Adult magazines are displayed in a special, partially blocked-off area of a store at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. (Courtesy of Morality in Media)
An anti-pornography group is urging Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to remove all adult materials from the military exchanges and prohibit electronic access to pornography on installations.
Morality in Media contends that the sale of explicit materials in the exchanges contributes to the problem of sexual assault in the military and says the Pentagon isn’t following the letter of a law intended to prohibit the sale of sexually explicit material on Defense Department property.
“The Pentagon has refused to fully implement the Military Honor and Decency Act, freely allowing the sale of such publications as Playboy, Penthouse, Nude and other magazines that dominantly depict nudity in a lascivious way,” states the June 3 letter, signed by Patrick Trueman, president of the group, and Dawn Hawkins, its executive director. “Now our military is reaping what it has sown, the sexual exploitation and assault of thousands in uniform, particularly women, each year.”
As of June 13, Hagel had not responded, Hawkins said.
Morality in Media began tracking complaints related to the military community last year, Hawkins said. The group has received about 350 complaints so far, mostly from troops struggling with pornography addiction or the wives of those troops, she said.
Most complaints relate to troops accessing pornography on computers at military camps in Afghanistan.
“That’s not a good environment,” Hawkins said.
Whether on a government computer or in an area such as an on-base Internet café, filters should be applied to prevent people from using pornography sites — and troops who get around these filters should be punished, she said.
Such rules could be problematic, said Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center, a nonpartisan institute. Most pornography is not illegal in the U.S. under the First Amendment, unless it involves children.
“How do you monitor everyone’s Internet use?” he said, noting the recent controversy around the National Security Agency’s practice of collecting telephone records and keeping tabs on Internet activity.
“These proposals would have steep hurdles in getting approved, and there would be additional challenges in actually applying them,” he said. “I’d hate to think somebody in military housing could face charges because somebody’s son or daughter snuck a look at HBO.”
The Defense Department declined to discuss the anti-porn group’s letter and would not comment beyond referring to the Military Honor and Decency Act of 1996, which bars the sale or rental of sexually explicit material on DoD property, including all exchange facilities and ships’ stores, and commissaries.
The law defines sexually explicit material as an audio recording, film, video or periodical, “the dominant theme of which depicts or describes nudity, including sexual or excretory activities or organs, in a lascivious way.”
The former publishers of Penthouse contested the law in 1996 on the grounds of violation of First Amendment rights, but the Supreme Court upheld the law.
DoD established a Resale Activities Board of Review to review materials under the law in 1998. In the first 10 years, the board reviewed about 473 titles and determined that 319 were sexually explicit and could not be sold on base.
By press time, defense officials could not provide information on how many titles have been reviewed in the last 15 years and how many are approved for sale in exchanges.
Hawkins said she found 12 such magazines at the Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, exchange when she visited May 30, including Penthouse, Playboy, Smooth Girl, Black Men and Maxim.
Army and Air Force Exchange Service spokesman Judd Anstey said the law and other factors, such as the availability of online pornography, have reduced overall sales by 86 percent in AAFES facilities since the law was enacted in 1996. AAFES’s specific sales records, which go back 25 months, show the stores sold 146,976 adult magazines from May 15, 2012, to June 14, 2013, compared with 211,965 over roughly the same period a year earlier. The top titles were American Curves, Penthouse, Tattoo, Skin & Ink and Playboy.
Hawkins said DoD needs to narrow its definition of “sexually explicit” under the law. “There is no place for pornography in the military. We shouldn’t be in the business of selling and making a profit from pornography.”