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In our opinion: Fighting against pornography

Published: Thursday, July 2 2015 5:38 p.m. MDT

 (Shutterstock) (Shutterstock)

The Broken Windows theory, developed more than 30 years ago, holds that police can stop higher levels of crime by giving more attention to the smaller crimes, such as breaking windows. By emphasizing law and order and a different level of community expectations, crime rates overall can be lowered.

A lot of police and social scientists support this theory today because it was applied with success in New York City and other places where once-soaring crimes rates have declined.

There is no reason the same sort of idea should not be applied with regard to pornography.

To those who understand the harmful effects of pornography — on those who create the images as well as those who consume them — the situation today can seem hopeless, much the same as the situation in a crime-ridden neighborhood. About 40 million Americans visit a pornographic website at least once a month, and a pervasive attitude of indifference seems to be sweeping the land as many people view it as a harmless and private concern.

And yet, if the Justice Department, state attorneys general and local district attorneys would take the enforcement of obscenity laws more seriously — in effect prosecuting even broken window-like offenses, attitudes and behaviors could change. Pornography is not a harmless crime, and its effects on behavior and relationships have huge implications for the nation's future.

Beginning today, the Deseret News is publishing a four-part series on this issue. The series brings to light the addictive, brain-altering effects of persistent interaction with pornographic material, its devastating effects on relationships, and the way it changes assumptions and expectations, particularly among male users, of what is expected in an intimate relationship. The series examines how researchers are connecting the viewing of pornography to the production of dopamine in the brain, which in turn can produce a learning-related protein called DeltaFosB. This alters the brain's reward system and creates addictive behavior.

Over time, people engaging in such behavior may experience increased sexual aggression and view their partners as mere objects for their own pleasure. While incidents of rape or other sexual assaults may not be on the rise, researchers believe females are increasingly being pressured to engage in acts that model what their partners have viewed through pornography.

The series also examines the industry itself and how it mistreats those who agree to be filmed.

Despite what many may believe, even adult pornography can be prosecuted under obscenity laws. A 1973 Supreme Court decision set up a three-pronged test that remains in effect today. A jury must determine an average person would find that the work appeals to a morbid preoccupation with sex, as viewed in relation to community standards; the material must display sexual behavior in a patently offensive way as defined by state law; and the material must be found to have no literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

Significantly, how popular the material is has little bearing on this standard. Tolerance, as a Virginia prosecutor is quoted as saying in the series, is not synonymous with decency, it is a word that "embodies the permissible deviations from standards."

More than 20 years ago, during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush presidencies, the Department of Justice set the tone on the federal level, prosecuting adult obscenity without hesitation. As a result, hard-core pornography took a step back. Producers worried how far they could go. The possibility of jail time took precedence over the desire to make money. The broken windows theory was working.

Now, the Department of Justice hasn't filed a single adult obscenity case since 2010. That is appalling.

The nation seems to have a near consensus against child pornography. Yet it defies logic that all destructive effects of that insidious crime magically disappear when the subjects involved turn 18.

For the sake of innocent victims and a nation losing touch with the value of committed relationships, marriage and families, it's time to turn prosecution efforts toward ending adult pornography at all levels.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company