Six days after the Lemire story broke, Jerzy Sieczynski, a 55-year-old Catholic priest in San Antonio, Texas, pleaded guilty to having child pornography on his home computer. Most of the pictures, investigators claimed, were from websites that featured 12-14-year-old boys.
The same week that Sieczynski entered his plea, Edward Gwaltney, a former teacher at a girls preparatory school in Chattanooga, Tenn., announced his intention to plead guilty to one count of possession of child pornography. Gwaltney taught at the school for 17 years before being dismissed for downloading 173 inappropriate images to a faculty computer.
Doctor, priest, teacher. Aside from child pornography, what do these three stories have in common? Absolutely nothing, according to Joan Irvine, executive director of ASACP.
"These are tragic cases, but nobody is accusing churches, schools and hospitals of harboring child pornographers," Irvine says. "And there's no more factual basis for linking child pornography to the adult industry than there is in linking it to those institutions."
Irvine believes that the government knows what child pornography is and where it comes from, and yet the Justice Department and politicians are constantly attempting to link the production and marketing of child porn with the legitimate adult industry.
"Members of Congress and the attorney general go around repeating the phrase 'obscenity and child pornography' as if just putting the words next to each other in the same sentence make them the same thing," Irvine says.
From local news broadcasts to the 24-hour information networks such as CNN and Fox, anchors and reporters are breathlessly commingling the words "child pornography" and "obscenity" while warning viewers that an Internet predator is just one MySpace page away from snatching your children.
"At the most basic level, the Internet is used as a tool for sending and receiving large amounts of child pornography on a relatively anonymous basis," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in an April address before the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Gonzales used the address to announce a new legislative initiative aimed at protecting children from becoming exposed to explicit material and also encouraging "electronic communications service providers" to report the presence of child porn on their systems, as if the safeguards provided by U.S.C. 18 § 2257 record-keeping law are not enough. "The threat is frighteningly real," Gonzales said. "It is growing rapidly and it must be stopped."
At the time of Gonzales' speech, adult entertainment attorney Lawrence G. Walters applauded the government's repeated efforts to crack down on child pornography as noble but noted that they have again managed to blur the lines between legal material produced for consenting adults and patently illegal material.
"This is just another dishonest attempt to tie the issues of child pornography with adult entertainment," he said. "These are two completely different issues, and it is an attempt to rile up the American people and focus that ire on the adult industry, which is not responsible for child pornography. We see this over and over again."
Gonzales' speech was well timed; April and May are two of the top sweeps ratings period for every one of the 210 television markets in the U.S., and news outlets pounced on the story. For Justice, the conditioning process of the American people could hardly be easier.
Commingling child pornography with mainstream adult entertainment has been an objective at the federal level going back to the 1980s, says Phil Harvey, president of Adam & Eve.
"Most Americans understand the difference very, very clearly," Harvey said. "The American people have very strong feelings about child pornography and often have ambivalent feelings about straight pornography despite the concerted efforts to conflate the two."
On the flip-side, Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media, is at the head of the parade where efforts to mingle kiddie porn with mainstream porn are concerned. Peters tells XBIZ that he believes there is "growing evidence that 'adult' pornography on the Internet is transforming essentially 'normal adults' into child sex predators."
What begins as an interest in pornography that does not depict children, Peters fervently believes, "progresses to an interest in 'teen porn' and/or child porn, and culminates in a desire to have sex with children."
First Amendment Attorney Joe Obenberger scoffs at the notion that teen-themed porn indoctrinates users into the dark side.
"If you had a nickel for every auto accident that happened because some guy was craning his neck to get a look at a 16-year-old girl in a tube top, you'd have a stack of nickels that would go from the Empire State Building to the Golden Gate Bridge," he tells XBIZ.
Those who make the leap from mainstream-produced 18-year-old flesh epics to the dark side of child pornography, Obenberger believes, are freakish anomalies and not the norm.
Government attempts to fight child pornography by stifling legal adult entertainment miss the mark badly, for one simple reason, Irvine said.
"All of these attempts, such as 2257, are based on a flawed premise — that the online adult industry is eager to exploit minors," Irvine said. "Our data indicates the opposite."
Child pornographers, Irvine added, are not selling images of young-looking 18-year-olds, "or even of real 16-year-olds," all of which are the sort of images 2257 is designed to catch.
"Sadly, these criminals specialize in the most heinous sexual abuse of much younger children," she said. "We have seen material involving children as young as 2 and 3 years old. Believe me, the pedophiles and criminals who produce and sell this material are not about to maintain records of the type regulated under 2257."
No one denies that pedophilic material flourishes on the Internet — traded primarily on private bulletin boards, in chatrooms and through bit-stream technology — but in the war on child pornography, no one takes the cake for sheer media-grabbing hyperbolic language quite like Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.
In May, in preparing to propose an amendment to a telecommunications bill that would require ISPs to retain data on users so that law enforcement could access the information, DeGette stated to the press.
U.S. High on the Charts
"America is the No. 1 global consumer of child pornography and the No. 2 producer. This is a plague we had nearly wiped out in the 1970s, and sadly the Internet — an entity we practically worship for all the great things it has brought us — is being used to commit a crime against humanity."
The efforts of organizations like ASACP have proven that child pornographers are not adult webmasters or mainstream ISPs looking for a little extra cash. They are criminals, Irvine said, many of which are based in Eastern Europe.
After reviewing more than 150,000 reports, ASACP's data clearly shows that 99.9 percent of the real child porn sites they investigate are not related to the professional adult entertainment industry.
Why then do lawmakers and the media choose so vigilantly to perpetuate this misunderstanding, this blurring of the lines?
"The bottom line is, equating adult entertainment with child pornography helps politicians justify a broad anti-porn agenda, which caters to the Religious Right," Irvine said. "This is dangerous because those politicians are apparently more interested in winning votes than in actually protecting children."
As attorney Lawrence G. Walters said, this is an effort that has been and will be repeated "over and over again" as the federal government and law enforcement agencies attempt to get a grip on the ever-elusive explosion of child porn on the web.