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Justice Sets New Study of Adult Magazines for Effects on Kids

May 2, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Justice Department has approved a new version of a widely criticized study that will try to determine whether Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler magazines influence sexual exploitation of children and delinquency.

The scaled-down research project, financed by the department but conducted by American University here, will review 660 issues of the publications and analyze such content as ″the use of children in fairy tale sex scenarios ....″

″Sexual depiction of children with fairy tale characters and themes such as Santa Claus, Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, Snow White, etc.″ will be ″of special significance in this final analysis,″ the new project design said.

Other ″issues of particular concern″ include ″children involved sexually with ‘influential’ adults (member of government, police officer, doctor, teacher, counselor, military personnel, member of the clergy, etc.),″ according to the new research document.

The 22-month study, which began in December 1983, will now analyze explicit pictures and cartoons portraying children. If time allows and department approval is given, the study also will analyze advice columns and letters to the editor in the three adult magazines.

The maximum approved cost is $734,371, compared with $798,531 for the original proposal, which would have included reviews of general news magazines and other literature.

Since the study began, it has been criticized by members of Congress, who questioned its worth, and by academics at American University, who doubted its quality.

″I had the opportunity for first-hand observation and was very dismayed about the quality of office management and the nature of research that was going on,″ said Dr. Myra Sadker, professor of education at American. She had overall responsibility for the project while serving as dean of the School of Education.

But Dr. David Sansbury, acting dean of the education school, contended, ″I’m personally satisfied it will be a well done and scholarly piece of work. It’s functioning well and on target.″

Staff directors of the House Education and Labor and Senate Judiciary subcommittees that held hearings on the research last year said members of the panels have not seen the revised version.

Conducting the study is Dr. Judith Reisman, who was hired by American specifically for the project after she obtained tentative approval for financing from the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

The project director for the office, Pamela Swain, said she ordered elimination of a major portion of the original research plan. Ms. Reisman had proposed to submit ″representative samples″ of ″sexology literature″ beyond the three magazines to ″our expert judges for analysis ... a body of renowned scholars.″

The revised study will concentrate only on the magazines, with ″particular emphasis ... on the frequency and nature of the portrayal of children at various age levels.″

″This comprehensive content analysis will lay the groundwork for future research concerning specific aspects of erotic-pornographic material as it relates to child exploitation and-or juvenile delinquency,″ the research document said.

Ms. Swain said much of the initial $153,000 for the project was ″spent responding to questions and criticisms from Congress, the press and numerous people around the country.″

″Not all, but perhaps a good portion, a substantial portion″ of that money was wasted, said one Reagan administration official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

But Sansbury of American University said it was contemplated from the beginning of the cooperative agreement that details would evolve after the research began.

″Because of the subsequent review and criticism in public hearings, the original study did not look to be a ‘do-able’ type of approach, and Justice wanted it revised,″ he said.

Sansbury denied that money was wasted, contending that expenses for staff and equipment would have been incurred anyway and the early research can still be used.