What’s the problem with AARP? Robert Peters explains:
AARP publications have been running ads for Better Sex for a Lifetime videos which (according to the ads) offer “explicit sexual programming for adults 18 and over.” They can be ordered from a third-party distributor.
What AARP has not told its members is that Phil Harvey, the man behind the sex video distributor, is also the man behind Adam and Eve, which is one of the biggest commercial distributors of hardcore pornography in the nation.
What AARP also hasn’t told its members is that even if some sexually explicit material can have positive educational value when provided by a competent professional for use by a specific individual, that doesn’t mean the same material won’t have a detrimental impact on many others if disseminated indiscriminately. The videos can have the same effect as run-of-the-mill hardcore pornography. And for millions of Americans, viewing hardcore pornography is a ruinous addiction.
I am currently working on a project to show how “adult pornography” contributes to sexual abuse of children. One way it contributes is that predators often use “adult pornography” to groom their child victims. In compiling hundreds of articles and court cases on the subject, I was surprised to learn that many predators are seniors, some in their 70s and 80s.
What AARP was not telling its members is that if they went to the Web site listed in the ad to purchase the Better Sex videos, they wold be exposed to a smorgasbord of pornographic videos and other sex paraphernalia that one would expect to find in an adult bookstore.
I hasten to add that the Better Sex ad in the July/August 2009 AARP Bulletin does not refer people to the pornographic Web site, but to a different site, which is much cleaner (by comparison). Perhaps the letter that MIM sent to AARP executives in January (with an accompanying news release to the media) complaining about the ads did some good!
Porn awareness resources
Morality in Media coordinates the White Ribbon Against Pornography (WRAP) Week each year beginning the last Sunday in October and running through the first Sunday in November. To call attention to the issue:
▶ Display a white ribbon.
▶ Wear a WRAP lapel pin.
▶ Put a WRAP magnet on your car.
▶ Reproduce a flyer about WRAP.
▶ Ask your governor, state legislature, mayor or city council to issue a proclamation in conjunction with WRAP.
▶ Urge your local prosecutors to enforce obscenity laws.
▶ Use and tell others about www.ObscenityCrimes.org, a Web site through which you can file complaints about Internet pornography.
For more information on products and projects of MIM:
Morality in Media
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 239
New York, NY 10115