Attorney General nominee would consider cracking down on porn

Attorney General nominee would consider cracking down on porn

Jeff Sessions. Credit: Gage Skidmore, Wikipedia CC 3.0.
Jeff Sessions. Credit: Gage Skidmore, Wikipedia CC 3.0.

.- The new nominee for U.S. Attorney General has said that he would “vigorously” enforce obscenity laws, a move which one expert described as a step forward in fighting pornography and violence against women.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), during his first confirmation hearing last week to become the next Attorney General, was questioned by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) about federal obscenity laws. 

Hatch mentioned the state of Utah passing a resolution declaring pornography to be a “public health problem” and asked Sessions if “federal laws prohibiting adult obscenity should be vigorously enhanced?”

Sessions answered that “those laws are clear, and they are being prosecuted today, and should continue to be effectively and vigorously prosecuted in the cases that are appropriate.”

Hatch followed up by asking if Sessions supported the special unit at the Department of Justice to prosecute obscenity crimes, which had been closed during President Obama’s first term.

“I’m not sure I knew that” the special unit had been discontinued, Sessions answered, “but it was a part of the DOJ for a long time and I would consider that.”

Pornography itself is not a legally defined term. Instead, federal law evaluates whether something is “obscene.” 

This is determined by whether “a judge and/or a jury” finds that “the average person, applying contemporary community standards” would deem that it “appeals to the prurient interest,” that it “depicts or describes in a patently offensive way, as measured by contemporary community standards, ‘hardcore’ sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable law,” and that it “taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political and scientific value.”

Federal obscenity laws bar the sale, possession, and distribution of materials like child pornography and hardcore adult pornography, among other things. A 1973 Supreme Court case Miller v. California established the legal test for whether a “work” is obscene, in which case, it is not protected by the First Amendment as free speech.

Mary G. Leary, a law professor at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, told CNA that these obscenity laws are “very important” to enforce now because pornography has increased both in the amount of content and in violence. 

“Due to limited resources and the explosion of violence against children,” child pornography crimes are a large focus of prosecutors but this leaves other forms of pornography free to “metastasize,” Leary said, “both quantitatively and qualitatively.”

Thus, the violence – especially toward women – has increased in pornography, she said, and “the effect this exposure to very obscene and disturbing imagery [has] can be significant.  Exploitation is a continuum.”

This is another reason why the DOJ special task force should be brought back, she said.

“It would allow that unit to focus on obscene glorifications of sexual violence against women and marginalized members of our community and allow the very effective Child Exploitation component of CEOS at DOJ to continue their focus on child abuse images.” 

The group Morality in Media, now the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, had put the Department of Justice on its 2013, 2014 and 2015 “Dirty Dozen” lists of the “top contributors to sexual exploitation” for closing the special task force and for not prosecuting obscenity crimes enough. 

In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch in January of 2016, the center noted that “to our knowledge, not one new obscenity case has been initiated against commercial distributors of hardcore, adult pornography in the last seven years.”

“Yet, federal law prohibits distribution of obscene adult pornography on the Internet, on cable/satellite TV, on hotel/motel TV, in retail shops through the mail, and by common carrier,” they continued. 

They pointed to “themes of incest, racism, sexism, and exploitation” found in content from Verizon and InterContinental Hotels Group, including an “emphasis on teen and young girls.”

NSCE concluded by asking the Department of Justice to prosecute obscenity crimes more seriously:

“In an age when our society is struggling to deal with serious child and adult sexual exploitation, racially-motivated sexual violence, and epidemic of sexual assault on college and university campuses, thousands of young women and girls are being trafficked for purposes of prostitution, Department of Justice employees must be admonished to not engage in purchase of sex from prostituting persons, and child sexual abuse is 167 times more common than autism in children, adult, hardcore pornography only serves to exacerbate deeply entrenched social ills that have devastating impacts at the individual and societal level. It is long past time for the producers and distributors of this sexually toxic material to face justice.”

Tags: Pornography, Trump administration, Jeff Sessions