Utah Senator Todd Weiler has introduced legislation that would designate pornography as a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of “individual and public health impacts and societal harms.”
The resolution proposes the need for education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level in order to address what it calls “the pornography epidemic” that is harming the citizens of Utah and the nation.
Weiler said Monday that new research shows pornography, like cigarettes or drugs, is addictive and harmful to society, and argued that the proposed legislation rests firmly on the most recent scientific findings on the subject.
“Everything in the resolution is supported by science and research. It’s not just a kooky thing that some politician from Mormon Utah came up with. It’s bigger than that,” Weiler said.
The resolution lists a full 18 deleterious effects resulting from pornography use, saying that it “perpetuates a sexually toxic environment” that is creating a public health crisis.
The measure contends that pornography is “contributing to the hypersexualization of teens” and even smaller children, who are exposed to hard core pornography “at an alarming rate” and at a very early age.
Among the effects of this phenomenon, the bill proposes, are “low self-esteem and body image disorders, an increase in problematic sexual activity at younger ages, and an increased desire among adolescents to engage in risky sexual behavior.”
Worse still, the resolution continues, pornography use “teaches girls they are to be used and teaches boys to be users” and “normalizes violence and abuse of women and children.”
The proposal is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Health and Human Service Committee on Friday. If passed, the nonbinding resolution would not create any new laws or regulations but proponents hope it would contribute to a change in public opinion.
Weiler has compared the public perception of porn to cigarette smoking in the early 20th century, when doctors and celebrities openly smoked and considered smoking as healthy. He said he hopes to shift the public opinion on adult entertainment the same way it changed regarding cigarettes.
Other Senate Republican leaders have said they support the resolution, while Democrat Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis said he hasn’t read the legislation but would question how pornography is defined.
Weiler, who has prior experience as a divorce lawyer, blames porn for wrecking marriages and destroying family values, saying that in his experience porn is frequently the issue that leads to splits.
The senator acknowledges that adults have the legal right to view pornography and is not pushing to ban it. Nonetheless, pretending that it doesn’t negatively impact families and culture is naive, he said.
Some of the blame for pornography’s negative effects on U.S. society falls on the shoulders of the U.S. Department of Justice, according to a pornography watchdog group, for its failure to enforce existing laws against pornography.
“The U.S. Department of Justice has abandoned its post in the fight for freedom from sexual exploitation and violence,” said Dawn Hawkins, Executive Director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation in a statement Monday.
“Despite being the primary federal criminal investigation and enforcement agency, the DOJ refuses to enforce existing federal obscenity laws against pornography even though these laws have been upheld by U.S. Courts and have been previously enforced,” she said, noting that federal law prohibits distribution of adult pornography on the Internet, on cable TV, on hotel TV, in retail shops, and through the mail.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome