SALT LAKE CITY — Utah became the first state in the country to declare pornography a public health crisis, and called on the industry and businesses Tuesday to help keep "evil, degrading, addictive" materials away from children.
Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution the state Legislature unanimously passed earlier this year calling for education, prevention, research and policy changes to address the pornography "epidemic."
"We realize this is a bold assertion," the governor said, acknowledging some would disagree that it has become a health crisis. "It is, in fact, the full-fledged truth."
Herbert also signed a bill requiring computer technicians to report to authorities finding child pornography in the course of their work.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said his resolution doesn't ban anything or infringe on freedom of speech.
Weiler, who says he was "mocked and scorned" in some major publications for raising the issue, said he wants to safeguard children from exposure to sexually explicit images.
He said he's not advocating any new laws but is asking businesses and government agencies "to do the right thing."
"We have restaurants, fast-food restaurants, some of which cater to children, who are providing free and unfiltered Wi-Fi as well as public libraries," Weiler said. "If a library or McDonald's or anyone else was giving out cigarettes to our children we would be picketing them."
The senator said state and federal leaders need to encourage internet service providers to make default settings porn free and make people opt in to pornography.
Weiler also called on the multibillion dollar pornography industry to "help us protect children from your evil, degrading, addictive harmful substances. If adults want to do that, that's their choice."
In 2013, the Legislature passed a Weiler resolution saying soft-core or "gateway" pornography hurts brain development in young people.
Several researchers and anti-pornography advocates joined Herbert for the ceremonial bill signings.
Clay Olsen, co-founder of Fight the New Drug, called it a "historic" moment for Utah and a step in the right direction.
"This is a challenge young people are dealing with at a level we have never seen," said Olsen, wearing a "Porn Kills Love" T-shirt.
BYU family life professor Brian Willoughby said he believes there's now enough research to suggest pornography is a significant health crisis. Numerous studies, he said, connect pornography use to lower mental health outcomes and relationship well-being and detrimental expectations about sex.
Still, he said more research is needed on the short-term and long-term effects of pornography.
"We're far from being able to make definitive causal statements about what pornography does and how it influences everyone who views it. However, the circumstantial research evidence that we do have all point to and suggest pornography is not harmless," Willoughby said.
He said he hopes the resolution will start an open and frank conversation about the role pornography plays in the socialization of young people.
Dawn Hawkins, executive director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation in Washington, D.C., called the bill signing a watershed moment in protecting dignity and a turning of the tide against pornography.
"Pornography with its raw, debasing, violent and hate-filled scenes are the sex education for our children," she said.
As a result, Hawkins said, sexual assault on college campuses, revenge porn, child-on-child sexual abuse and children creating pornography for adults is on the rise.
Pamela Atkinson, chairwoman of the Utah Coalition Against Pornography, said pornographers are "always one step ahead of us. If we want to protect our children, we have to do something now."
Email: [email protected]