Politics

06.28.13

The Military's Porn Problem

The sale of X-rated films and magazines is illegal on military bases. Yet pornography can easily be had. How come no one enforces the law? By Miranda Green

While Congress ponders how best to deal with the growing number of sexual assaults within the military, one group thinks the solution starts with getting rid of porn.

Morality in Media, a faith-based group, argues that porn on military bases contributes to a hostile environment toward women, and it is pushing the Department of Defense to remove all promiscuous materials on its premises.

Organization president and former DOJ employee Patrick Trueman says that removing pornography from bases will send a message that the military does not stand for the sexual degradation of women. "Having this material available and actually sold, and therefore sanctioned by the military, sends a signal to the women in the military that the sexually exploitive nature in the military is acceptable,” he says.

In one sense, though, Trueman’s group is fighting a battle already won.

The Military Honor and Decency Act, passed in 1996 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 1998, already requires the DOD to remove all sexually explicit materials, porn included, from being sold and rented at exchanges, on ships, and at commissaries. But the law isn’t always implemented—and a wide variety of glossy porn magazines is still available for sale on bases.

Earlier this month, Morality in Media wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, asking for better enforcement. According to the group, he has yet to respond.

To prove their point about lackluster enforcement, Morality in Media at the same time published photos taken at bases blatantly displaying publications like Playboy and Penthouse for sale. One of the photos was taken at Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio, Texas, the site of a scandal where 43 females reported being sexually assaulted by their training commanders in instances dating back to 2009. Overall, according to a Pentagon report released earlier this month, there were 26,000 instances of sexual assault in the military in 2012, an increase from the year before.

“If pornography is a problem, remove it all.”

The office for the secretary of Defense declined to comment for the story.

Recently, some steps have been taken to eliminate porn from the military. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus issued an order June 13 that all bases must be periodically checked for “materials that are patently lewd, lascivious, obscene, or pornographic.” The order gave all commanding officers permission to remove any items that fall under that category.

Noticeably however, materials not included in the order were those found in private living spaces, bunks, and on public and private computer hard drives. It also made no mention of sales.

In Congress, the Senate Armed Services Committee made mention of the Decency Act in its final markup to the 2014 Defense budget bill. The added measure, introduced by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), pushes the DOD to enforce the removal of all pornography from military properties and report its progress back to the committee.

As written in the Senate’s report, the measure states: "The committee has been made aware that, despite this prohibition, sexually explicit material remains available for sale on certain Department of Defense premises. The committee is concerned about the impact this material may have on the health and wellness of military service members and their families."

“Despite a ban on sales of sexually explicit material on Department of Defense property, which went into place in 1997, such publications remain available on some Department of Defense premises,” Senator Wicker said in a statement. “Studies show that these types of materials may be contributing to sexual harassment in the workplace. I fought to include my amendment in the NDAA because I am concerned that the law is not being enforced.”

The push to greater restrict porn has been a bipartisan effort, with both sides agreeing that pornography has no place in the military.  A spokesperson for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, pointed out that pornography is already prohibited on bases and that getting to the root of the problem of sexual assaults in the military “requires fundamental change to the military justice system.”

Whether the elimination of porn from military bases will affect the number of assault cases remains to be seen. Trueman acknowledges that this will just be the first step to change the culture within the military that has allowed the problem to fester. But he believes it is a good and necessary step.

“It won’t solve the whole issue; you have to change that culture,” he says. “But if pornography is a problem, remove it all.”