No Free Speech for Pornographers in Canada


March 06, 1992|By CAL THOMAS

WASHINGTON. — Washington -- Debbie ''did'' Dallas in a ''classic'' pornography movie, but it appears she won't be ''doing'' Canada.

In an important ruling that should get the attention of all civilized societies, the Canadian Supreme Court has decided that pornography can cause violence against women. It concluded that when freedom of expression clashes with the right of women and children to be protected against violent sex crimes, the rights of women and children come first.

In addition to upholding the obscenity provision of the criminal code, Canadian court redefined obscenity to mean that which subordinates or degrades women.

No other country acknowledges that women are the chief victims of pornography, and not just in such obvious ways as rape and sexual harassment. Pornography can lead to family break-ups when men buy into the message of easy sex it conveys. And does anyone believe that men who are consumers of pornography will not tend to view their female co-workers and subordinates as less than equal?

The Canadian criminal law provides that any publication that has as a ''dominant characteristic'' the ''undue exploitation of sex'' is obscene. The law does not cover private possession of obscene material and penalties for retailers is usually a fine.

If ever there was an issue around which liberals and conservatives should be able to unite, it ought to be pornography. In the past, some feminists have joined conservatives to lobby for the passage of tougher anti-pornography laws, but groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and some feminist leaders have successfully opposed the effort, citing the First Amendment.

It ought not to surprise us that the proliferation of pornography and its easy availability has paralleled the increase in rape and other sex crimes and in reported incidents of sexual harassment. Readily available pornography seems to give those predisposed to such crimes cultural permission to commit their illegal and immoral acts. Women are too often portrayed as willing participants in sexual perversion and deserving of male wrath. Listen to contemporary rock and rap music, some of which calls women filthy names and identifies them as sex slaves for their male masters.

The Canadian high court found that the right of women to be protected from men who would cause them harm is greater than the right of these same men to purchase pornography: ''The proliferation of materials which seriously offend the values fundamental to our society is a substantial concern which justifies restricting the otherwise full exercise of the freedom of expression.''

The court correctly found a causal relationship between the depiction of sexual exploitation of women and children in publications and films and their victimization.

The court realized that the connection between pornography and violence may not be ''susceptible of proof in the traditional way,'' so it seeks to re-establish ''a norm that will serve as an arbiter in determining what amounts to an undue exploitation of sex. That arbiter is the community as a whole.''

In the United States, numerous studies have been conducted that connect pornography to anti-social behavior.

A study last year by the Los Angeles Police Department showed that pornography was used in two-thirds of the child molestation cases over a 10-year period. The Louisville, Ky., police department reached a similar conclusion in 1984.

Researchers Murray Straus and Larry Baron found in a 1983 University of New Hampshire study that Alaska and Nevada have two things in common: They lead all states in pornography use per capita, and they have higher incidence of rape than all other states. Messrs. Straus and Baron also found ''an unusually high correlation'' between sex-magazine readership and the rape rate in all states. They said, ''The fact that sex magazine readership is strongly and consistently correlated with rape supports the theory that porn endorses attitudes that increase the likelihood of rape.''

American liberals cannot have it both ways. Rape, child molestation and sexual harassment continue to be problems. If liberals care about women and other victims of violent sexual acts, they will join conservatives and Canadians in trying to limit the filth that helps fuel such behavior.

Canada has reached a conclusion that ought to have been obvious to American courts. It's time for us to follow that lead, enforcing existing obscenity laws with more vigor and passing tougher laws regulating the spread of this cultural disease. That's precisely what Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is trying to do with an anti-pornography bill he's sponsoring. It deserves our support for the sake of women and children who are entitled to greater protection.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

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