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Child Smut Business Going Underground : Grows Uglier as Customers Trade Children, Not Just Pictures, Police Say

September 16, 1985|CAROL McGRAW | Times Staff Writer

The dirty magazines have all but disappeared.

But the child pornography business has managed to stay alive by burrowing further underground in response to international efforts to eradicate it.

In fact, police say, child pornography has grown even uglier as customers become the pornographers and trade children, not just lewd pictures.

Child pornography, which has plagued most societies, only became big business in this country in the early 1970s, when community restrictions began easing. It was a featured item for obscenity dealers, grossing as much as $1 billion a year, according to police.

In response to the flood of explicit material, a 1977 federal law made it illegal to commercially disseminate child pornography.

But the pornographer and his product only changed. The problem did not go away.

Magazines Are Gone

As law enforcement efforts intensified, commercially produced magazines such as Lollitots, Baby Love and Nudist Moppets--in which children as young as 3 years old were shown performing sex acts with adults--have virtually vanished from adult bookstore shelves. Movies in which toddlers are the stars are rarely shown openly in X-rated theaters. Organized crime, for the most part, turned its attention to the adult pornography trade, where the profits are bigger and the risks smaller.

To fill the void, child pornography customers themselves have become pornographers, creating a thriving cottage industry that creates its own pornography and distributes it through an informal but extensive underground network both here and abroad, law enforcement officials say. Their efforts are aided by new technologies in videotapes and computers.

And the business is getting even uglier, says Kenneth J. Herrmann Jr., board president of New York-based Defense for Children International U.S.A., who recently reported on the subject to UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund.

No longer content to sell and trade pictures of children, child pornographers are now selling and trading the children themselves, Herrmann said. Newest industry innovations include computerized sex bulletin boards that list children for sale, tour agencies that organize child sex vacations for pedophiles, and even underground agencies where pedophiles can formally adopt foreign children for sexual use, including pornography.

While some pornographers are still in the business for money, police believe that most are trading for personal use. Their products--homemade movies and videotapes, photographs, crudely crafted scrapbooks and pen-pal letters--lack the "professional polish" of the pre-1977 pornography produced by big-time operators, the police who track it down say. But what the material lacks in quality it has made up for in quantity.

In 1984, the federal Child Protection Act addressed itself to this cottage industry, making any type of child pornography exchange a crime, including trading and gift giving. The law also increased the age of child protection from 16 to 18 and removed the requirement that sexually explicit materials depicting children had to be declared legally obscene. It also authorized wiretaps and provided for the seizure of profits and equipment used by pornographers.

But child pornography simply went further underground.

"They trade it like baseball cards," said Phil Renzulli, a U.S. postal inspector in Washington.

"It is everywhere," said Detective Bill Dworin of the Los Angeles Police Department's sexually exploited children unit.

"But they (pornographers) are more cautious now; it is more challenging to catch them." As a result, he said, police must now do a great deal more undercover work, setting up elaborate and time-consuming written correspondence with pedophiles.

Many law enforcement officers believe that the federal law must be taken a step further, making mere possession of child pornography a felony. California has no such law, but six other states do.

In January, a federal task force visited the big pornography-exporting countries of Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark to organize a joint law enforcement and legislative program to help stem the flow of pornography from those countries.

In June, U.S. Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III created a national Commission on Pornography to study new ways to control it. Meese noted that pornography is becoming more plentiful, more violent and more accessible.

Sen. William V. Roth (R-Del.), chairman of the Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations, said last spring: "It's chilling to realize that every photo on every page of every child pornography magazine . . . is a permanent record of the works of a child molester."

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