Porn-secution

The Bush administration has a new weapon in its war on porn: stalkers

Among standard occupational hazardsassociated with the porn industry—chlamydia, leaking implants and an anal scene with the brawny Lexington Steele—adult-film actors have this new one: sexual predators aided by George W. Bush.

Since June 23, a Justice Department ruling has made it possible for anyone purchasing photographs from an adult content provider to get models’ personal information, including real names, home addresses and telephone numbers.

Adult performers say the updated recordkeeping requirements for sexually explicit materials declare open season on adult stars, already the targets of religious zealous and perverts—and religious zealots who are perverts. Officials say the amended provision to the Child Protection and Obscenity Act of 1988 was necessary to prevent the distribution of child pornography through new technologies, mainly the Internet.

But adult-film actors say protecting kids is a ruse.

“They’re targeting adult performers because we work in sex,” says Stacy Burke. “Can you imagine if they did this to mainstream Hollywood actresses—put their personal information out there for anyone to get? They wouldn’t do that.”

Burke says she has reason to worry. A few years ago, she started receiving e-mails, forum posts and chat-room comments like one that read, “I’m going to kill Stacy Burke.” Her cyberstalker also sent a series of detailed fetish-themed illustrations of Burke restrained in a straitjacket.

“He would say things like he knew where I lived, he knew where my grandmother lived and that he was going to bash my head in with a hammer,” Burke says.

She blocked his e-mails and online posts, but the messages continued until recently, when they gradually tapered off.

“Once in a while, I get a pending message coming through some message board that I can’t prove is him. But in my mind, I’m positive it’s him,” she says. “[I] pray that he won’t make good on his promises.”

The Department of Justice has said the changes will protect children from exploitation. “This rule provides greater details for the recordkeeping and inspection process in order to ensure that minors are not used as performers in sexually explicit depictions,” the department said in a published statement. In addition to protecting children, the department has said the law aims to prevent the inadvertent distribution of child pornography by webmasters who may purchase and post sexually explicit photos of children without knowing the ages of the models depicted.

Although disconcerting for Burke, the new rule is great news for would-be stalkers. If a sexual predator wants to obtain personal details for adult models, he can get them—and adult-themed photos—all for one convenient price from a law-abiding adult content provider. The images would arrive with a digital file containing model release forms and a copy of each performer’s government-issued ID—files the government requires of webmasters who repost purchased content.

Some adult companies are silently defying the new regulations by refusing to release model information; call it the Boston Tea Bag Party. But defiance puts those companies at risk of federal crackdowns. Companies that opt to remain on the up-and-up are forced to sacrifice their models’ safety to avoid criminal prosecution.

The prospects are terrifying for Burke and other performers. “A woman I know said she has three e-mail stalkers,” says Lorelei, a fetish model who counsels other performers on privacy issues. “With this new legislation, she’s worried that those e-mail stalkers will turn into real-life stalkers. It’s just handing predators a pass to come after victims in person.”

The Department of Justice addressed and dismissed this concern in the May 24, 2005, Federal Register. “While the Department is certainly concerned about possible crimes against performers and the businesses that employ them, the necessity of maintaining these records to ensure that children are not exploited outweighs these concerns,” the department wrote.

But the new rule is unlikely to prevent the exploitation of children. Only a few minors have ever been discovered working on commercial adult sets, and all of them managed to obtain state-issued driver’s licenses to falsely prove their age to producers. The case of Traci Lords is best known. Born Nora Louise Kuzma, Lords fled an abusive father in Ohio for a 40-something boyfriend in Redondo Beach in the early ’80s. At the age of 15, she used a friend’s birth certificate and fraudulent driver’s license to land herself a gig in the porn industry. By her 18th birthday, she had appeared in more than 100 adult films, all of them pulled from shelves in 1986 when federal authorities discovered she was underage during production.

The amended regulations can’t prevent another Traci Lords. In situations where minors obtain identification and birth certificates from state agencies through fraudulent means, the new federal rule still falls short.

“We respect the government using all tools at its disposal to deal with the child-pornography problem,” says Tom Hymes, spokesman for the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), the adult-industry-lobbying group headquartered in Canoga Park. “But as far as keeping minors off adult sets and out of productions, we believe that history proves these regulations would have little or no impact on that.”

The new regulations fail to account for child pornography exchanged privately among pedophiles, the most commonly documented method of distribution. Media reports about child-pornography rings refer almost exclusively to private, non-commercial trading—not pay sites. Online sales of all explicit materials require the user and seller to sacrifice anonymity when making and receiving payments, a fact that inhibits both the demand and production of commercially available child porn. From a purely business perspective, the legal liability of receiving documented payment for illegal materials is a built-in disincentive for supplying it.

The law may be misdirected in its effort to combat child pornography, but many in the adult industry believe that’s not really the law’s intent anyway.

“Any time the government or a senator or someone from the House wants to introduce a bill that attacks the adult industry, they always frame it as protecting children,” Hymes says. “It’s a slam-dunk, and all the bills are presented that way, as an attempt to either protect children or combat child pornography.”

The FSC filed a complaint in June in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, asserting that the regulations encroach upon the free-speech rights of adult producers by subjecting them to excessively burdensome recordkeeping. The court awarded the FSC temporary injunctive relief pending an unscheduled hearing on the constitutionality of the amended rule.

Burke is optimistic about the possible outcome. “It’s scary. They’re trying to scare people out of this business,” she says. “But there are just too many people out there doing the same thing I’m doing. The industry is not just going to go away.”

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