National Catholic Register


The New .xxx Domain: Just a .bad/idea

Family advocates and purveyors of pornography are definitely strange bedfellows.

BY Alan Sears

April 1-7, 2007 Issue | Posted 3/27/07 at 10:00 AM


Family advocates and purveyors of pornography are definitely strange bedfellows. But when it comes to the proposed “.xxx” Internet domain for porn sites, recently resurrected for consideration by the Internet Corporation for Assigning Names and Numbers (ICANN), both camps are largely against it, albeit for radically different reasons.

Though ICANN intends that having pornographers move their sites of exploitation and voyeurism from “.com” to “.xxx” locations would be strictly voluntary for now, pornographers fear new laws could be enacted making it mandatory — meaning parents could more easily protect their children from stumbling onto obscene and other pornographic online material by setting filters to block all “.xxx” sites.

Unfortunately, life’s not that simple. Family advocates know that since pornographers (many of whom already operate far outside the law) will not be asked to relinquish their “.com” sites, voluntarily relocating to a “.xxx” site could actually increase, even double, the number of ways to reach pornography on the Internet — and only half of it, if that much, will supposedly be easier to block. It’s a lateral move that achieves nothing substantial or good.

Besides, even if Congress or various legislatures in the United States and elsewhere enact laws mandating that all purveyors of Internet-based pornography move from “.com” to “.xxx” sites, there’s no guarantee they’ll comply.

They’ll tie it up with fights over definitions in the courts for years. Why bother? Longstanding federal obscenity and child-pornography laws already prohibit distributing hardcore pornography and child sexual abuse photos on the Internet. But thanks to the efforts of groups like the ACLU and the profiteers from sexual exploitation, much of even the worst of the stuff is wrongly claimed — even by many charged with law enforcement — to be “protected” free speech, so long as it doesn’t involve children, blood, defecation or interspecies (animal) activity.

Creating a new “.xxx” domain is tantamount to telling all the women trapped in prostitution in Los Angeles that they can be exploited this way legally so long as their exploiters contain their activities to a certain section of the Sunset Strip.

While some may go voluntarily, most pimps will soon find that the street is too crowded with competition and move them elsewhere. To sex criminals who trade in human flesh, laws like these mean nothing.

And we must be clear about this: Like prostitution and child abuse, Internet porn is never a victimless crime.

It is a growing, multi-billion-dollar criminal enterprise that wreaks havoc in the lives of everyone it touches — from the women and men degraded during its production to the consumers (and those on whom they act out their learned behavior) who find their habits exacting high social costs.

Experienced law enforcement officials will tell you that long before many sadistic rapists or serial killers embark on a high-profile spree, they almost always start small — at home with some form of pornography. It is the true “hate literature” of our age; it desensitizes the soul and distorts the view and purpose of the expression of love, unity and fulfillment that chaste sexual behavior properly represents. And selling such graphic, hard-core exploitation of sex — over the Internet or anywhere else — is a federal offense.

The fastest, most direct solution to the Internet obscenity problem is to vigorously enforce the laws we already have.

History shows us that prosecuting pornographers is both possible and effective. During the Reagan and first Bush administrations, a democratic Congress updated laws by overwhelming margins, and a Department of Justice task force cracked down on the distribution and content of all types of hard-core pornography nationwide. The results? An unheard-of 90% rate of conviction against major national distributors that, for a time, made a real difference.

Unfortunately, this prosecutorial juggernaut screeched to a halt in 1993 when President Clinton appointed Janet Reno as attorney general. In the few Reno prosecutions, the ineffective policy became to prosecute only the so-called “worst offenders” first.

But those extreme types of pornography comprise only about 2% of what’s sent over the Internet, and pornographers took that guideline as a green light to operate without inhibition.

But a window of opportunity to take back the ground given up over the last 14 years is opening.

For one thing, the new “.xxx” domain is not a done deal — the consent of the U.S. Commerce Department is likely necessary, giving laypeople a chance to make their voices heard (

Moreover, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has renewed efforts to crack down on online obscenity: He established a task force in 2005 to investigate and prosecute the distribution of obscene materials, concentrating on Internet pornography.

According to a study conducted by the Florida Family Association, only 20 American companies operate more than 70% of the 297 million porn sites on the World Wide Web. Clearly, a concentrated effort by the Department of Justice could wipe out nearly three-quarters of illicit Internet pornography in the next few years.

The federal government already has all it needs to curb the sale of Internet smut. All it requires is the courage and conviction to follow through.

Alan Sears, a former

federal prosecutor,

was executive director of the Attorney General’s

Commission on Pornography under President Ronald Reagan.

He now heads the Alliance Defense Fund,