Pornography problems at work harm companies, coworkers

Published: Thursday, Aug. 30 2012 10:00 p.m. MDT

While such a connection provides a greater ability to stay in touch with friends and family, make purchases, conduct business, listen to music, navigate new neighborhoods, play games, etc., it also increases the potential for problems.

In the TIME poll, 76 percent of 25- to 29-year-olds across the globe had flirted via text, and 36 percent had arranged an affair by texting. While only 8 percent of Americans had used phones to coordinate affairs, 56 percent of respondents in China had.

New York marriage and family therapist Sharon Gilchrest O'Neill has one client who was caught looking at pornography and finally admitted his obsession: every day for years, he'd gone into the bathroom at work and pulled up X-rated images on his smartphone.

"The amount of technology we have access to every hour of the day between our phones and computers — phones that you can bring in a bathroom? It's crazy," she said. "Our society is going to have to take a good hard look at it, because it's becoming quite a big issue."

A big issue, yes. A new issue? No. The difference is just in how people find it, said Robert Weiss, founder of the Sexual Recovery Institute and Director of Sexual Disorders Services for Elements Behavioral Health, a network of addiction recovery and treatment centers.

"Back in the day (people) had to get dressed, go in the car to the icky place under the bridge to buy a magazine, and it smelled bad," Weiss said. "That was the 80s. There were a lot of inhibitors through the process. But now there aren't any inhibitors to finding sexual content … or partners."

Breaking the silence

After Bill talked with his supervisor and successfully completed his probation period, his questionable Internet activity didn't come up again. It was an awkward talk to begin with and in future annual reviews, he was simply given a positive rating in the "uses computer appropriately" category.

"It's kind of like white collar crime," Bill said of pornography use at work. "It's kind of embarrassing, which is part of the problem, because it can keep flourishing if there's a lot of secrecy."

Many companies write about "inappropriate Internet use" in their hiring policies or human resource guide, but many of them are quiet about the work they do policing their systems, if they police at all.

Terri Rieber, national channel sales manager for Pearl Software, which sells Internet blocking programs, says the majority of her clients don't allow her to use their names for referrals, perhaps embarrassed that they need to monitor their employees in the first place.

"They don't want to let anybody know they're A. using a software, and B. using my software," she said. "Maybe the thinking (is) if you put a software in place like this, that you have a problem with your employees — as in you don't know what they're doing or who you're hiring."

And often companies don't know, especially if the work environment promotes closed office doors and little colleague interaction, or if it's a male-dominated office. Because while pornography can snag women, "this problem among men is considerable and growing," said Quentin Schultze, a professor of communication arts and sciences at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and author of "Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age." "It seems that society really doesn't want to address it."

Yet companies and even the US government are being forced to address it, first because of the security concerns it presents.

In 2010, the Boston Globe broke the story that senior staff at the Pentagon were using work computers to view child pornography. In April, a dozen Secret Service agents were accused of hiring prostitutes while in Colombia preparing for President Barack Obama, who was to attend an economic summit there. Investigation into the Colombia event brought up prior federal employee misdeeds, including allegations of leaked sensitive information, sexual assault and published pornography.

More recently, Pentagon Missile Defense Agency executive director John James Jr. had to remind employees and contractors not to look at X-rated sites at work.

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