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California's Tolerance of Porn Is Obscene

January 12, 1986|WILLIAM J. WOOD | Father William J. Wood, SJ, is executive director of the California Catholic Conference

For more than 10 years California has stood virtually alone among the states in not adopting the U. S. Supreme Court's definition of obscene material: that "which, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value." On Monday, Assemblywoman Marian W. LaFollette (R-Woodland Hills) will reintroduce a bill in the Public Safety Committee to bring the state's penal code in line with that standard.

The U.S. Supreme Court made the so-called Miller definition of obscenity standard in 1973, yet California legislators have consistently resisted changing the anti-pornography statute's 1957 definition of obscene material as being "utterly without redeeming social value." This sweeping term has made prosecution virtually impossible.

The legislators have rejected the broader Miller standard on First Amendment grounds, saying that it opens the doors to legalized censorship. But their real objection is based on the belief that pornography is not a matter for concern.

This view has been cited ever since 1970, when the Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography concluded that pornography was "harmless" and "without effect," not a social problem for either adults or children.

This "fact" (and perhaps pornography advocates' contributions to campaign coffers as well) has made it easy for legislators to ignore those who denounce pornography as degrading and dehumanizing, as violating the sacredness of human sexuality and the dignity of persons created in the image of God. It has been easy to believe that pornography really is "adult" fare, a sign of a society come of age. And it has been easy to dismiss those who are against pornography as childish religious fanatics hung up on sex.

As a result, pornography has proliferated, spilling out of "adult" bookstores and theaters to invade the privacy and sanctity of American homes via cableporn, dial-a-porn, videoporn, even computerporn. This has become a major industry, with California, and particularly the Los Angeles area, its leading producer. Many law-enforcement officials believe the industry to be largely controlled by organized crime, with direct revenues exceeding $4 billion and indirect revenues approaching $10 billion annually.

But popular awareness has become increasingly heightened to the ugly reality of pornography. Women, especially, have awakened to the fact that they are brutally vulnerable to this so-called victimless crime.

Tragic experience and the hard data of serious research have been shattering the naive myths about pornography. It is far from "harmless" and "without effect." Recent studies have produced dramatic evidence that pornography psychologically damages everyone who uses it, normal and abnormal alike. It interferes with interpersonal relationships and arrests personal moral growth.

When males become immersed in pornography four things happen, according to Dr. Victor Cline, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah:

They become addicted, engulfed by a physical and psychological need to keep coming back for more. They hunger not only for more but also for rougher, meaner, more bizarre, more deviant and more anti-social sexual material. They become desensitized; material that had been disgusting and repulsive becomes acceptable, even attractive. And they act out; with conscience immobilized and appetite whetted, the pornography addict engages in increasingly bizarre sex acts with a greater variety of partners.

Research has confirmed that pornography plays a role in violent crime. Investigators have found that dangerous offenders, such as child molesters and rapists, often use pornographic material in their preparatory stimulation before seeking out a victim. Studies of convicted rapists have revealed that more than half depended on pornography--usually only so-called soft-core porn--to work them up for their crimes.

Women may be the most obvious and numerous victims of pornography, but more and more children are being used, abused and destroyed by the industry. Hundreds of thousands a year in this country are photographed engaging in sexual acts, to satisfy the appetites of an estimated 5 million consumers of child pornography. And this says nothing of the use of pornography made by pedophiles and pimps to lower the inhibitions of children so that they may be more easily seduced and enslaved. Nor does it touch on the estimated 2 million American children and youth who are sexually victimized each year, with pornography a contributing factor in all too many cases.

The last time Assemblywoman LaFollette's bill (AB 365) came before the Public Safety Committee, three Los Angeles-area members voted to table it.

We must hope that Charles M. Calderon, Burt M. Margolin and Gwen Moore have since heard the cry of people who have become educated about and outraged by the dehumanizing consequences of the Los Angeles-based pornography industry. It wreaks psychological havoc, erodes the very fabric of our society and is mortally, as well as morally, dangerous, especially to women and children.

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