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Caution advised for the computer you gave the kids for Christmas


WASHINGTON (BP)–As your kids begin to use the computer with Internet access purchased for them this Christmas, beware the grinch that paces to and fro on the World Wide Web, seeking to devour your kid with photos and videos so vile they defy description.

With the Internet awash in nearly 300,000 pornographic sites that the U.S. Department of Justice has done little to combat, Christian parents must protect their families from thousands of horrific images of child pornography, homosexuality, bestiality, sadomasochism, torture and rape, said Donna Rice Hughes.

Rice Hughes is the author of “Kids Online: Protecting Your Children in Cyberspace” (1998, Fleming H. Revell, a division of Baker Books). She currently volunteers for “Enough is Enough,” a nonprofit Internet safety group for which she formerly worked as vice president of communications, having resigned her paid position this past summer to accept a paid consultancy with FamilyClick.com, a filtered Internet service provider. She also maintains an Internet safety website at wwww.protectkids.com which has links to several other groups involved in fighting Internet pornography.

As personal computers continue to steadily expand their influence on society, becoming as common as the telephone, the TV and stereos — and increasingly capable of replacing all three — 62 percent of parents of American teenagers said they were unaware their children had accessed objectionable websites, according to one recent study. Most children are lured to such sites by unsolicited e-mails, or are inundated with sex-related subject heading links when searching for information on an unrelated topic. According to the same study, 91 percent of children accessing objectionable websites did so unintentionally.

Though FBI prosecution of on-line child predators has grown 10 times since 1996, according to the agency’s website, the larger arena of Internet smut is growing exponentially, earning hundreds of millions of dollars and becoming among the most profitable of the Internet start-up companies. Pornographic bookstores cannot legally sell such material, yet it is freely sold on the Internet, where pornographers and predators who prey on the young lure children to their websites using free lurid photographs as bait.

Countless lives are negatively affected by the burgeoning porn trade, from those who view the images to those whose pictures are distributed, often without the permission of the persons depicted, Rice Hughes said. She speaks from some experience. In 1987, a photo of her sitting on the lap of then-presidential hopeful Gary Hart on a boat called “Monkey Business” were transmitted and published around the world.


Among statistics and facts regarding kids and Internet porn:

— Children ages 8 to 15 have become the largest single group of Internet users, according to an October 1999 Arbitron New Media Study.

— Arbitron found the majority of children in that age group’s on-line use at home occurs right after school, when working parents are not a home.

— Pornographers often disguise their sites into “stealth sites” with common brand names such as Disney, Barbie and ESPN to entrap children.

— 30 percent of all unsolicited e-mails are pornographic, according to an October 1999 study by Choose Your Mail.com;

— America Online (AOL) subscribers receive twice as much unsolicited e-mail as do other Internet service provider subscribers, according to an October 1999 AC Nielsen study.

Each day, the statistics steadily worsen, Rice Hughes said. “I’ve talked to children who looked up the word ‘dog’ to get material for a book report and have been led instead to the most despicable photos of bestiality,” she said. “Or they’ll be surfing the net wanting to read and see pictures of their favorite water sport, like surfing, and click on sites that open up to photos of people being urinated on and worse. It’s beyond what you can imagine, and very illegal under current laws.”

Yet there have been no federal prosecutions of those who are responsible for enticing America’s youth into a world of sexual depravity that irrevocably scars their psyches with images they most likely would not have ever otherwise encountered. “Once they are taken in, these images stick with you for the rest of your life,” Rice Hughes said. “Viewing this type of thing is not healthy for the most well-adjusted adult, let alone an impressionable child.”

Though current laws are sufficient to arrest and prosecute predators who lurk on the Internet, hunting for impressionable children to entice with free photos of sex into sites at which they often use their parents’ credit cards to see more such photos, Rice Hughes said she has yet to find an Internet obscenity arrest that has resulted in a federal prosecution.

“This is the sort of insidious problem of not enforcing existing federal laws and working hard to ensure new measures passed by Congress are implemented and then vigorously defended if challenged, that can only be dealt with by a top-down approach,” Rice Hughes said.

“Unless the president makes eliminating illegal hardcore porn on the Internet a priority, enforcement of the laws already on the books which would regulate it will continue to languish,” Rice Hughes said. “Federal, state and local law enforcement officers lack the funds and the expertise to track down Internet smut peddlers on their own, without a significant outlay of funds.”

What is needed is a presidential declaration of war on illegal pornography that stops it from entering homes to distort and pervert the developing personalities of America’s youth, Rice Hughes said.

“But that just isn’t going to happen in the Clinton Administration, where neither the president nor his attorney general have demonstrated concern about the harmful effects of pornography. We can only hope to keep the battle alive in Congress and in the media until a new administration takes office,” she said.

“There are laws sufficient to prosecute child porn, obscenity and child stalking, but there are legal loopholes that Congress attempted to fill by segregating on-line adult porn and all content harmful to minors away from children,” Rice Hughes said.

Congress has twice attempted to deal with Internet porn. After its first attempt, the Communications Decency Act (CDA), was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress passed a new act, which corrected the first law’s alleged deficiencies. The new law, the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), has been held up by an injunction, until its provisions are deemed constitutional or not by the U.S. Court of Appeals Third Circuit.

COPA was waylaid by a lawsuit filed against it by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups, including the Electronic Privacy Foundation and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The ACLU suit was awarded a preliminary injunction by the Pennsylvania District Court in February 1999, which barred COPA’s enforcement, sending it over to the appellate court last summer. Oral arguments were heard in November and a decision is expected sometime early in 2000.

Bruce Watson serves as president of Enough is Enough, also as a volunteer. His read of the chances for COPA’s emerging from the injunction intact is cautious optimism.

“Professor Lawrence Lessig of Harvard, who is not a supporter of COPA, commented grudgingly before it was passed by Congress that it had a better chance of being upheld than the Communications Decency Act,” Watson said. But the court that is deciding COPA’s fate is the same jurisdiction that ruled on CDA, Watson said. “While the injunction was not unexpected, I don’t think anyone in Congress is planning a new version until the courts have ruled on the actual constitutionality of COPA,” he said.

It is elementary to Watson that the lack of support for enforcement from the Justice Department is to be expected until and unless the American people rise up to battle the menace of on-line porn. “Justice is definitely compromised by the letter they sent Congress in opposition to COPA. They also sent a very inexperienced, if goodhearted, staff attorney to the initial hearing.”

Justice’s apparent lack of interest is “certainly cause for concern,” Watson said. “After all, these are the same people who don’t prosecute obscenity under our existing laws!”