News Violence

For South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, Rape and Violence Are Not Public Health Issues

Robin Marty

The Republican governor and potential vice presidential pick said funding rape and abuse prevention programs "distracts" the Department of Health from its real mission.

Good news! Apparently violent acts, rape, and other potential bodily abuses are no longer hazardous to your health. At least, that seems to be the opinion of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who just vetoed funding for programs to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault.

Via Think Progress:

Haley explained these vetoes in the Department of Health and Environmental Control budget by writing, “Each of these lines attempts to serve a portion of our population for which we extend our sympathy and encouragement, but nevertheless, it is only a small portion of South Carolina’s chronically ill or abused. Overall, these special add-on lines distract from the agency’s broader mission of protecting South Carolina’s public health.”

Think Progress notes that South Carolina’s rate of sexual violence has been higher than the national average for the last three decades. How much higher does it have to go for this governor to see it as a public health issue?

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Commentary Politics

No, Republicans, Porn Is Still Not a Public Health Crisis

Martha Kempner

The news of the last few weeks has been full of public health crises—gun violence, Zika virus, and the rise of syphilis, to name a few—and yet, on Monday, Republicans focused on the perceived dangers of pornography.

The news of the last few weeks has been full of public health crises—gun violence, the Zika virus, and the rise of syphilis, to name a few—and yet, on Monday, Republicans focused on the perceived dangers of pornography. Without much debate, a subcommittee of Republican delegates agreed to add to a draft of the party’s 2016 platform an amendment declaring pornography is endangering our children and destroying lives. As Rewire argued when Utah passed a resolution with similar language, pornography is neither dangerous nor a public health crisis.

According to CNN, the amendment to the platform reads:

The internet must not become a safe haven for predators. Pornography, with its harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the life [sic] of millions. We encourage states to continue to fight this public menace and pledge our commitment to children’s safety and well-being. We applaud the social networking sites that bar sex offenders from participation. We urge energetic prosecution of child pornography which [is] closely linked to human trafficking.

Mary Frances Forrester, a delegate from North Carolina, told Yahoo News in an interview that she had worked with conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America (CWA) on the amendment’s language. On its website, CWA explains that its mission is “to protect and promote Biblical values among all citizens—first through prayer, then education, and finally by influencing our society—thereby reversing the decline in moral values in our nation.”

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The amendment does not elaborate on the ways in which this internet monster is supposedly harmful to children. Forrester, however, told Yahoo News that she worries that pornography is addictive: “It’s such an insidious epidemic and there are no rules for our children. It seems … [young people] do not have the discernment and so they become addicted before they have the maturity to understand the consequences.”

“Biological” porn addiction was one of the 18 “points of fact” that were included in a Utah Senate resolution that was ultimately signed by Gov. Gary Herbert (R) in April. As Rewire explained when the resolution first passed out of committee in February, none of these “facts” are supported by scientific research.

The myth of porn addiction typically suggests that young people who view pornography and enjoy it will be hard-wired to need more and more pornography, in much the same way that a drug addict needs their next fix. The myth goes on to allege that porn addicts will not just need more porn but will need more explicit or violent porn in order to get off. This will prevent them from having healthy sexual relationships in real life, and might even lead them to become sexually violent as well.

This is a scary story, for sure, but it is not supported by research. Yes, porn does activate the same pleasure centers in the brain that are activated by, for example, cocaine or heroin. But as Nicole Prause, a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Rewire back in February, so does looking at pictures of “chocolate, cheese, or puppies playing.” Prause went on to explain: “Sex film viewing does not lead to loss of control, erectile dysfunction, enhanced cue (sex image) reactivity, or withdrawal.” Without these symptoms, she said, we can assume “sex films are not addicting.”

Though the GOP’s draft platform amendment is far less explicit about why porn is harmful than Utah’s resolution, the Republicans on the subcommittee clearly want to evoke fears of child pornography, sexual predators, and trafficking. It is as though they want us to believe that pornography on the internet is the exclusive domain of those wishing to molest or exploit our children.

Child pornography is certainly an issue, as are sexual predators and human trafficking. But conflating all those problems and treating all porn as if it worsens them across the board does nothing to solve them, and diverts attention from actual potential solutions.

David Ley, a clinical psychologist, told Rewire in a recent email that the majority of porn on the internet depicts adults. Equating all internet porn with child pornography and molestation is dangerous, Ley wrote, not just because it vilifies a perfectly healthy sexual behavior but because it takes focus away from the real dangers to children: “The modern dialogue about child porn is just a version of the stranger danger stories of men in trenchcoats in alleys—it tells kids to fear the unknown, the stranger, when in fact, 90 percent of sexual abuse of children occurs at hands of people known to the victim—relatives, wrestling coaches, teachers, pastors, and priests.” He added: “By blaming porn, they put the problem external, when in fact, it is something internal which we need to address.”

The Republican platform amendment, by using words like “public health crisis,” “public menace” “predators” and “destroying the life,” seems designed to make us afraid, but it does nothing to actually make us safer.

If Republicans were truly interested in making us safer and healthier, they could focus on real public health crises like the rise of STIs; the imminent threat of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea; the looming risk of the Zika virus; and, of course, the ever-present hazards of gun violence. But the GOP does not seem interested in solving real problems—it spearheaded the prohibition against research into gun violence that continues today, it has cut funding for the public health infrastructure to prevent and treat STIs, and it is working to cut Title X contraception funding despite the emergence of Zika, which can be sexually transmitted and causes birth defects that can only be prevented by preventing pregnancy.

This amendment is not about public health; it is about imposing conservative values on our sexual behavior, relationships, and gender expression. This is evident in other elements of the draft platform, which uphold that marriage is between a man and a women; ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its ruling affirming the right to same-sex marriage; declare dangerous the Obama administration’s rule that schools allow transgender students to use the bathroom and locker room of their gender identity; and support conversion therapy, a highly criticized practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation and has been deemed ineffective and harmful by the American Psychological Association.

Americans like porn. Happy, well-adjusted adults like porn. Republicans like porn. In 2015, there were 21.2 billion visits to the popular website PornHub. The site’s analytics suggest that visitors around the world spent a total of 4,392,486,580 hours watching the site’s adult entertainment. Remember, this is only one way that web users access internet porn—so it doesn’t capture all of the visits or hours spent on what may have trumped baseball as America’s favorite pastime.

As Rewire covered in February, porn is not a perfect art form for many reasons; it is not, however, an epidemic. And Concerned Women for America, Mary Frances Forrester, and the Republican subcommittee may not like how often Americans turn on their laptops and stick their hands down their pants, but that doesn’t make it a public health crisis.

Party platforms are often eclipsed by the rest of what happens at the convention, which will take place next week. Given the spectacle that a convention headlined by presumptive nominee (and seasoned reality television star) Donald Trump is bound to be, this amendment may not be discussed after next week. But that doesn’t mean that it is unimportant or will not have an effect on Republican lawmakers. Attempts to codify strict sexual mores are a dangerous part of our history—Anthony Comstock’s crusade against pornography ultimately extended to laws that made contraception illegal—that we cannot afford to repeat.

News Law and Policy

South Carolina GOP Launches Discriminatory ‘Bathroom Bill’ Attack

Teddy Wilson

“We have this more conservative legislature that really understands the power of using fear as a tactic to drive political wedges to further divide communities and further divide votes,” said Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. “This gives them an open door to move their agenda forward.”

The South Carolina legislature failed to pass a North Carolina-style anti-transgender bathroom discrimination law, but GOP legislators in the state introduced a bill this week targeting a school district that implemented a transgender-inclusive policy.

Republican lawmakers throughout the South have introduced legislation that targets the transgender community and attempts to limit transgender people’s access to bathrooms and other facilities.

Several of the proposals have used similar language to a North Carolina GOP-backed law passed in March. When a South Carolina lawmaker introduced a similar bill in April, it was met with fierce opposition.

State Sen. Lee Bright (R-Spartanburg) introduced S 1203, which would have prohibited local municipalities from creating “local laws, ordinances, orders, or other regulations” that would “allow a person to use a multiple occupancy bathroom or changing facility regardless of the person’s biological sex.”

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The measure would have prohibited government buildings and public schools from implementing a transgender-inclusive bathroom policy.

Bright said that he’s against “men who claim to be women” using the same restrooms as children, reported the Associated Press. “I don’t believe transgender people are pedophiles,” Bright said. “I think grown adult men would use this as protection to violate women in the restroom.”

Many of those who testified opposed the bill during a committee hearing.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said the bill was an attack on transgender people that could come with negative economic consequences, reported Reuters. “This bill is an undisguised attack on some of our most talented and most vulnerable citizens,” Benjamin said.

The anti-transgender bill died in committee.

Lawmakers on the committee said they didn’t “need to make the mistakes” made by North Carolina Republicans, and Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said the law wasn’t necessary

“When I look at South Carolina, we look at our situations, we’re not hearing of anybody’s religious liberties that are being violated, and we’re again not hearing any citizens that feel like they’re being violated in terms of freedoms,” Haley said, reported the Washington Post.

Despite the failure of Bright’s bill, lawmakers still seem intent on creating discriminatory bathroom policy.

S 1306, sponsored by Sen. Lawrence Grooms (R-Charleston) and Sen. Paul Campbell (R-Goose Creek), would prohibit “a person of one sex” from using the restrooms, locker rooms, showers or any other facility “designated for use by the opposite sex.”

The law would apply to Berkeley County school facilities, located in the Charleston metropolitan area. Berkeley County this spring became South Carolina’s first public school district to implement a case-by-case transgender-inclusive bathroom policy.

Grooms told the Associated Press that his bill is intended to require the Berkeley County School District (BCSD) to follow the same policies as other school districts in the state. “What I’ve done for the children of Berkeley County and their parents is to give them some degree of stability about what the policies will be,” Grooms said.

BCSD spokesperson Katie Orvin told the Post and Courier that the school district does not have a written policy addressing bathroom usage.

“BCSD implements current anti-discrimination policies under the guidance of the U.S. Department of Education and in accordance with Title IX,” Orvin said.

The Berkeley County School Board held the BCSD decision after a public hearing and a closed-door meeting with the district’s legal counsel.

Board Chair Jim Hayes read a statement after the hearing, saying the school district would “maintain and respect the privacy rights of all its students” while permitting transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

“School administrators will continue to manage requests made by, or on behalf of, transgender students in reference to the use of restroom facilities for the remainder of the 2015-2016 school year in hopes of receiving a clearly defined direction from the Courts prior to the start of the upcoming school year,” the statement said.

Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, a national grassroots organization, told Rewire that the legislative movement targeting transgender people is “rooted in fear.”

“We have this more conservative legislature that really understands the power of using fear as a tactic to drive political wedges to further divide communities and further divide votes,” Simpson said. “This gives them an open door to move their agenda forward.”

Simpson said that attempts to target the transgender community is part of a larger strategy of targeting marginalized people.

“How can we believe our legislators have our best interests at heart, if you are going to publicly and intentionally do something that is attacking the vulnerable of our society?” Simpson said.