House panel looks at possible health crisis: pornography

By: - March 17, 2020 3:16 pm

Michigan Advance photo

Updated, 4:31 p.m., 3/17/20

On Thursday, state Rep. Julie Calley (R-Portland) appeared before a House panel and asked members to declare pornography a public health crisis.

Calley presented House Concurrent Resolution 14, which she introduced in January, to the state House Committee on Health Policy, which spent time on that measure, as well as getting an update from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on the COVID-19 spread in Michigan. 

She said* that pornography is “poisoning our kids and breaking down interpersonal relationships.”

Rep. Julie Calley

The panel did not take action. If passed, copies of the resolution would be sent to Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and members of the Michigan congressional delegation.

Although the resolution does not particularly focus on children and pornography, Calley’s testimony focused heavily upon it. She said local law enforcement has reached out asking her to address the issue of children unintentionally stepping into the world of online pornography.

The first exposure, “tragically is often accidental” Calley said. Little kids don’t go looking for it, but they click on spam or a bad link and then they see it. 

“They get lured into a world where they don’t belong,” Calley said. “A tutorial on what should be relational is provided to them.”

There are people online waiting for children to stumble into these sites, Calley said. Pornography “breaks down and impacts the natural support within our families.”

A 2006 study of 804 Italian teens showed that girls aged 14 to 19 who watched pornography were more likely to not report sexual harassment or assault.

“We tell them to expect equality, but what they see online shows that they are simply objects, that consent doesn’t matter, that pain doesn’t matter,” Calley said.

Michigan Advance photo

A 2011 Swedish study of 18 year-old men shows men who were frequent users of pornography were significantly more likely to have bought and sold sex, Calley said in her testimony. In Sweden, being a prostitute is legal. But since 1999, paying a prostitute for sex is illegal.

The committee read two cards of support for the resolution, Rebecca Mastee, the policy advocate for the Michigan Catholic Conference, and Dan Jarvis, director of research and public policy for the conservative Michigan Family Forum. Neither wished to speak that day.

State Sen. Curtis Hertel tweeted the day of the committee meeting, as it seemed all efforts in the Capitol were pointed towards combating COVID-19, “The Michigan House Health Policy Committee  is having a hearing on whether pornography is a public health crisis…. what are they watching instead of the news?”

State Rep. Lori Stone (D-Warren) asked if Calley had recommendations to add the issue of pornography to sex education in schools. Calley said Erin’s Law could cover it. 

Sex education is not legally required by schools in Michigan, including Erin’s law, which allows schools to provide resources and counseling for children affected by sexual abuse. 

Calley said she didn’t think to teach her own kids about sexual assault, because she was not a child victim. She doesn’t think Erin’s law is really taught in other homes.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily being taught or not being taught as a lack of concern,” Calley said. “I think in some cases, it’s a lack of awareness.”

Rep. LaTanya Garrett

State Rep. LaTanya Garrett (D-Detroit) noted that the resolution does not say what the definition of a public health crisis is. She said that more than 3,000 studies show Americans are dying from gun violence, making gun violence a public health crisis.

Committee Chair Hank Vaupel (R-Handy Twp.) shut Garrett down, asking her to stay on topic. So Garrett simply said, “Public health crisis, please define.”

Calley did not, saying at the state-level incremental progress needs to be made and it’s important that the topic of pornography is being raised.

Committee Minority Vice Chair Frank Liberati (D-Allen Park) added that violent movies and video games have similar impacts on child development as pornography. He said pornography could be called a health crisis, but it’s part of the larger escalation of violence. However, he posed the question of adult viewers to Calley.

“Do you feel that there’s any place for any type of pornography in a monogamous marriage or for couples’ healthy sex life? Liberati asked. “Is that possible — I mean, do you see that as maybe — or is it just all?”

Calley replied that the focus of the resolution is on the harmful impacts of pornography on adolescents. 

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Anna Liz Nichols
Anna Liz Nichols

Anna Liz Nichols covers government and statewide issues, including criminal justice, environmental issues, education and domestic and sexual violence. Anna is a former state government reporter for The Associated Press and most recently was a reporter for the Detroit News. Anna is a graduate of Michigan State University.