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State Rep. Garrett: Pornography is a public health crisis

In a recent op-ed, al.com columnist Kyle Whitmire made light of the passage by the Alabama Senate of a resolution proposed by State Senator Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook) declaring pornography a health crisis. He even posted a video on social media mocking the resolution. I have met Kyle on a few occasions, and I usually read his column.

But I believe Kyle missed the mark this time. I believe he thinks the Senate resolution was just another Bible thumpin’, “T-R-O-U-B-L-E in River City” pander, or to use his words—”silly, self-gratification at the public’s expense.”

I could not disagree more.

Before I explain why, let me say that I agreed with several points in Kyle’s article. Toxic soil in neighborhoods and playgrounds, and groundwater contamination caused by the dumping of toxins in rivers are indeed public crises that should be investigated and remediated. Guilty participants should be held accountable. Healthcare in Alabama, particularly in rural areas, has been in crisis for years. Federal and state governments have been slow and lackluster to improve the access, affordability and quality of healthcare. And while we can debate the merits of Medicaid expansion, most agree it would be a band-aid and not a permanent solution. Alabama’s prisons have been in crisis for decades. I read the Department of Justice report about the conditions in our state prisons; it was appalling and incredibly disturbing.

Let’s be clear, the legislature will address many of these issues in the current session. There will be increased funding for prison construction and staffing and for inmate health and rehabilitation, as well as bills proposing sentencing reform. Funding for numerous healthcare initiatives across the state will be increased, including significantly more money for mental health — a serious issue in Alabama. The legislature will allocate money to our public schools to address student mental health issues. In addition, I hope to work with my Black Belt colleagues to combat the reemergence of hookworm in Alabama. These difficult issues will need ongoing focus and more attention in future legislative sessions.

But “whataboutism” and caustic wit should not be used to trivialize and diminish the focus on pornography, a very serious issue adversely impacting lives all over Alabama. Another al.com columnist, Rachel Blackmon Bryars wrote an excellent rebuttal to Kyle’s article that provides insight, perspective and data about pornography.

Many people think of porn as risqué magazines, erotic movies, racy books and strip joints frequented by adults. Why would the legislature be so “dumb” as to waste time to pass another unenforceable, self-righteous, morality resolution that meddles in a person’s right to live as they choose?

First, the purpose of Senate resolution was to raise public awareness about the growing influence of pornography in our society, especially on the lives of children, teenagers and young adults. The digital age and technology have given the pornography industry an incredible platform. Porn is accessible 24/7 over the internet and all forms of social media. Through these vast mediums, an increasing number of children are exposed to hard-core porn at early ages and are becoming addicted. I have spoken to teachers and school officials who know first-hand the negative impacts that early exposure to pornography has on children. Sexting — texting of sexually explicit images and self-images — is not uncommon among middle school students and an alarming number of elementary school students. Numerous psychological, medical, mental health and neurological studies have concluded that repeated exposure to porn often leads to addiction. Pornography addictions tend to augment, often leading to other forms and levels of pornographic activity, sometimes culminating in criminal acts.

Without even considering the overwhelming medical and psychological evidence, it is easy to understand how children who are exposed to sexual information and experiences that are not age-appropriate can be affected for life. Many in the legislature are aware of instances where unrestricted availability and inundation of sexually explicit content has impacted children and teenagers we know. We have heard from constituents whose families are facing the consequences of pornographic addictions. Most of these began with introduction to pornography on a website. These situations have often led to depression and severe emotional, psychological and even physical problems. Unfortunately, all of us are aware of instances of sex-trafficking, sexual abuse and sexual violence in our communities and across our state, and pornography is at the root of all these offenses. Sadly, some victims are not with us today. Murder and suicide-related to pornography occur at alarming rates.

We have gone to great lengths in our society to protect children from the harmful effects of tobacco and the onslaught of advertising by tobacco companies. We have taken the same stance for alcohol and alcohol abuse prevention. Why would we not do the same to protect our children from the harmful effects of pornography?

The unanimous, bipartisan Senate resolution—which was crafted based upon much research and multiple studies — is an attempt to raise awareness about a problem that is worsening each day in our communities. I hope the Alabama House of Representatives will also adopt the resolution, and I sincerely hope the resolution will help people to begin to understand why addressing pornography is so important.

Let’s not underestimate how early exposure to pornography is affecting the health and mental well-being of our citizens, especially children, teenagers and young adults. Rather than make light of pornography, let’s work together to shed light on the harmful impact that pornography has on the lives of the people who call Alabama home.

Danny Garrett is a Republican representative serving House District 44, which includes Trussville, Clay and Pinson. He is Vice Chair of both the Education Ways and Means and the Education Policy Committees and serves as the House Majority Whip.