A federal commission on pornography was familiar with sexually explicit materials, but members were not prepared for some of the testimony presented in a two-day hearing in Los Angeles this week.
"I was not acutely aware of the severity of the sadomasochistic material being produced or of the commercial production of child pornography, which certainly appears to be more than just a cottage industry among pedophiles," commission member Deanne Tilton said.
She spoke as slides of a man being castrated, writhing women trussed in irons and chains and smeared with feces and people having sex with animals flashed behind her.
Tilton is president of the California Consortium of Child Abuse Councils and director of the Los Angeles County Interagency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect.
In sessions that lasted well into the night, the 11-member commission--which includes a Catholic priest, a law professor, the editor of a woman's magazine and a psychiatrist--saw and heard graphic evidence of the dimensions of the problem.
The group had chosen Los Angeles as the focus of its inquiry into the pornography industry because the city is the center of the legitimate entertainment industry. Hearings have already been held in Washington, Chicago and Houston on pornography in general, on law enforcement problems and on the behavioral effects of such material, and more are scheduled this year in Miami and New York on child pornography and on links with organized crime.
The Attorney General's Commission on Pornography was set up last spring "to study the dimensions of the problem and what we can do about it," in the words of President Reagan. The commission is expected to cost about $500,000 and to make its final report and recommendations by next June.
A similar commission 15 years ago concluded that pornography was not a great problem. But Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III has said that since then there has been an increase in the amount and degree of violence in sexually explicit materials.
In a nearly empty government auditorium this week, the commission listened to the concerns of a former Playboy bunny, sex film producers, parents, undercover investigators and a host of others.
Witnesses were not screened beforehand, nor were their allegations verified. Among the testimony offered:
- Los Angeles Police Capt. James Docherty, commander of the Administrative Vice Division, testified that Southern California has become "the pornography capital of the world."
Docherty said the Los Angeles porno industry generates more than $550 million worth of products annually.
He said 39 of the 45 major adult video producers in the country are here, besides 49 adult motels, 38 adult bookstore/arcades, 25 adult theaters, more than 400 video stores selling adult materials, 14 adult magazine producers and distributors, nine adult 8mm film producers and the largest "rubber goods" producer in the United States.
- A Pacific Bell executive said that while the company has taken legal action against some providers of sexually explicit recorded messages, such messages represent 27% of its 976 (recorded information) calls, and one-fourth of its 976 installed programs so far this year.
- An attorney for the Adult Film Assn. of America said that 54 million adult videotapes were rented in the U.S. last year, 2 million more than the number of votes that reelected Reagan. That comparison, he said, should be considered to suggest "at least as great a mandate for free choice" as for the President's policies.