They appear at each hearing of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography, a parade of self-described victims who tell their sad stories from behind an opaque screen.
There was Lisa, 21, who said she was molested by her uncle at age 6, raped by a PCP dealer at 13, became a nude dancer at 14 and later posed for pornographic pictures and attempted suicide. There was Bonnie, 31, who said her first husband abused her teen-age daughters. There was Evelyn, who testified that "for more than 30 years I watched pornography destroy my marriage."
Many experts on both sides of the question say such anecdotal tales of woe prove nothing about the effect of sexually explicit materials. But Henry E. Hudson, the commission chairman, says it is important evidence in unraveling the emotional and legally tangled issue.
As commonwealth's attorney in Arlington County, Hudson has showed uncommon zeal in shutting down adult bookstores, seizing X-rated videotapes and arresting purveyors of pornography. He says he is keeping an open mind as head of the commission, but his law-enforcement efforts -- along with the makeup of the 12-member panel -- have raised questions about whether the inquiry is one-sided.
"Hudson's record on pornography is clear: He hates it, he wants to get rid of it and he thinks it's a public safety menace akin to driving 100 miles an hour in a residential neighborhood," said Barry Lynn, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "He's a zealous prosecutor of anything he thinks is dirty."
Critics also say the panel appears determined to find a scientific link between pornography and sexual offenses that many researchers say cannot be proven. "They have gone out of their way at every hearing to have the great bulk of witnesses testify to the bad effects of pornography," Lynn said.
Burton Joseph, counsel to Playboy Enterprises, said the panel was formed "to justify a certain preconception. I don't think Chairman Hudson was chosen because he had an open mind toward the value of sexually explicit materials."
Hudson responds that the commission, named last spring by Attorney General Edwin Meese III, has taken great pains to be balanced and objective. He disputed the notion that his prosecutorial record in Arlington would prevent him from judging the issue fairly.
"It's just like any other jury," Hudson said in an interview in his county courthouse office. "We have to decide what evidence we're going to accept and which we're going to reject . . . Can I be objective? Yes, unequivocally."
A 1970 presidential commission found no link between pornography and antisocial behavior and said no further controls were necessary. Many believe the Reagan administration wants Hudson's panel to reach an opposite conclusion.
The panel, which resumes its hearings in Los Angeles tomorrow with testimony from actresses and producers of pornographic films, will report its findings in June.
Hudson said a new study is needed because pornography has become more violent and explicit in the last 15 years, as well as more accessible through cable television and videocassettes. But repeated local efforts to define and restrict obscene materials have run afoul of the courts and been plagued by charges of censorship.
The Hudson commission is heavily weighted toward law enforcement. Its executive director is Alan Sears, a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office in Louisville. Under him are a former prosecutor in Hudson's office, an Arlington detective, a District detective, a postal inspector, a customs inspector, a social scientist and former attorney for President Reagan's 1984 campaign.
The panel's more conservative members include James C. Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, a California group that produces a syndicated radio show; Rev. Bruce Ritter, president of Covenant House, a child-care agency based in New York; Frederick Schauer, a University of Michigan law professor, and Harold (Tex) Lezar, who was a senior aide to former attorney general William French Smith.
Some make no bones about their beliefs. Dobson said his "hypothesis" is that some people are "hurt by pornography."
"I've been exposed to families addicted to pornography," Dobson said. "I've seen people who are obsessed by it. I have a personal dislike for pornography and all that it implies, but I've attempted to go into these hearings with an open mind."
Commission members viewed as more liberal -- such as Ellen Levine, editor of Woman's Day magazine, and Judith Becker, a Columbia University instructor and director of a sexual abuse clinic in New York -- are in the minority.
"Nobody comes to the commission with a clean slate," Levine said. "We all have opinions on this. But we are struggling to approach it as open-mindedly as possible."
Becker said the hearings so far in Washington, Chicago and Houston have given an indication of some members' views. "One can listen to the questions and one might come to certain hypotheses about which way they're leaning," she said.
When a woman named Sara Winter testified that she was forced into prostitution at 13, gang-raped and photographed by her pimp, Hudson posed the question he asked many of the witnesses: "What, if any, connection there is between the pornography and the sexual abuse that you suffered?"
Becker said that such testimony was "very heart-wrenching," but that "as a scientist, it's been very difficult for me to see a very clear cause-and-effect relationship" with pornography.
Edward Donnerstein, a University of Wisconsin communications professor whose research is often cited by opponents of pornography, said it is "impossible" to prove a link between pornography and sexual crimes. "The evidence just isn't that clear-cut," he said.
In a laboratory experiment, Donnerstein has found that male, college-age subjects were more likely to deliver minor electrical shocks to a woman after viewing such violent films as "The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre." He said that such films appear to change people's attitudes, but stresses there is no evidence that they actually influence behavior.
"My research is very badly misused by people," Donnerstein said. "The strongest reactions we get are from the popular slasher films, not the X-rated materials." He said it was absurd to suggest that "if you get rid of the material, you get rid of the problem."
Other researchers offered more definitive conclusions. Raymond D. Jarrard, a California instructor, told the panel "it is not an exaggeration to say that 'pornography kills.' "
Administration officials were equally critical. Deputy Attorney General D. Lowell Jensen said he hoped the panel would recommend ways to combat pornography without infringing on free speech. Assistant Attorney General Lois Herrington said there was evidence that states with the most subscribers to pornographic magazines had the highest number of sexual assaults.
Surgeon General C. Everett Koop called pornography "an accessory to the crime of child abuse."
"I believe we have enough evidence to implicate pornography as a serious contributing factor to certain disorders of human health and as a kind of accessory, if you will, to certain antisocial actions . . . ," Koop said. "We suspect that for men who are even slightly predisposed to such behavior, this material may provide the impetus that propels them from the unreal world of fantasy to the real world of overt action."
Koop also assured Hudson, whose panel is doing no original research, that he would have the Public Health Service study the issue and "feed material to you."
The ACLU's Lynn got a chillier reception when he testified that pornography is protected speech under the First Amendment. "You know there has been an awful lot of tragedy and personal injury connected with pornography, is there not?" Hudson asked him. " . . . You reject any notion that there is a causal link between pornography and violent sexual behavior?"
Hudson also questioned whether the ACLU's stance has been influenced by a recent grant from the Playboy Foundation.
Becker, Donnerstein and others asked why the commission has not heard from witnesses who believe they have benefited from the use of pornography. Asked about this in his Arlington office, Hudson said the panel has been unable to find any "alleged beneficiaries" of pornography.
"If you know of one, would you let us know?" he said.
Hudson, who once threatened to sue an Arlington cable television station for airing the Playboy channel, makes no apology for arresting people who sell sexually explicit magazines. "The people of Arlington County do not like those types of publications here," he said. "Anyone who's publishing that type of magazine . . . if it comes to our attention, I guarantee you -- they will be prosecuted."
Hudson also notes with pride that Reagan, at a 1983 White House ceremony, "did commend me for the fact that we have a family community here in Arlington where there are no adult bookstores and massage parlors."
Nevertheless, Hudson said, the commission recognizes that each local prosecutor must decide what his community regards as obscene. "Our mission is not to come up with a national plan of pornography control," he said.