Lawmakers Urge AG Barr to Prosecute Obscene Pornography Producers, Distributors

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
December 7, 2019Updated: December 7, 2019

Four Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr to urge him to take action against producers and distributors of obscene pornography.

The letter, obtained by the National Review, was signed by Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), and Brian Babin (R-Texas) and asks the Justice Department to enforce U.S. obscenity laws against the porn industry.

The congress members say the internet and evolving technologies are fueling an explosion in obscene pornography, which they say is coinciding with the increase of violence towards women and an increase in the volume of human trafficking as well as child pornography. Dr. Alvin Cooper, a sex research, said online pornography addiction is becoming a rising problem because the accessibility, affordability, anonymity provided by the internet makes the content more readily available, calling the phenomenon the “Triple A engine.”

“Victims are not limited to those directly exploited … and include society writ large. This phenomenon is especially harmful to youth, who are being exposed to obscene pornography at exponentially younger ages,” they wrote in their letter dated Dec. 6 (pdf).

The lawmakers referenced Barr’s previous work to effectively shut down the pornography industry when he served as President George H.W. Bush’s attorney general, but added that most of the prosecutions under that effort were halted when former Attorney General Eric Holder, an Obama appointee, dissolved the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force in 2011.

Some state legislatures have also raised concerns about the effects of pornography on children. Fifteen states have declared pornography a public health crisis as a result, the lawmakers said in their letter. A 2008 study found that nine out of 10 boys are exposed to online pornography before the age of 18 while six of 10 girls were exposed to it.

In 2016, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump signed a pledge (pdf) to protect children from sexual exploitation online. The pledge says that if Trump is elected as president he would uphold the rule of law by aggressively enforce existing federal laws to prevent the sexual exploitation of children online, including the federal obscenity laws, child pornography laws, sexual predation laws, and the sex trafficking laws. The lawmakers asked Barr to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise.

“Given the pervasiveness of obscenity it’s our recommendation that you declare the prosecution of obscene pornography a criminal justice priority and urge your U.S. attorneys to bring prosecutions against the major producers and distributors of such material,” they wrote in their letter.

The Justice Department established the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section in 1987 under the Criminal Division of the department, which runs Project Safe Childhood, to protect children from sexual exploitation and prohibit the distribution of obscenity.

In October, Justice Department officials announced that over 300 people were arrested worldwide following an international operation to take down the largest secret child exploitation website hosted on the “dark web.”

U.S. prosecutors said the international operation, targeting both the website operator and users, led to investigations in 38 countries and yielded the arrests of 337 people suspected of possessing or sharing child sexual abuse content.

“The sexual exploitation of children is one of the worst forms of evil imaginable. Indeed these crimes are so heinous they are difficult even to speak about. But our government has no higher priority than the safety of our children,” U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu said at the time.

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