Sunday, April 30, 2017

Is porn a public health issue?

Several states have passed resolutions proclaiming pornography a public health crisis. Adult porn, not child. 
The Arkansas General Assembly has declared that "pornography has created a public health crisis," leading to a broad "spectrum" of public health "impacts and societal harms." The Assembly also stated that pornography can increase "the demand for prostitution and the sex trafficking and slavery of children and young adults, primarily girls." 
The Resolution, HR 1042, is an official recognition by the Arkansas government. It is not a law. It reflects the official view of the legislature and a copy of the Resolution is sent to the director of the Department of Health in Arkansas. Similar resolutuions [sic] have passed in South Dakota, Utah, and Virginia, and in the State Senate in Tennessee. The Arkansas resolution passed the Assembly on March 28. 
It's only an official isn't a law, but how does government respond to a public health crisis?

One idea is a porn tax. David Oliver writes in US News and World Report:
It's called the Human Trafficking Prevention Act and it proposes a tax on porn – and lawmakers from approximately a dozen states are mulling it over. 
If passed, consumers would have to pay a single $20 tax to access pornography on any new computer or phone. States like South Carolina, Georgia and Texas are looking into variants of the bill, while North Dakota and Wyoming, for instance, have squashed it.
Advocates contend porn is a public health issue. In their minds, taxing it could help curb sex trafficking, for example. According to the act's website,"The temptation to hire a prostitute to deal with one’s emotional challenges will be reduced tremendously by this act."
Porn causes plenty of trouble, no doubt, but not for everyone. Vices are not universally addictive.

What would a porn tax do? Elizabeth Nolan Brown at explains:
A cabal of legislative cheerleaders from Alabama to Wyoming has embraced the idea that we should require manufacturers of computers, tablets, iphones, smart TVs, and the like to equip devices with the anti-porn filters and require consumers to pay to remove the filters from their devices. South Carolina state Rep. Mike Burns, who co-sponsored one bill in his state, told the Beast that they "do not want more taxes. Period. But we are trying to make a statement, and $20 ain't gonna kill anybody." 
But of course it's not only monetary costs to consumers that are are a concern. The porn-filter proposal would also impose costs on product makers, and even steeper costs on U.S. civil liberties. "The way it's written, it would cover your router. It would cover your modem," said Electronic Frontier Foundation researcher Dave Maass. "Plus, now Best Buy is sitting on a database of people who wanted their porn filters removed." 
And then there's question of how the filters would decide what is and isn't porn—content filters designed to catch explicit content have historically been harsh on all sorts of sexuality-related content, from educational websites to news to art. 
Conservative lawmakers seem to support anti-porn proposals like this one because they please certain segments of their electoral base, give people easy fodder against lawmakers who vote in opposition (how does it look at a glance to be against the Human Trafficking Prevention Act?), and aren't generally a political dealbreaker for those who oppose the plans. The porn-filter laws might irk some or seem silly, but like Rep. Burns said, "$20 ain't gonna kill anybody." 
This justification might make sense if the idea was simply a tax on porn consumers. But the porn-filter bill is explicitly packaged as a response to porn being a "public health hazard" and "cancer on society" that "perpetuates a sexually toxic environment" in America, normalizes violence against women and children, "portrays rape and abuse as if such acts are harmless," promotes "problematic or harmful sexual behaviors," and "increases the demand for sex trafficking, prostitution, child sexual abuse images, and child pornography." 
If Republican lawmakers really believe that online pornography is a public health crisis that directly contributes to human trafficking, isn't $20 to access an unlimited quantity of it a bit low? Why shouldn't such a scourge just be banned entirely? [My emphasis.]
 Pornography is a target -- a target for tax opportunities, a target for public outrage.

A "simple" tax on access to porn might not kill anybody but what comes next? When legislators identify an issue that generates public outrage, legislation follows. The porn tax will not eliminate pornography so something else will be suggested. How far will the outraged public let legislators go?

When sex offender registries began, who would have predicted that public urination would land someone on the registry for life and who would have predicted that nine-year-olds would be listed? This is what happens when an issue is so toxic that legislators dare not vote against legislation that promises to save the world from the scourge of the day.

How long before there is legislation that creates new felony offenses related to pornography?

The US already has 2.2 million people incarcerated in overcrowded prisons. Do we really want more behind bars?

When lawmakers pass bills making something illegal, even something that we really, really don't want to be available, we have to accept that someone will be punished and families will suffer.

When something is made illegal and yet is still in demand, that product goes underground.

Underground is where there are no rules.