Utah Governor to Sign Anti-Porn Law Today

Porn "normalizes violence and abuse of women and children," says resolution.

By Dustin Siggins Published on April 19, 2016

Utah is poised to become the first state to formally recognize what many marriage counselors and pro-family groups say are the harms of pornography.

Governor Gary Herbert is expected to sign both a resolution today acknowledging the addictive harms of pornography and a law upgrading his state’s child pornography laws. While the resolution has no legal effects, a spokesperson for Herbert told CNN that “we want Utah youths to understand the addictive habits” of pornography that the spokesperson said are “harmful to our society.”

The Utah resolution references many of the common concerns held by marriage counselors, anti-porn advocates, women’s groups, and family groups before concluding that “pornography is a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms.”

“Be it further resolved,” says the resolution, “that the Legislature and the Governor recognize the need for education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level in order to address the pornography epidemic that is harming the people of our state and nation.”

The law requires the reporting of child pornography to law enforcement by what it calls “computer technicians” while partaking in their employment. A “willful failure to report” would result in a Class B misdemeanor. The law will also note that Internet companies will not be held accountable for child pornography if they report it to law enforcement “in compliance with specified federal law.”

Herbert won’t be alone at the signing today, which is expected to take place shortly after a press conference at 10:00 Mountain Time. He will be joined by the sponsors of the resolution and the law, as well as several prominent anti-pornography advocates.

Is pornography “a public health hazard”?

Pornography has been linked to many marital problems, especially divorce. According to the Family Research Council’s Dr. Pat Fagan, “The emotional distance fostered by pornography… can often be just as damaging to the relationship as real-life infidelity, and both men and women tend to put online sexual activity in the same category as having an affair.”

A link has also been made between pornography — which many researchers say often includes violence against women — and sex trafficking. Feminist professor Dr. Gail Dines says that “the biggest sex educator of young men today is pornography, which is increasingly violent and dehumanizing, and it changes the way men view women.”

Dines’ perspective is shared by the non-profit Fight The New Drug (FTND), whose CEO, Clay Olsen, will join Herbert as he signs the law today. Looking at dozens of studies, Olsen’s group found that “men who go to prostitutes are twice as likely to have watched a porn film in the last year compared to the general population.”

FTND’s research also found that “when these customers show up, many come ready with porn images in hand to show the women they’re exploiting — many of which are human trafficking victims controlled by pimps — what they’ll be forced to do.” And a 2007 study cited by FTND showed that 49% of trafficked women “said that porn had been made of them while they were in prostitution, and 47% said they had been harmed by men who had either forced or tried to force their victims to do things the men had seen in porn.”

Pornography was the focus of a Capitol Hill conference sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-IA, last year. The conference presented academic research on how pornography affects the way boys view girls, the way porn viewers address relationships and the potential for sexual addiction.

Many children first see pornography before becoming teenagers, with one British study finding 12 percent of children aged 12 to 13 have made a sexually explicit video. Childhood viewing of pornography can often lead to addiction and other problems in adulthood, according to the president of Family Watch International. The group produced the film “The Porn Pandemic” in 2014.

Famed psychologist Philip Zimbardo wrote in his 2015 book Man (Dis)Connected that a study of 20,000 young men found problems with addiction to pornography and video games.

In an interview with BBC last May, Zimbardo said that while he watches pornography, such activities have become the center of socially isolated lives for boys. He said that while boys get “psychologically excited” by pornography and video games, boys are also less aroused — and face obesity, Type II Diabetes, and erectile dysfunction.

Some say concerns are overstated

The negative views of pornography are not universally held outside the billions-dollar porn industry. Some believe pornography has beneficial effects for viewers, such as X-rated sex columnist and LGBT activist Dan Savage. According to CNN, Savage and a Denmark professor believe sex education should include pornography, and Savage claims there are benefits for married couples in order to prevent spousal cheating.

A nationally recognized sex counselor and licensed psychotherapist also told CNN that kids “need to learn how to swim in a world of porn, because it’s not going anywhere.”

The libertarian website and magazine Reason has published numerous pieces disputing porn as harmful. In a piece responding to the Capitol Hill briefing sponsored by Grassley and hosted by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) — whose Executive Director will be at the press conference and bill signing with Herbert — associate editor Elizabeth Brown cited several studies she say proves some of the alleged harms of porn to be overstated, if not outright false in some cases.

Research against porn “overwhelming,” says advocate

Despite the critics, NCOSE Executive Director Dawne Hawkins today praised Utah for being “on the cutting edge of addressing the public health crisis of pornography.”

“The harms of pornography are becoming clear in light of overwhelming scientific and social research — research which demonstrates that resolutions like the one in Utah are vital for the sexual health of future generations,” Hawkins said in a statement first provided to The Stream. “For instance, research shows that pornography use is linked to, higher incidence of STIs, increased verbal and physical sexual aggression, acceptance of rape myths, decreased brain matter, risky sexual behaviors among adolescents, reduced impulse control and decision making, and increased sexual dysfunction.”

“I believe pornography today will follow the trend of the tobacco industry in public perception,” Hawkins continued. “Pornography today is pervasive and popular, similar to smoking in the 1950s, but as the harms become apparent, both the general public and elected officials will demand that a multi-disciplinary public health approach be implemented across the country to address it.”

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