AVNONLINE COLUMN 200510 - According To Experts

“According to experts.”

In advertising, PR, and certain quarters of the press, those three words have been known on occasion to belie the validity of whatever “facts” may follow. Often an accomplice to the expedient exaggeration, it’s a common weapon in the propaganda wars, favored by conservative and liberal flacks alike . When unattributed, it’s at best a shadowy term that may conjure the image of a phalanx of eggheads, yet can seemingly be applied to any plurality from bona fide Ph.D.s to drooling crack whores. Yes, everyone is an expert about something. (I, for example, am an expert at stating the obvious.)

What brings this topic to mind is an August 18th press release from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children entitled “Illegal Child Pornography Becoming One of the Fastest Growing Internet Businesses.” You’ll never guess how it begins: “According to experts, child pornography has become a multibillion-dollar commercial enterprise, and is among the fastest-growing businesses on the Internet.”

Unlike many who play the “according to experts” card, the NCMEC is kind enough to provide us with a footnote, which quotes this statistic from TopTenReviews.com’s critique of Internet filters: Child pornography generates $3 billion annually.

I contacted TopTenReviews to find their source for this information. No reply. Various search engines led me to a plethora of links, most of which quote the same number with no indication of its original source. One “expert,” like South African Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, put the revenue somewhere between $2 billion and $3 billion annually. Is Mapisa-Nqakula playing it safe, or are others playing fast and loose with the numbers?

Whether child pornography generates $100 gazillion or 35 cents annually, it remains an unconscionable crime that demands zero tolerance. But when financial benchmarks of that magnitude are tossed around, the ones who stand to get bopped in the head are the legitimate adult enterprises that find the material as reprehensible as James Dobson finds sex itself.

Think of it this way: Does the pharmaceutical industry take the lumps for the social wreckage caused by illicit drug use? No, because they don’t manufacture crack or black tar heroin. But one could argue that Purdue Pharma (manufacturer of the oft-abused painkiller OxyContin, aka “Hillbilly Heroin”) and the Medellin cartel are both in the “drug business” yet never mentioned in the same breath. Why then, if the adult entertainment industry has nothing to do with child porn, does it seem to be increasingly taking on the role of head cheerleader at the anti-child-porn pep rally? Yes, it shows our degree of concern and responsibility, but the fact that it can also appear like a knee-jerk reaction to being painted with the same ugly brush used for child pornographers might lead a poetic cynic to muse that the industry “doth protest too much.”

That’s what happens when the very technology from which so many new adult moguls have been minted is the same one used to associate legal adult commerce with illegal kiddie porn. Before the Web erupted in smut, you couldn’t find a legitimate adult-video manufacturer or distributor who peddled kiddie porn. Not one. Any material involving children was produced by what could best (or worst) be called domestic “cottage industries” or smuggled into this country from overseas. It was sold from the trunks of cars, under the counter at some unscrupulous porn stores, or through clandestine mail-order operations. It was an underground business, one shunned and vilified by the very industry with which it was so often associated. In fact, some of the most reliable tipsters for child pornography were – and still are – those who work in the “real” adult industry.

The Net, unfortunately, has allowed child pornographers access to the same playing field as anyone running an above-board site. Throw in some fancy Web design and a slick font or two, and untouchable contraband suddenly takes on a veneer of legitimacy. In the brick-and-mortar world, it’s the equivalent of a kiddie porn superstore opening up next door to Slappy’s Adult Books.

On the Web, there are few restrictions to access, just the repercussions of possession—and the slim-to-none chance of being caught. The pedophile need no longer seek out his drug of choice in the shadows, but simply boot up and log on. The world is now his oyster. And you don’t need an expert to tell you there are plenty of scumbags willing to shuck it for him.