The Kansas Senate passed a resolution this week declaring pornography a public health crisis that promotes violence against women and sexually deviant children, among other societal harms.
But Senate Resolution 1762, sponsored in part by Republican Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, uses fake science to draw misleading and false conclusions about porn. Much of the language is ripped right out of a similar resolution passed by Utah last year ― one that was debunked by the very scientists it references.
Resolutions are little more than declarations and have no immediate bearing on the law, but they aim to guide state spending. Given that Kansas’ House and Senate now blame pornography for some of the state’s worst societal problems, Democrats are worried that the legislature is fighting the wrong enemy and turning its back on real health issues.
“The creation of a hazard where one does not exist could funnel precious funding toward what is indeed not a health crisis, when we really need those dollars for true health crises,” said Sen. David Haley (D), one of four who voted against the measure.
Indeed, both states have real public crises to focus on. Utah ranks among the worst states in child sex abuse, per-student education spending, and clean air. Kansas, meanwhile, is the nation’s top hotbed for the flu, and separately, hasn’t exactly shown itself to be a champion of its children.
A Kansas City Star investigation last year revealed that the state Department of Children and Families has been hiding cases of child abuse from public review and telling its workers to “shred notes taken in meetings where a child death or injury was discussed.” While the state hasn’t proven that pornography is hurting its children, secrecy at the state level is literally “killing” them, the DCF’s former deputy director told the Star.
The recently passed resolution makes some bold claims:
WHEREAS, Pornography is creating a public health crisis and perpetuates a sexually toxic environment
WHEREAS, Pornography use is linked to lessened desire in young men and women to marry, dissatisfaction in marriage and infidelity, which has a detrimental effect on the family unit
WHEREAS, Exposure to pornography often serves as a child’s and a teen’s sex education and shapes their sexual understanding, because pornography treats women and children as objects and commodities for the viewer’s use
Moreover, pornography equates violence towards women and children with sex, and equates pain with pleasure, which increases child sexual abuse and child pornography and the demand for sex trafficking and prostitution
It’s easy to make claims like these when the scientific studies you lean on aren’t studies at all.
For example, a “2016 Barna Group study” referenced in the measure as evidence of childhood pornography consumption is actually a series of online surveys funded by the evangelical Christian church. It is objectively “not science,” said Dr. Nicole Prause, a sexual psychophysiologist who has more than a decade of research in addiction, sexual desire, erectile dysfunction and sexual problems.
The Utah Senate attributed its measure to a report by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE), a known anti-porn group, claiming that pornography leads to adolescents viewing women as sex objects, supports violence against women and promotes unprotected, dangerous sex. But the NCSE got its own damning evidence from a review of literature ― not a peer-reviewed study ― that clearly states it “failed to indicate conclusive results” and found no causal relationship between porn and problems like those mentioned.
The resolution also draws heavily ― sometimes word-for-word ― from a similar Utah resolution that a HuffPost investigation revealed to be misleading, and in some cases, downright false.
It’s easy for lawmakers to fall for misleading information about pornography because there is some truth therein. Utah’s resolution, for instance, argues that porn is dangerously addictive because it triggers reward centers in the brain.
“It’s true — pornography does that,” Dr. Prause said previously. “It’s also true with images of chocolate and images of puppies. You don’t see puppies being declared a public health hazard. These sex addiction studies are relying on ignorance, claiming that pornography is the same thing as cocaine and hoping you don’t know any different.”
What’s troubling is that bad science has now led two states to turn their gaze ― and their states’ wallets ― toward a nonissue.
“Many of us recognize pornography leaves tragedy in its wake,” Sen. Pilcher-Cook told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “There is no political ideology here regarding this subject. Pornography exploits and humiliates those being used and it dehumanizes the user at the same time.” She didn’t return calls for comment from HuffPost.
Sen. Haley figures that pornography was an easy scapegoat ― even if voting to make it a top-tier issue has dangerous implications.
″The idea that pornography equals bad was enough for them to vote, even though they didn’t know what they were voting on,” he told HuffPost. “It’s a knee-jerk reaction to buzzwords. People feel like they have to stand up to some of the perceived ills of society. Regrettably, though, even some lawmakers don’t take the time to fully read what it is they’re passing.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.