Public Order Crimes
Materials such as magazines, books, pictures, and videos showing nudity and sexual acts are considered pornography. Pornography, except when involving minors, is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as free expression and is sold in most cities. It is sold in "adult" stores and is widely available on the Internet.
Pornography becomes a crime when it is considered obscene. Obscene material is so offensive it violates all standards of morality or decency. The production and sale of obscene material is a criminal offense. Law enforcement faces the problem of determining what is obscene in specific cases, since there is no concrete definition to guide them. What may be considered obscene to one person is not necessarily obscene to another.
The one type of pornography that is definitely criminal and a felony offense is child pornography. Child pornography involves minors under the age of eighteen and often very young children being sexually exploited by adults. The most common forms of sexual exploitation are photographing and videotaping nude children or children being sexually abused. The photos and videos are then sold to customers.
Child pornography sex rings exist across the country and generally involve three to eleven children, often runaways. They are recruited by adults who first win over their trust then hold onto them with rewards. Some rings are highly organized and have many regular customers. Other rings are operated by a single individual with a small group of customers.
When law enforcement agencies make a determined effort to halt the sale of obscene material found in adult stores, the effect often drives up prices, which in turn creates higher profits for the pornography business. Determined customers will always find a way to obtain what they desire. Dealers who are being watched by law enforcement often turn to selling their products online.
Congress first attempted to control pornography on the Internet by passing the 1996 Communication Decency Act. The act held online providers criminally liable if their networks were used in the transmission of obscene material. In a 1997 case, Reno v. ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the act violated the right to free speech, guaranteed in the First Amendment.
In October 1998 Congress passed the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which was then signed by President Bill Clinton (1946–; served 1993–2001). In March 2003 the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled COPA was unconstitutional and in violation of the First Amendment. COPA was still tied up in courts into the early twenty-first century.
Enforcement of online pornography has proven very difficult. As soon as one site is shutdown, others appear. It is not uncommon for people exploring the Internet to accidentally hit on a pornography site. Many pornography sites are "mouse-trapped," which means they are impossible to exit without improperly turning off or crashing the computer. In addition, once someone visits a pornography site endless pornographic pop-ups and emails often invade the computer. Law enforcement agencies have not been able to keep up with the rapidly increasing number of sites.
In spite of efforts by the government to crack down on pornography, it is a booming business. At the start of the twenty-first century, Americans spent as much on pornography as they did on sporting events and live musical shows combined.
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