When she was a little girl, Sandra was not only forced to participate in child pornography, she was also personally abused by the pornographers themselves. Now at the age of 30, she said, she is still struggling to find peace through four-times-a-week therapy sessions.

Sandra, whose last name was not given for privacy reasons, was among several victims who testified at a national press conference in Washington May 2, observing May as National Victims of Pornography Month.

A coalition of family organizations, including groups like Concerned Women for America, Morality in Media, the Family Research Council, sponsored the press conference in an effort to show the personal damage inflicted by pornography, which its proponents maintain is a “victimless crime.”

Three members of the House of Representatives were co-sponsors of the press conference—Tom Delay (R-Texas), Steve Largent (R-Okla.) and Jim Ryun (R-Kan.).

Besides sponsoring the press conference, the family groups organize other activities throughout the month, including letter writing campaigns and lobbying days in state legislatures.

Rebecca Riggs of Concerned Women for America told the Register that the groups sponsor the annual press conference to make sure lawmakers understand how prevalent pornography is in our culture and how devastating it is for so many children. “We're asking the Justice Department to enforce the obscenity laws that are already in place,” she said.

“Pornography is not a victimless crime,” says Vickie Burress, director of the National Victims of Pornography Campaign, launched May 2. “And it is the most vulnerable in our population who are at risk from its dire effects.”

The campaign works in partnership with the American Family Association. The two organizations also sponsored a new Web site to help pornography victims (http://www.victim-sofpornography.org).

Residents of Ypsilanti, Mich., learned about the connection between pornography and crime the hard way when a child-molestation ring was discovered operating near the city.

When several hundred pornographic videotapes were found in the possession of ring members, city residents formed a citizen's group to lobby for restrictions on Ypsilanti's porn merchants. Within a few months, the Ypsilanti City Council had lowered the percentage of total sales of adult material to at most 15%.

To help them in their campaign against smut in their city, an Ypsilanti group called Citizens Against Adult Businesses used materials from the National Center for the Protection of Children and Families.

Sharmaine Mclaren, the center's spokeswoman, praised the strategy used by the Ypsilanti group in dealing with the adult businesses.

“We've found the best bet is to restrict, rather than eliminate [adult-entertainment establishments], because if you restrict them they will leave and other businesses come in,” Mclaren says. “It's just as effective and easier to get legislated.”

After helping to create relatively pornography-free environments in Cincinnati, San Diego, Atlanta and Memphis, Tenn., the National Center for the Protection of Children and Families now aids communities in forming their own anti-pornography advocacy groups through a “model cities” program.

Mclaren says her organization, which operates a help-line for pornography victims and a Web site (http://www.nationalcoalition.org), has also developed an Internet-safety program for teachers, parents and businesses.

“Businesses can also be victimized by pornography,” she explains, “since the average worker now loses more than 21 hours a month of job productivity from Internet porn, according to Nielsen, the same people who do TV ratings.”

Mclaren says her organization works closely with the National Law Center for Children and Families, an organization “established by lawyers specifically to fight pornography-related crimes and social problems.” The center advises interested groups on rezoning measures and legislation initiatives as well, she adds.

Minimizing the presence of pornography in the community helps prevent victimization. But another huge problem is law enforcement, says Pat McGrath, director of media relations for the New York-based Morality in Media.

“There isn't enough enforcement of the current federal and state obscenity laws,” he says. “If these laws were properly enforced, there would be a lot fewer victims of pornography.”

In addition to working for enforcement of federal and state obscenity laws, McGrath says his organization promotes decency in broadcasting.

But unrestricted, invasive pornography on the Internet is becoming the biggest cause for concern for those who deal with victimization, according to Donna Rice Hughes. Hughes is on the board of Enough is Enough, an organization that helps victims of pornography and advocates for anti-pornography solutions nationwide.

“The way pornography's intruding into our lives via the Internet, a lot of people find themselves getting hooked without realizing what is going on,” Hughes says. “This is now becoming a national epidemic.”

But she notes that these people are also victims of pornography, and resources to help are springing up all around the country.

“A few years ago, there was almost nothing to offer them,” Hughes says. “But the good news is that a lot of expertise is being brought to bear on the problem now. We are seeing a lot of counseling services springing up. There is online help as well.”

On May 17, Hughes joined with Tim Robertson to help launch FamilyClick.com, an Internet provider that can block pornography on the Web as well as in e-mail and chat programs.

Other services, e.g., familink.com, filter out objectionable sites before they get to a computer in the home. Familink filters out new sites that are unacceptable on a daily basis.

Hughes recommends that families use some form of Internet filtering. “No one's really immune to pornography,” she says.

Kate Ernsting writes from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

------- EXCERPT: Organizations Gear Up to Protect Children From the Onslaught