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Dial-A-Porn Stopped

By Editorial Staff
Published January 1, 1988

Telephone executives at AT&T began “promotion compensation” services – otherwise known as “900 numbers” – several years ago as a marketing ploy to allow companies to run pre-recorded messages for customers. Stock market reports, sports information, and even recorded prayers were typical services provided. But since 1983, 900 numbers have been dominated by pornographic recordings … and “dial-a-porn” has proliferated into a multi-million dollar industry with an average of 100,000 to 200,000 calls per month.

Dial-a-porn’s popularity was heightened by the circulation of its phone numbers on high school and junior high campuses across the nation through High Society and Penthouse magazines. Students would get the phone numbers, but usually didn’t know there was a fee attached for hearing the messages. One parent complained about a phone bill as high as $5,000.

But it wasn’t just the high phone bills that pivoted this service into national focus causing lawmakers to enact a ban which goes into effect July 1. Researchers have documented the addictive potential of dial-a-porn. Dr. Victor Cline, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, recently published a report demonstrating that dial-a-porn is a harmful force in our society.

Dr. Cline was commissioned by the U.S. Justice Department in January of 1985 to study the effects of dial-a-porn on children. “With every one of the children we studied, we found an addiction effect in making these calls.” He wrote, “In every case, without exception, the children (girls as well as boys) became hooked on this ‘sex by phone’ and kept going back for more and still more.

“The children did not stop making the calls until they were discovered. In several cases more than 300 calls were made by a particular child. Disclosure usually occurred when the parents received an enormous phone bill. In nearly all cases there were some problems and tensions generated in the parent-child and family relationships because of their making dial-a-porn calls.”

Cases have also been filed across the nation because of the damaging effects of dial-a-porn on families. A Michigan father’s ten-year-old daughter was raped by a 12-year-old boy and 15-year-old boy after they listened to several messages. “This phone call has damaged our lives,” he wrote Sen. Jesse Helms. In another recently reported case, a four-year-old was raped by a 12-year-old in Hayward, California, after he listened to two and a half hours of dial-a-porn.

Community Protest

The nationwide ban culminated after months of grassroots protest and furor within communities across America. Cases such as the Michigan rape case, and parental complaints of high phone bills due to the ignorance of their children, were fuel for the fire.

The American Family Association (AFA) was one of the key organizations to spearhead protests against dial-a-porn services. Alan Wildmon of AFA said, “I cut my card in half in January (of this year), and wrote them (AT&T) a letter saying if they didn’t get out of dial-a-porn then we would begin sending 500,000 letters a month to their clients telling them about AT&T’s support of dial-a-porn.”

On January 14, AT&T filed for a change of tariff with the FCC which would allow it to cut the service. Since then, the FCC has also fined two operators in California $600,000. “It’s time we took steps. The ultimate in sleaze deserves the ultimate … penalty,” FCC Commissioner James H. Quellos said. “They need to know we mean business.”

The order was the result of an investigation triggered by complaints alleging that unimpeded access to the messages resulted in the molestation of one 10-year-old girl and so disturbed one teen that he had to enter weekly psychiatric therapy.

The companies, Audio Enterprises, Inc., and Intercambio, Inc., were each fined $600,000 for violation of the statute banning the interstate transmission of obscene material and failure to restrict such transmissions from minors and non-consenting adults.

Both have 30 days to respond, but haven’t to date, according to Gregory Vodt, FCC Chief of Enforcement Division. Vodt said in the last two years there have been “well over 1,000 complaints” and 40 related to access of children to the numbers.
Congressional Action

Additionally, the multi-million dollar industry was dealt a harsh blow by Congress with passage of a bill on April 19 which enacted a nationwide ban. The U.S. House passed the bill with a vote of 395-1 and the Senate followed suit the next day by approving the measure with a voice vote.

The bill was an amendment to the “Educational Improvment Act,” a multi-billion dollar measure which extended federal power in education. It was added as an amendment after democrats rejected a leadership proposal that would have restricted dial-a-porn calls to adults who subscribed to the service through their local phone companies. Critics of that plan said it would amount to government legitimization of dial-a-porn, and would not keep children from gaining access to the telephone filth by calling from a subscribers’ phone. The Senate approved the measure quickly.

As of July 1, 1988, dial-a-porn will be outlawed. Vodt said he didn’t know if FCC would be involved in implementing the new law because it was “too soon to answer. We’re aware that the law passed and certainly supported the bill which affects banning obscenity on interstate communications.”

Vodt said prior to the new law, there were three defenses used to support dial-a-porn: if it was paid by credit card pre-payment; received through access codes; or through “message scrambling.” “In ‘message scrambling’ the receiver has to have a ‘descrambler’ to decipher the message. Under the new law, those defenses are thrown out of the window,” he added.

The ACLU has threatened to file a suit to test the constitutionality of the new law. “No court has ever upheld a complete ban on non-obscene, so-called ‘indecent’ speech,” said Barry Lynn, legislative counsel for ACLU. Proponents of the measure assert that it is supported by legal precedent and that there is no legal obstacle to its enactment.

Four years of the “free exercise” of the “freedom of speech” by dial-a-pornographers has cost the ruined lives of a 10-year-old girl and a Michigan family. Pornographic magazines, such as Penthouse and High Society were partly responsible for the propagation of dial-a-porn’s phone numbers. If audio-pornography can cause so much devastating ruin, how much more can visual pornograhy?
The new ban will surely be tested by ACLU’s string of cases, which is a clue to the interests of the organization. But while the new ban is being tested in court, the challenge is now before the American people to assess the damaging impact that visual pornography is having on our families and children.


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