5 Top Questions About Community Action

1. Is pornography protected by the First Amendment?

The First Amendment does not protect obscene pornography or child pornography. When the First Amendment was adopted, obscenity was determined to be “outside the protection intended for speech and press.”

Obscenity depicts or describes clearly offensive hard core sexual conduct. Obscene material is determined in state and federal courts by the Miller test, as established by Miller v. California 413 U.S. 15 (1973). It defines obscenity by these criteria: (1) whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interest (2) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and (3) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Material that is indecent can be regulated as to the time, place, and manner of its availability. For example, the FCC restricts indecent material from being broadcast during times of the day when it is likely that children may be in the audience. Programming containing clearly offensive sexual or excretory material is indecent and can be regulated even though it does not fit the definition of obscenity.

2. If obscene pornography is illegal, why is it so widely available?

Although obscenity laws prohibit distribution of hard core, obscene pornography on the Internet; on cable, satellite, and hotel TV; and in sexually oriented businesses and other retail shops, these laws are not being enforced.

In 2011, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and 41 Senators called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to actively enforce federal obscenity laws against hard core pornography distributors. However, in early 2011, Attorney General Holder closed the Department of Justice Obscenity Prosecution Task Force (OPTF).

Government prosecutors have only tried two adult obscenity cases since 2009. The result of this deliberate non-prosecution policy is that the adult pornography industry has been given virtual free rein to distribute illegal obscenity.

National and local governments are failing to enforce obscenity laws even though the majority of Americans feel that viewing pornography is not morally acceptable and want the laws enforced. 75% of adult Americans said they would support the next President in doing all within constitutional power to ensure that federal obscenity laws are enforced vigorously (Morality in Media and Harris Interactive, April 2008).

3. When I encounter indecent media, should I ignore it or speak up about it?

There are important reasons to speak up about sexual media in all its forms.

Media has become blatantly sexualized because so many people who care have remained silent. The majority of Americans believe pornography is morally wrong, yet silence has allowed obscene pornography to flood the Internet. Silence implies consent. Content will get progressively worse if do not take a stand. We cannot simply blame society – we are society.

Silence has legal effects. Community standards are determined in court by what the community allows. Lax standards set legal precedent for juries and judges in obscenity cases and permit distribution of increasingly degrading content.

Even though laws are in place, law enforcement typically does not proactively search for breaches of obscenity and indecency laws. Illegal material will not be prosecuted unless the public reports and insists on it.

Material does not have to be illegal for you to voice your opinion. Businesses can decide to provide material in a time, place, and manner that meets with the community’s approval – it is in their best interest.

Adults are responsible to protect children and create healthy, respectful community environments, including online. Children can be harmed by exposure to pornography. Sexualized advertising and entertainment is sometimes called gateway pornography that can create a developmentally inappropriate desire to search for pornography.

There are many examples of the public taking action when lines of decency are crossed. You are not alone – many people do care about these issues. Join the national PornHarms Action Center. When we turn away from offensive media, we are doing a good thing to protect ourselves. When we speak up, we are doing something even better – protecting, encouraging, and enlightening others.

4. How do I report indecent or obscene material or activities in Utah?

The Utah Attorney General is responsible for enforcement of Federal laws, which apply in all states. District Attorneys in each county enforce Utah State Obscenity Laws. City attorneys enforce city laws, which you may find on city websites, or contact your city attorney’s office. State and local police make arrests.

The Law

It is legal to possess hard-core pornography/obscenity for your own use in your home.

It is illegal to sell or show hard-core pornography to others, possess child pornography, or show or give harmful material to a minor.

If you see obscene pornography being distributed, report it to your local police department and city attorney immediately. Tell them you want the distributor prosecuted if there is probable cause to file charges, and ask them to let you know what their decision is after their investigation.

Radio and TV: Report obscene, indecent or profane broadcasting to the FCC

Billboards: Report indecent billboards

Protecting Children

The Utah Attorney General oversees The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC), which investigates and prosecutes individuals who use the Internet to exploit children. Local Sheriff’s Offices and Police Departments assist in investigating these crimes:

  • Sexual Exploitation of a Minor (possessing, distributing and producing child pornography)
  • Enticing a Minor over the Internet (with the intent of committing sexual acts to the child)
  • Dealing in Material Harmful to a Minor (sending pornography to a minor and/or sexting)

ICAC Tip Line: 801.281.1211              ICAC Email: utahicac@utah.gov

Also report child pornography and sexual abuse to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children CybertipLine.


5. How can I approach a business who is displaying or distributing indecent material?

Businesses do care about public opinion. Their existence depends on public support. If enough people voice their concerns about an issue and refuse patronize a business, it is in their best interest to make changes. They may not admit it to you, but they are listening.

You will be most effective when you approach businesses with respect and appreciation for the good things they contribute to the community, help them understand your concerns, and are clear about the action you would like them to take.

Gather your social networks to speak up. The more people that express their disapproval, the more powerful the impact will be.

You can meet with owners in person, make phone calls, send emails, organize petitions, hold community meetings, use social media, or involve local media channels.

Women for Decency created the SPEAK model to help citizens communicate with businesses on decency issues.

  • Sincerely Compliment
  • State the Problem
  • Educate on the Issue
  • Request Action
  • Give Kudos for Considering your Request

Silence on indecent public displays implies approval. Let businesses know that your community wants a safe, respectful environment for children and citizens.