Obscenity and Legal Prosecution: A Case of Non-Enforcement

by
October 31, 2014

A search of “adult obscenity cases” on the FBI’s website brings up three cases since Barack Obama became President. One involves jail time for a man who made films featuring bestiality and scatological sex acts, and one notes a $75,000 fine and two years of probation for a pornography distributor who sent obscene DVDs in the mail.

Another one says that a Pennsylvania man was indicted for distribution of pornographic materials in the mail. It is dated 2009, and the search results show no updated information about the case since then.

At a hearing in 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged that of 150 obscenity cases in which the Justice Department had been engaged since President Obama took office, all but seven involved child pornography. While prosecution of child pornography is indisputably essential, it is insufficient: An 18 year-old girl or, for that matter, a 48 year-old woman having sex with an animal merits the same prosecution.

To America’s shame, the growth of obscene material online has been like a rapidly metastasizing cancer. According to data compiled the Porn Harms coalition (of which Family Research Council is a member), as of 2012, there were 4.2 million online pornography sites, 372 million pornography pages, and 2.5 billion daily pornographic emails. “Porn revenue is larger than all combined revenues of all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises,” by one estimate. Bear in mind that these data are now more than two years old, and the pace of pornography’s growth has accelerated since then.

The harms of pornography are extensive and well-documented (see, for example, “Porn: The New Narcotic” and “The Effects of Pornography on Individuals, Marriage, Family and Community”). What is not well-documented is legal prosecution of adult pornography. The reason? There has been so little.

In early 2011, Attorney General Holder ended the Justice Department’s Obscenity Prosecution Task Force (OPTF) initiated by President Bush in 2005. The cited reason was greater efficiency in operations and better coordination among federal attorneys. Said Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Ronald Weich in 2011, “The Department has focused its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources on the most egregious cases, particularly those that facilitate child exploitation and cases involving the sexual abuse of children, including obscene depictions of child rape.”

Again: Prosecution of child pornography and sexual exploitation is imperative. But do prosecution of violations of federal obscenity laws matter not at all?

Apparently not to the current Administration. A search I made of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (into which the OPTF was subsumed) returned 248 news releases from January 2011 to the present; in them there is only one case, that of a man who used the federal mail system to distribute pornography, not involving child pornography or the exploitation of minors through prostitution or human trafficking.

Additionally, consider Mr. Obama’s appointment of David Ogden, AG Holder’s Deputy Attorney General (the number two at Justice) in the first two years of the Obama Administration. Ogden previously was an attorney representing Playboy and Penthouse and even opposed the 2000 Children Internet Protection Act. As I wrote when Ogden was nominated, “(Ogden) is one of the porn industry’s favorite hired guns. XBiz, a leading ‘adult’ newswire, has called Ogden a ‘strong pick,’ and porn attorney Colin Hardacre of Los Angeles said Ogden’s nomination is ‘a good sign for the adult industry’.” This is the man to whom Mr. Obama gave responsibility for “prosecuting the nation’s obscenity and child pornography laws.”

In other words, under President Obama and Attorney General Holder, the adult pornography industry has been given a virtual free-reign of the Internet, the film industry, and print publications.

One reason is that the “limited resources” of which Mr. Weich wrote have been as constrained as he suggested because the Obama Administration has put none into fighting obscenity. It is a basic axiom of logic that the absence of a resource necessary for completion of a task makes such completion impossible. Maybe Mr. Weich and his colleagues need a course in geometry.

As FRC’s allies at the Porn Harms Coalition argue, “Rather than aggressively enforcing federal obscenity laws against large-scale distributors of obscene pornography, for several years the Department of Justice has targeted primarily small operations that trafficked in the most extreme hardcore pornography and prosecuted very few of them. Thus, illegal, obscene pornography is flooding our nation and the harm is great.”

All pornography is evil, but hardcore pornography is especially so. It also is illegal under federal law. Christians should petition President Obama to start enforcing the laws dealing with the production and distribution of obscene material and to appoint a successor to AG Holder who will take his or her duty to do so seriously.

For more resources about the dangers of pornography and how you can protect your family from it, visit http://www.frc.org/pornography and the “One Million Men Porn Free” movement website.


Rob Schwarzwalder
Rob Schwarzwalder has served as chief-of-staff to two members of Congress and is a long-time member of the Evangelical Theological Society. He currently serves senior vice-president of Family Research Council.