So pornography is only a harmless vice, is it?

Just try telling that familiar alibi to the families and friends of the dozens of young women whom serial killer Ted Bundy ravished and killed.Or try telling it to Dr. James Dobson, a national expert on the effects of pornography who interviewed Bundy at Bundy's request just before the former Utahn went to his execution early Tuesday in Florida's electric chair.

In that interview, Bundy acknowledged that as a youngster he became addicted to pornography. The addiction escalated to hard-core material involving violence. Eventually, Bundy started acting out his fantasies.

The result: More than 30 murders in nine states, including eight killings in Utah.

Does the connection between pornography and sex crimes that was exposed by the Bundy case really surprise anyone? It shouldn't. Just as uplifting literature really uplifts the human spirit, it stands to reason that material as filthy as pornography actually debases its users.

But some people refuse to accept that point. People like those who insist on equating pornography with freedom of speech. People who keep closing their eyes to the mounting evidence of the link between pornography and sex crimes.

As a case in point, take another sad story with which Utahns are highly familiar - the story of child killer Arthur Gary Bishop. Before he was executed, Bishop acknowledged that if pornography had not been available to him as a young man, he likely would have avoided his sex and murder spree that resulted in the deaths of five boys.

Think the Bundy and Bishop cases are only isolated episodes that don't prove anything?

Then consider the 1980 report from Charles H. Keating, a member of the former U.S. Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, that 77 percent of molesters of boys and 87 percent of molesters of girls admitted trying out, or imitating, the sexual behavior modeled by pornography.

Consider the commission's finding that in one group of rapists, 57 percent indicated they had tried out the sexual behavior they had seen depicted by pornography.

Or consider the 1985 report from the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation headquartered in Washington, which concluded:

- Pornography destabilizes marriages by decreasing sexual satisfaction and contributing to an overall decline in belief in the viability of marriage.

- Pornography is desensitizing - meaning that it affects normal people whether they know it or not.

- Pornography is addictive. "Like the drug addict, a person addicted to pornography needs greater quantities of more intense material to maintain the level of gratification he needs."

- Pornography is the literature of the sex offender.

Against this background, the Bundy case should at least make it harder to dismiss the campaign against pornography as just an exercise in overzealous prudery.

Until that campaign is heeded, pornography will keep eating away at America's individual and collective character just as dripping water eventually dissolves a stone. That means that unless pornography is stemmed, eventually it will produce more Ted Bundys and more Arthur Gary Bishops.