Message to the Congress Transmitting Proposed Legislation on Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement

 

November 10, 1987

 

To the Congress of the United States:

 

I am pleased to transmit today for your immediate consideration and enactment the ``Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1987.'' This bill is a direct outgrowth of a deep concern this Administration has had about the effects of obscenity and child pornography in our Nation. In 1984 I signed legislation isolating child pornography as a uniquely tragic and distinct criminal offense. The bill I now present expands on these concerns, addressing both child pornography and adult obscenity. The goals of this proposed legislation are twofold: first, to update the law to take into account technologies newly utilized by the pornography industry; and second, to remove the loopholes and weaknesses in existing Federal law, which have given criminals in this area the upper hand for far too long.

 

A little over 3 years ago, I announced the creation of a national commission to study the scope and nature of pornography in the United States. After 14 long months of careful and objective study, including the taking of hundreds of hours of testimony from citizens on all sides of the issue, the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography released its Final Report in July 1986. In that report were numerous recommendations for changes in Federal law, many of which are reflected in the bill I am proposing today. This bill represents one point of a seven-point plan created by Attorney General Edwin Meese to crack down heavily on the producers, distributors, and retailers of obscene material.

 

In the last several years, distributors of obscenity and child pornography have expanded into new areas. They are employing new technologies and reaching new audiences. This is how any business grows and develops, except that this business is illegal. Neither our Constitution, our courts, our people, nor our respect for common decency and human suffering should allow the trafficking in obscene material -- which exploits women, children, and men alike -- to continue. With this bill, and the implementation of the Attorney General's seven-point plan -- in which the creation of the National Obscenity Enforcement Unit is the centerpiece -- this Administration is putting the purveyors of illegal obscenity and child pornography on notice: your industry's days are numbered.

 

The ``Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1987'' proposes changes in 11 basic areas. A brief overview of these proposals will demonstrate the loopholes and weaknesses in existing law that this bill so admirably addresses.

 

Sexual Exploitation of Children Through Child Pornography

 

Use of computers in child pornography. Child molesters, pedophiles, and collectors of child pornography have developed a complex, computerized, nationwide network to traffic in child pornography. This bill would clarify the existing sexual exploitation of children statutes to prohibit the use of computers for such deviant purposes.

 

Buying or selling of children to produce child pornography. Sadly, current Federal law does not forbid a parent or other adult with custody of a minor from selling that child for use in the production of pornography. When this bill is passed, a grievous situation will have thus been corrected.

 

Record-keeping requirements. Many of the individuals addicted to pornography are attracted to obscene depictions of children. To meet this demand, pornographers have often used minors to produce sexually explicit materials. This violates Federal laws that protect all persons under 18 years of age from exploitation. But because pornographers have not been required to keep appropriate records, proof of age has often been impossible. This bill will mandate the keeping of verifiable records as to the actual age and identity of each performer. If a producer fails to keep such records, or if a distributor sells the material without it containing a statement as to where such records may be found, the burden in any subsequent criminal prosecution will be on him or her to prove the performer was not a minor.

 

Child pornography and organized crime. There is a growing commercial market for child pornography in this country. Much of it is produced and distributed by networks of pedophiles and child molesters who are well organized. It is therefore appropriate for this bill to amend the RICO statute to include child pornography offenses. The RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statute, which was amended in 1985 to include obscenity, is a tool long needed by prosecutors of the highly organized, multi-billion dollar pornography industry. It provides strong criminal penalties and fines and brings forfeiture provisions into play, allowing the seizure and sale of all assets used in or obtained through organized criminal activity.

 

Obscenity

 

Receipt or possession of obscene matter for sale or distribution. Another loophole that has long needed closing is the fact that, while it is currently illegal under Federal law to transport obscene material over State lines, it is not illegal to receive or possess that same material with intent to sell it or transfer it, or to offer to do so. This bill will close that loophole tight.

 

``Syndicate buster'' amendments. Organized crime controls the majority of the obscenity market. According to law enforcement estimates, organized crime's revenues in these areas exceed seven to ten billion dollars per year. A set of three ``Syndicate Buster'' amendments will block these illicit enterprises from taking advantage of additional inconsistencies in existing Federal law. When passed, the first of these amendments will prohibit the use of Federal roads, interstate railroads, motor vehicles, boats, airplanes, or other methods for obscenity trafficking across State lines. The second will inject a little common sense into the law by allowing a jury to presume, without the prosecutors having to prove it, that obscenity produced in one State and now located in another State has in fact travelled in interstate commerce. This will apply in similar fashion to material produced in a foreign country. The third of these amendments will make illegal in and of itself any interstate or international activity or communication regarding the furtherance of acts that are illegal under State or Federal obscenity and child pornography laws. This means, for example, that an interstate phone call from a retailer to a distributor regarding an interstate shipment of obscenity would itself be a criminal offense, as would be the use of the mails to pay for such a shipment.

 

Obscenity forfeitures. Civil and criminal forfeiture provisions for Federal obscenity violations are also provided for in the bill. It has been proven time and again that the best way to dismantle any organized criminal operation is to confiscate its ill-gotten gains. Prosecution of national and international drug cartels has underscored this point on numerous occasions. Forfeiture also provides much-needed funds and equipment to the Federal efforts and, as in drug forfeiture, allows for sharing of forfeited assets with State and local law enforcement organizations involved in joint investigations.

 

Possession and sale of obscene material and child pornography on Federal properties. Today, there are seven States that have no obscenity laws whatsoever (Alaska, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin). Of these, several contain major military bases or other large tracts of Federal land. Obscenity and child pornography are all too common on Federal lands in general. This bill will make the sale of such material on any Federal lands a felony; and the mere possession of child pornography or obscene visual depictions on these lands will itself become a misdemeanor.

 

Adding obscenity to the wiretap statute. When it comes to court orders for such things as wiretaps, the government can get them in cases involving drug trafficking, extortion, and many other crimes, but it cannot do so for felony obscenity offenses. This bill will rectify that needless deficiency.

 

Child Protection Amendments

 

Cable porn. In the interest of protecting those most vulnerable and impressionable members of our society, our children, this bill will prohibit transmission of obscenity over cable or subscription television.

 

Dial-a-porn. Finally, this bill will give prosecutors a powerful new weapon to attack ``Dial-A-Porn'' businesses that profit from obscenity. I have read statistics that just one company in just one city has received up to 800,000 calls per day -- 180 million calls in a single year. Moreover, law enforcement officials have estimated that a great number of these calls are made by children. A child who calls one of these numbers hears an explicit sexual message. The bill would make it a felony for these companies to transmit obscene messages.

 

Conclusion

 

At a dark hour in British history, Winston Churchill said, ``Give us the tools and we will finish the job.'' Federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials are saying the same thing today. The Commission has recommended it. The public is demanding it. Yet, as I have described to you, under current Federal law some very basic tools are being withheld. The legislation I propose today will give these men and women the tools they need to get the job done efficiently, fairly, and thoroughly. The producers and distributors of this material -- the heartless victimizers of women and children -- have had a huge legal advantage, and they have used it to the fullest. They have also employed the latest technologies, while Federal law has failed to keep pace. It is high time these inequities are corrected.

 

When the ``Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1987'' is passed we will all be able to go about the business of cleaning up some of the filth that floods our Nation. Right now, in the Department of Justice, this task is already well under way. The newly created National Obscenity Enforcement Unit is coordinating and spearheading nationwide prosecutions of a scope never before attempted in our Nation's history. They have my full support, but they need more. They need strong, loophole-free Federal laws, and they need the assistance of the American people. The industry they seek to shut down is very large, very powerful, and very harmful. The Federal Government alone just does not have the resources to do the whole job. We will need all the help we can get from decent-minded citizens across the country who know when it is time to stand up and be counted. And I am confident we will get that help. I look also to State and local law enforcement authorities to join with us in a total effort to rid our communities of this criminal element among us.

 

But the first step in this critical task is the legislation I set before you today. I look forward to you, the elected representatives of the American people, assisting me in this effort to help protect all Americans from the corruption, the disease, the violence, degradation, and victimization that flows from this despicable industry.

 

Ronald Reagan

 

The White House,

 

November 10, 1987.