Wednesday, May 24, 2000

Man says Net porn left him scarred

House panel hears of habit

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — At a rough spot in his life — his father had just died, he had to change jobs — Jody Burgin sought comfort in a secret passion. While his wife was away, he sat home and looked at pornography on the Internet.

        Some of the online sessions were brief and discreet, like the times before when he would sneak an adult magazine or two. Others lasted several hours and left a trail easy to find.

        “It was the only way I knew to feel better,” said Mr. Burgin of Cincinnati, now a regional manager for a Christian publisher.

        When his wife found out, he said, there was no explaining. Their 25-year marriage was over. “I didn't think it should be a death sentence,” he said. “But she thought it broke a trust. She felt unsafe.”

        Mr. Burgin testified Tuesday before the House subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection, which is urging the Justice Department to prosecute more obscenity cases. His experience was used as an example of how obscene material can leave a corrosive mark on personal relationships.

        Much public concern about pornography deals with images that depict children or involve violence or extreme sexual degradation. But some conservative lawmakers and public policy groups also want authorities to restrict graphic images of heterosexual and homosexual sex acts.

        The Supreme Court has defined obscene material as something an average person, judging by contemporary community standards, would find “patently offensive” and lacking in serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

Insidious threat
        Federal law prohibits transmitting obscene material over the Internet — as with the mail and the telephone — but Congress has moved to expand its scope.

        The Communications Decency Act of 1996 and the Child Online Protection Act of 1998 both targeted private or commercial distribution of indecent and obscene materials to minors.

        The Supreme Court rejected the Communications Decency Act as unconstitutional under the First Amendment — which protects free speech and expression — and a federal district court blocked the Child Online Protection Act on similar grounds. The Justice Department has appealed.

        Rep. Tom Bliley Jr., R-Va., chairman of the House Commerce Committee, said neither court ruling prevents the Justice Department from investigating obscenity cases. “The fact is, people are breaking the law every day,” he said.

        Alan Gershel, deputy assistant attorney general for the criminal division, said the Justice Department is concentrating on child pornography, which he thinks is the most insidious threat.

        The number of federal online child-pornography cases increased from 127 in fiscal 1995 to 510 in fiscal 1999. The department prosecuted 55 obscenity cases between 1996 and 1998.

        Lawmakers are considering new controls on Internet pornography, including restrictions on unsolicited commercial electronic mail — or “spam” — an estimated 30 percent of which is related to sexually oriented Web sites or services.

        Other proposals involve requir ing schools or public libraries that receive federal Internet funds to install filtering or blocking devices to prevent access to pornography.

        Mr. Burgin said the anonymity and ease with which he was able to find pornography online accelerated his addiction, which was confined to fantasies about women he did not know. His decision to break his pornography habit, he said, was “easily the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.”

        “I feel I'm scarred and handicapped,” he told the committee. “I'll move into my future with a limp.”


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