Video: Congressional crackdown on Web porn

By Chip Reid Correspondent
NBC News
updated 7/27/2005 7:55:18 PM ET 2005-07-27T23:55:18

It's no secret that the Internet is flooded with pornography, but what many parents don't know is just how many kids are watching.

A report titled "The Porn Standard: Children and Pornography on the Internet" from Third Way, a new Democratic think tank in Washington, says the largest group of consumers of Internet porn is children ages 12 to 17, with the average age of first exposure being 11.

But perhaps the most disturbing information in the report, says Third Way president Jon Cowan, is that some online pornography sites actually target children. 

"These companies," says Cowan, "are embedding phrases like ‘Disneyland’ and ‘Pokeman’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ into their Web sites, specifically to lure in children."

Third Way was formed recently to help Democrats challenge Republican dominance on issues like family values.

And so it's no accident that, Wednesday, a group of congressional Democrats pounced on the issue, introducing a bill that would require Internet porn sites to verify the age of anyone trying to gain access and imposing a 25 percent tax on purchases made on porn sites.

"I think we've given them plenty of time and plenty of chances to clean up their act," says Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. "And they haven’t done it. And my impression is they're not going to do it. There's too much money at stake."

But critics say the Democrats' bill would have little effect. They note that there are an estimated 420 million porn Web pages, making enforcement of the age verification requirement impossible. And since many porn Web sites are also based overseas, they're largely beyond U.S. control.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., the chief sponsor of the Democrats' bill and a mother of 9-year-old twins, concedes the bill won't solve the problem and says anything government can do is secondary. 

"Parents," says Lincoln, "are without a doubt the best line of defense for their children in trying to make sure they monitor what their children are watching and participating in."

But she says anything government can do to make parents aware of the danger is worth doing.

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