Porn Free A Silver Spring group takes aim at smut.

A Silver Spring group takes aim at smut.

If you were going to draw a portrait of a porn addict, what would he look like?

The Maryland Coalition Against Pornography (MCAP), an anti-smut advocacy group based in Silver Spring, Md., has a firm idea about that. The porn addict etched on MCAP's Metrobus ads is a devious-looking fellow with a healthy gut, bushy mustache, and tangled hair, glancing over his shoulder as he surreptitiously reads a magazine. He's definitely a member of a club that you wouldn't want to join.

"Can't Stop Looking at Pornography?" asks the ad, which also offers bus riders the D.C. area's only help line for those who answer that question in the affirmative.

The approach is anything but subtle. But it's consistent with MCAP's overall take on the question of porn. One of the group's information packets renders the question in starkly Manichaean terms: "Pornography appeals to the prurient interest. It touches the dark side in us. It brings out the worst in us. It is an intolerable social stigma. It is wrong culturally and morally....It is not the right thing to do."

When you call the MCAP help line, however, you don't reach a friendly voice that calmly instructs you to put the magazine down, or eject the cassette or DVD. Instead, there's a recording that thanks you for calling.

"If you need help and would like to speak to a counselor," says the soothing recorded message, "please leave your name and phone number and the best time to reach you, and someone will return your call and identify himself from MCAP." You can also leave your address if you want an information packet.

MCAP started the help line about 10 years ago, and it first began advertising on Metrobuses in 1992. The group started out by purchasing large banner ads on the backs of buses with the help of a public service rate discount. When Metro raised its ad rates a few years ago, MCAP switched to smaller ads inside buses.

MCAP says that the smaller bus ads attract just as many callers, numbering 10 to 15 per week. Many of them are

hang-ups, however, and only four or five per week are serious calls for help with a pornography addiction.

The help line is also a dream come true for college students looking to prank a fraternity brother, and MCAP says that some messages do arrive replete with laughter in the background. Some pranksters manage to play it straight, however—a skill that has led MCAP to mail pornography-addiction information packets to numerous unsuspecting souls in the D.C. area.

MCAP activists don't find pornography humorous. Not only have they organized the addiction hot line, but they've actively lobbied local politicians and Maryland state legislators to crack down on the industry.

"It's not that we're against sex," says MCAP member Eva Murphy, a Silver Spring resident who's worked for the group for eight years. "Sex is a normal part of our being. Do I feel pornography is harmful to anyone exposed to it? Yes."

The crux of the group's argument, according to Murphy and other MCAP members, is that pornography is an obscenity issue that's not covered by the Bill of Rights. "I don't think a lot of people know what's out there," says Murphy. "Many people say it's a First Amendment right and people can do whatever they want, and we're making too big a deal out of it."

MCAP fights its anti-porn battles on multiple fronts. The group has lobbied for tougher zoning laws to shut down adult bookstores. It's provided public speakers on the dangers of pornography, mostly for churches. Every fall, MCAP also lobbies hard to nudge tighter pornography laws through the Maryland legislature. Though the more straightforward anti-porn bills favored by MCAP often wither in committee, it's had some success in pushing legislation that restricts child pornography and children's access to Internet porn.

MCAP would like the porn crackdown to expand beyond the issue of porn and children, however. Janice Nairn, one of MCAP's founders, notes that the group met with a Maryland state's attorney a few years back and brought what it considered an objectionable porn movie to the meeting for an impromptu screening. The prosecutor blushed at it, recalls Nairn, and then put it aside, promising that he would prosecute any cases the police could find.

Nothing ever happened as a result of the meeting, complains Nairn. "They don't want any part of it," she says.

If there is a spiritual home for MCAP's crusade against porn, it's probably the office that Nairn keeps in her one-story home in Silver Spring.

Nairn, who turned 70 last week, helped establish the group in 1986, and she has served as president of the 700-member organization on and off for nine years.

Nairn's office is small, with just two windows above her desk, and various papers stuffed in filing cabinets and desk drawers. On the wall next to the desk are photos from signings of several bills for which MCAP has successfully lobbied, including one last year that requires public libraries to limit access to pornographic sites on their public computers.

Despite the tidiness of the office, Nairn apologizes for the "mess" before leading the way into her equally fastidious living room, with a small white porcelain statue on the piano in the corner and a bowl of green plastic grapes and apples on the coffee table. She says that her husband, Bill Nairn, grew up on this property back when it was farmland, before the area became a shiny suburb.

Nairn talks freely about what she sees as the evils of pornography.

"I was glad to hear you're doing a story on it," she says. "But I was surprised. Your paper has a lot of ads for adult bookstores in the back there."

She lets that salvo settle in for a second and then moves on, quoting various studies and figures that report that most rapists and child molesters look at pornography, often right before or during their crimes.

When asked if viewing pornography is the cause of such crimes, rather than a symptomatic behavior of those who commit them, Nairn draws an analogy between the porn industry and the tobacco industry.

"Individuals choose to smoke," argues Nairn, "but they blame the tobacco companies—and file suits against them." In her view, any material with a goal to sexually arouse the viewer or engage in "lewd displays of the genitals" is obscene and isn't protected by the First Amendment.

Pressed harder, Nairn says that she doesn't see any positive aspects of pornography whatsoever. "I'd like to see it all go," she says laughing. "You're asking the wrong person. All pornography objectifies women."

Except gay porn, right?

"That's kind of cruel to men, too," says Nairn. "I know that's a big factor in the gay lifestyle. And according to [University of Utah professor and noted anti-pornography scholar] Victor Cline, [pornography] contributes to driving them into homosexuality. It can be an influence."

The calls to the MCAP help line are mostly from men, but some of them come from girlfriends and wives who are concerned that they're losing loved ones to pornography.

One MCAP volunteer—who doesn't want her name used in connection with the hot line—checks the group's voice mail, sifting through the pranks and hang-ups to find the messages from genuine callers. She says that, in her experience, the number of people who need help is growing.

"It's not criminal to be addicted to pornography," says this volunteer. "I'll be the first one to say pornography is very addictive, and if someone needs help, then we're here to help them."

She herself doesn't call back the pornography addicts, however. She leaves that task to a male social worker from Lanham, Md., who works as an MCAP counselor.

If she called the addicts back, this volunteer explains, "then they'd have my number." CP

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