Utah declares pornography a public health hazard

State says it is an epidemic that contributes to violence against women and children

LOS ANGELES • Utah has become the first US state to formally declare pornography a public health crisis in a move backed by Republicans aimed at shielding citizens from addictive sexual content.

"The problem is rampant, yet it thrives in secrecy and silence," said Mr Gary Herbert, the Republican governor of predominantly Mormon Utah, on Tuesday after signing the resolution which cites what it says are numerous detrimental effects of pornography.

"Today's Bills will start an open discussion, bringing its very real dangers to light."

The governor also enacted a law requiring computer technicians to report to law enforcement any child pornography found while working on a machine.

The resolution declares pornography an epidemic that normalises violence against women and children and makes men less likely to want to get married. It also calls on the state legislature to research the impact of pornography and invest in education and efforts to prevent its production and use, declaring pornography "a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms".

"We realise this is a bold assertion and there are some out there who will disagree with us. We're here to say it is, in fact, the full-fledged truth," Mr Herbert said during the signing ceremony in state capital Salt Lake City.

"We also want our young people to know that there's a particularly psychological and physiological detriment that comes from addiction to pornography."

Republican state senator Todd Weiler said there was a danger of a generation of children growing up with "despicable" pornographic images on their screens. "I think most people today know that if they start using something like heroin or meth, they know that they have a risk of becoming addicted to it, but some people don't know that about pornography," he said.

Experts say the move could open the door to other US states to follow suit.

The Free Speech Coalition, an industry association representing adult entertainment producers, called the "public health hazard" designation an "old-fashioned morals Bill" not grounded in science.

"We should live in a society where sexuality is spoken about openly and discussed in nuanced and educated ways, not stigmatised," coalition spokesman Mike Stable said.

A 2009 study by Harvard Business School professor Benjamin Edelman showed that Utah had the highest per-capita rate of online adult entertainment subscription purchases in the United States.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2016, with the headline 'Utah declares pornography a public health hazard'. Print Edition | Subscribe