In a final report completed Friday, the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography urges a national campaign against sexually explicit material, despite the fact that three of the commissioners have rejected the document's key finding that pornography and crime are linked.
According to commissioner Harold Lezar, a Dallas lawyer who, as a counselor to former Atty. Gen. William French Smith helped pick the commission's members, the report overturns the findings of a Nixon Administration presidential commission which found that pornography was not a social problem requiring government action.
That finding, Lezar charged in a telephone interview, "inhibited prosecution by local and federal officials in that it created the impression that porn is not only acceptable, but in many instances beneficial. I would hope that, as a result of our recommendations, more vigorous prosecution (of obscenity) would occur by the federal government."
However, the commission's dissenters, all women, disagree with the report's conclusion that a causal link between most pornography and violence against women has been established.
Calling that assertion "ludicrous and wrong," commissioner Judith Becker--associate professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University--said in a phone interview that "no social science data has shown any causal connection between even violent pornography and crime." She was joined in her objections by commissioners Deanne Tilton-Durfee, president of the California Consortium of Child Abuse Councils, and Ellen Levine, editor of Woman's Day.
The report, summarizing a controversial yearlong effort to examine the social effects of pornography, generated its own share of confusion as committee staffers rushed frantically to meet a Monday printing deadline. Becker, for example, complained that commissioners had not been shown final galleys of the report and, therefore, did not see last-minute changes made by the staff. Once printed, the report will be submitted to the attorney general before being formally released.
"This hurried effort is hampering a thoughtful consideration of the ramifications of each issue included in the report," Tilton-Durfee said. As an example, she cited the final draft's support of legislation passed in Indianapolis that treats pornography as a civil rights violation. "This ordinance has already been declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court," she said. "I expressed my concern to the staff in Washington by phone (Thursday) and requested that the recommendation be removed." Now how are we going to resolve that when there are 10 other commissioners to consult?"
In a joint statement submitted to the commission staff Friday, Levine and Becker were more pointed in their criticism of the commission's pace: "The idea that 11 individuals studying in their spare time could complete a comprehensive report on so complex a matter in so constricted a time frame is simply unrealistic."
Levine and Becker also took issue with Lezar's description of the report as a mandate for more vigorous legal action. "We believe it would be seriously misleading," they wrote, "to read this report and see a green light for prosecuting all pornographers."
Along with Tilton-Durfee, they also criticized the report's contention that sexually "degrading" material has been shown to cause harm.
"The commission never agreed on what materials fall into the category of degrading," Tilton-Durfee said. "There may be negative effects from such material but the social science evidence was inconclusive. . . .
"Even on the violent material--most of which was shocking--we were unable to develop a clear yardstick for measuring harm. Some documentaries for example are shocking but make an important point about the reality of violence that exists in this world. Others may stimulate violence and should be of great concern to the American public. Depictions of violence, sexual and otherwise, are pervasive in our culture and I think adversely affect behavior. But what you do about it in a free-market society under constitutional restraints is a complex question that this commission has not resolved."
Written Material Exempted
During the course of the commission's yearlong deliberations the three women also joined in persuading their colleagues to urge that written sexual material--as opposed to pictures--be exempt from obscenity prosecution unless it involves child pornography. No such protection of written material currently exists. They also helped to defeat proposals that the commission recommend tighter federal regulation of sexually oriented material on cable television and a ban on the manufacture and sale of "rubber goods," such as vibrators.
In fact, the commission's adoption of the three women's positions on these issues brought a dissent from conservative James C. Dobson, founder of the Arcadia-based Focus on the Family Organization.
"I strongly disagree with the commission's failure to condemn obscenity in unillustrated printed books and the failure to make a statement regarding indecency on satellite and cable television," he said. Despite these objections, Dobson hailed the report as a "road map" to a crackdown on pornography.
Approved Overall Tone
For their part, all three women approved of much of the final report's overall tone and content, which they each described as "moderate." Tilton-Durfee, for example, said she is satisfied with a section of the report that, among other things, recommends establishing a task force to examine possible connections between preschool child sex rings and child pornography and urges creation of guidelines for more effective and humane treatment of child victims who testify in sex abuse cases.
A majority of the commissioners also has approved these major recommendations:
--Creation of a pornography task force, akin to that operating in the area of drug control and racketeering, to coordinate more vigorous prosecution of federal obscenity cases.
--Forfeiture of assets by businesses found to be dealing in obscene material.
--Passage of a law making it a criminal act to use any "performer" under the age of 21 in a scene of sexual intercourse or masturbation. The legal age of consent to such employment is currently 18.
Computer Bank Urged
--Creation of a national computer bank to more effectively prosecute pornography producers and distributors.
--Elimination of the need to prove that obscene materials have crossed state lines to trigger federal intervention.
--Passage of a statute making all second convictions for producing or distributing obscene material felonies with mandatory jail sentences.
--Use of the Internal Revenue Service to audit the accounts of suspected pornography distributors.
--Endorsement of citizen action groups to boycott, picket and "socially condemn" local sellers of offensive material.