On February 2, 2003, when seven-year-old Danielle van Dam disappeared from her family home in the middle of the night, every mother’s nightmare was played out on national television for almost a month while authorities searched for the girl. When Danielle’s body was found at the end of that month, the police and prosecutors discovered a frightening story about a neighbor of Danielle’s who had computer files filled with child pornography and even a sickening cartoon video of the rape of a young girl.
According to a report by Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media
, on the link between pornography and violent sex crimes, the prosecutor in the Danielle van Dam case said “The video represented [the defendant's] sexual fantasies and inspired the abduction, rape, and murder of Danielle.” According to Raymond Pierce, a retired NYPD detective who worked on the sex-crimes squad for many years and is now a criminal-profiling consultant, about 80 percent of rapists and serial killers are heavy pornography users. I was a victim of an attempted rape by a disturbed man who turned out to be involved in pornography.
May is Victims of Pornography Month. Today Senator Sam Brownback (R., Kan.), Rep. Katherine Harris (R., Fla.), Rep. Joe Pitts (R., Pa.), and leaders from the values community will participate in a summit to explore the troubling connection between pornography and violence against women and children.
Florida attorney general Charlie Crist advises parents that “we must never lose sight of the fact that sexual predators make the online world a dangerous place for innocent children. Parents must be ever-vigilant to make sure their children are not exposed to images and messages that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago.” Crist warns that we cannot allow the Internet to be a “pipeline for pornography aimed at children.” But while parents can use available means to protect their children when they are in their own homes, there is a cultural climate surrounding our children that threatens them the way Danielle van Dam was threatened. Because of the availability of pornography online, there is no way of knowing what lurks in the hearts of our neighborhoods.
More needs to be done to evaluate the connection between violent predatory behavior and pornography, and to crack down on these violent predators. Police and law-enforcement officers across the country report brutal instances in which those addicted to pornography utilized its sadistic images on their female and child victims.
Just this past February, the New York Times reported a story about a teenage babysitter who had raped three young children he was watching in their homes. According to the Times, his pattern was to watch pornographic videos with the oldest of the children, a 12-year-old boy, and intimidate them all by torturing them with a knife and threats to their family members. Perhaps one of the most notorious serial killers, Ted Bundy, participated in an interview with Dr. James Dobson shortly before he was executed. In the interview, Bundy explained, “I’ve lived in prison for a long time now. And I’ve met a lot of men who were motivated to commit violence like me. And without exception, every one of them was deeply involved in pornography–without exception, without exception–deeply influenced and consumed by an addiction to pornography.”
Since 1956, the Supreme Court has made clear that the First Amendment does not protect obscene materials. If we know from the perpetrators themselves how obscenity contributes to violence against women and children, what can we do?
We need to fund more studies of the addiction to pornography and its effects on violent behavior.
Parents can install filters on any computer used by children and keep the family computer in a central location, not in a child’s bedroom or someplace where parents might not regularly see it.
We need to demand tougher law enforcement on the state and federal level. The Bush administration is stepping up federal enforcement of obscenity laws. This is a good first step. Contact the U.S. attorney for your district and ask what they are doing to enforce the laws.
We need tougher state penalties against both possession and distribution of child porn and passing any kind of pornographic material to kids. Experts indicate that pornography is often used by pedophiles to break down the resistance of child victims.
Parents should check out their state’s penalties for child rape and make sure offenders are going to jail and staying there for these offenses. Florida, for example, just passed a tough new law after the tragedy involving Jessica Lunsford, whose killer was a recently released violent offender.
We should pass legislation to address the threat to children on the Internet. This includes chat sites, websites, spam, and peer-to-peer networks. Peer-to-Peer networks are of particular concern because they are widely visited by kids and offer porn for free without any age verification.
As Rep. Katherine Harris has pointed out, “Pornography displays human beings as objects, obliterating the wall between an individual’s sick fantasies and the compulsion to act upon them. Often, the monsters who hurt women and children start with this malignant desensitizer.” We need to all work together to find better ways to protect women and children against this violence.
–Penny Nance is president of the Kids First Coalition.