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Remarks at a White House Briefing for Supporters of Proposed Legislation on Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement

November 10, 1987

Today I am submitting to Congress for its immediate consideration and enactment the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1987. This act is a direct outgrowth of the deep concern this administration has had with the effects of obscenity and child pornography in our nation.

In 1984 I signed legislation isolating child pornography as a distinct criminal offense. The bill I'm now presenting expands on these concerns, addressing both child pornography and adult obscenity. The goal of this proposed legislation is two-fold: first, to update the law to take into account technologies newly utilized by the pornography industry; 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.

In the last several years, distributors of obscenity and child pornography have expanded into new areas, employing new technologies, and reaching new audiences. Neither our Constitution, our courts, our people, nor our respect for common decency and human suffering will allow this trafficking in obscene material—which exploits women, children, and men alike—to continue.

With this act, and the implementation of the seven-point plan of the Attorney General's Pornography Commission—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. Just this year, there's been a dramatic increase in the Federal prosecution effort against child pornography and obscenity. This is evidenced by the recent announcements of more than 100 indictments across the Nation against child pornographers and traffickers of obscene material.

The Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1987 proposes changes in three basic areas. First, protection of children from sexual exploitation. Our bill will amend the racketeer-influenced and corrupt organizations statute to include child pornography offenses, thereby permitting law enforcement officials to go after the child pornography industry.

Our bill would amend Federal law to prevent parents and guardians from contracting the use of their children in pornography, virtually a form of child slavery. And it would target the high-tech aspects of child pornography, making illegal the computerized, nationwide network that child molesters and collectors of child pornography have developed.

The second basic area is obscenity. Organized crime controls the vast majority of the multibillion-dollar obscenity market. According to law enforcement estimates, revenues from the obscenity industry, most of which will go into the coffers of organized crime, are estimated to be between 7 and 10 billion dollars a year. A set of three "syndicate buster" amendments will block these illicit enterprises from taking advantage of inconsistencies in existing Federal law.

One 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. Another 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 traveled in interstate commerce. This will apply in a similar fashion to material produced in a foreign country.

Still another of these amendments will outlaw interstate or international activity or communication to further acts that are themselves illegal under 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.

Civil and criminal forfeiture provisions for those convicted of Federal obscenity violations are also provided for in the act. It's been proven time and again that the best way to dismantle any organized criminal operation is to confiscate its ill-gotten gains. Isn't it about time we removed the profit motive from activities that are sick and obscene? 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.

The third major area involves child protection amendments. In the interest of protecting those most vulnerable and impressionable members of our society, our children, this act will prohibit transmission of obscenity over cable or subscription television. And it will provide prosecutors with a powerful weapon to attack the so-called dial-a-porn business that profits from obscenity. And here, I would just like to thank Congressman Tom Bliley and Senator Jesse Helms for all the work that they've been doing in leading the crusade in Congress against dial-a-porn.

I've read statistics that, in a single city, one company has received up to 800,000 calls per day—180 million calls in a single year—and law enforcement officials have estimated that a great number of these calls are made by children. Every time a child calls one of these numbers, he or she hears an explicit sexual dramatization. And the time has come for this to stop.

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 Attorney General's Commission on Pornography has recommended it. The public is demanding it. And the legislation I am proposing today will give our prosecutors just that—the tools they need to get the job done.

I might add that this legislation is not only a wholesome and balanced response to the Attorney General's Commission but to the grassroots movement of concerned parents and grandparents rising up in cities all across America. Cities such as Cincinnati, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Dallas, and others, where Americans like you have stood up and said: We want laws against child pornography and hard-core, illegal obscenity, and we want them enforced.

Well, I look to the American people to support this legislation and to the Congress to enact it with all due speed. If this nation can send men to the Moon, then we can certainly do some cleaning up here at home and give our sons and daughters the simplicity and beauty that an American childhood should entail.

Well, I have a little writing to do, signing to do, and I shall say, at the same time, thank you all, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 2:18 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a White House Briefing for Supporters of Proposed Legislation on Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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