Lawmakers, parents want to reform Idaho obscenity law

Editor’s Note: The following article discusses topics and uses language that may not be appropriate for all readers. Discretion is advised. 

Listen to KID NewsRadio’s Sydney Jensen interview Stephanie Gifford:

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Idaho parents might be surprised to learn their students are just a few clicks away from learning the nuances of oral sex and other sexual topics while on school computers.

Innocent Research Projects Gone Bad

Imagine a 10-year-old sitting in her elementary school computer lab stumbling over an article with the title The XXX Factor, or a 15-year-old sitting in his high school library discovering the article Bottoming Made Me A Better Man while doing research for a school project. These articles aren’t part of  adult porn site or even a Google search away. They are part of hundreds, if not thousands of articles available on a state contracted database called LILI.org.

“We have the Idaho Commission for Libraries and they have put together a website, it’s called LiLI.org,” Stephanie Gifford, a child advocate and concerned parent, told KID NewsRadio. “It’s supposed to be safer than just going to Google and doing an open internet search, which can open you up, as we know, to harmful things online, and so the Idaho Commission for Libraries has made these search databases available and they’re marketed for K-12 students, they’re used in schools and in libraries.”

Among those databases available on LiLI is a service called EBSCO. According to the Idaho Commission for Libraries some commonly used databases in Idaho schools include Explora Primary and Explora Secondary – both interfaces provided by EBSCO for certain age demographics.

LibGuides: LiLI Tools for Schools: Home

Highlights the LiLI tools most commonly used in Idaho schools.

“EBSCO is a very nefarious organization,” Gifford said. “They’re actually on the Dirty Dozen list that’s put out by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, and they compile a list of companies that contribute to the sexual exploitation of children, and EBSCO is one of these because on their databases there is found a large amount of pornography…I found out about this website and the databases and started doing searches and I have found hundreds of horrifyingly pornographic articles.”

View the National Center for Sexual Exploitation’s profile on EBSCO in the link below. 

2019 Dirty Dozen_EBSCO – National Center on Sexual Exploitation

EBSCO Information Services offers online library resources to public and private schools (K-12), colleges and universities, public libraries, and more. In its advertising for schools, it promises “fast access to curriculum-appropriate content.” However, its Explora, Science Reference Center, Literary Reference Center, and other products, sometimes provide easy access to hardcore pornography sites and extremely graphic sexual content.

Gifford has documented her findings with article titles including, “G-Spot 101,” “His orgasm — what he’s dying to tell you,” “Condom Nation,” “How do I intensify orgasms after 40,” “Secret sex with drama teacher,” and “Hey, how was the sex after –?” Finding articles like these isn’t difficult, Gifford said. In her research, even searching the most mundane terms on the database can send an unknowing student down a highly sexualized page of search results.

“They are absolutely mundane terms like ‘hot tubs’ and ‘drama teacher’ and ‘men’ and ‘women’ and all kinds of normal search terms that you might find, and if you scroll through enough results, then you come across these pornographic articles,” Gifford said. “You don’t have to be searching for explicit material, although that’s certainly a possibility because we know that youth are curious and it’s completely within the realm of possibility that they might hear a term, not know what it means, not want to admit they don’t get the joke, whatever, and go and look it up and then boom, they’re exposed to pornographic material. ”

But, how is the sexually explicit material even getting into Idaho’s schools? Representative Julianne Young, who represents District 31 and was elected largely because of her stance on Idaho’s sex ed laws, told KID NewsRadio the way the current obscenity law is written includes exemptions for schools and some of her fellow lawmakers are working on a bill to repeal the 1970’s statute.

Obscene Materials

Current Idaho code defines obscene materials as anything showing nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement or sado-masochistic abuse, and depictions of intimate sexual acts or masturbation. It’s these definitions that allow authorities to charge and prosecute people like 41-year-old William Bryon Chest, of Boise, who received a five year prison sentence and three years of probation in 2015 for sending sexually explicit images and messages to a 13-year-old girl.

The same law that allowed a judge to sentence Chest, allows schools and accompanying sex ed program to be exempt under Idaho Code 18-1517.

Read the full Idaho code in the link below.

Idaho Legislature

18-1517. Disseminating material harmful to minors – Defenses. 1. In any prosecution for disseminating material harmful to minors, it is an affirmative defense that: (a) The defendant had reasonable cause to believe that the minor involved was eighteen (18) years old or more, or such minor exhibited to the defendant a draft card, driver’s license, birth certificate, or other official or apparently official document purporting to establish that the minor was eighteen (18) years of age or older.

“This standard of obscenity that would be used for a stranger on a park bench that showed your child something or a neighbor or anybody else, does not apply to the schools,” Representative Young said. “So, this has created a situation where we have things that are objectionable, that appeal to the pruient [or sexual] interest which is our concern with comprehensive sex ed that’s it’s not just educating kids about the nuts and bolts. But, that’s is actually promoting sexual experimentation, all this kind of stuff.”

While it’s unknown the original intent of the school exemption clause in Idaho’s obscenity code, Gifford said it’s likely lawmakers were trying to give schools protection from lawsuits over sex ed. But, in the year 2019 when sex education has not only become more controversial and in some cases, more detailed on sexual behaviors in addition to basic anatomy lessons.

Did you hear Gifford’s interview with Neal Larson and Julie Mason on KID NewsRadio? Catch the full segment:

Sex Education in the Gem State

“The Idaho statute states that sex education should cover the anatomy and physiology of human development; but, these go far beyond that and actually get into sexual behaviors and discussing masturbation and sexual pleasure and detailed explicit details of condom use using anatomical models and having the students practice, and they also role play scenarios with their classmates of sexual situations and how they would, you know, encourage their partner to use a condom or to do whatever, say for, sex behavior, and so they can be fairly sexually explicit,” Gifford said.

Representative Barbara Ehardt addressed some of those topics found in some Idaho libraries and in some Idaho sex ed programs, during an interview with Dr. Duke Pesta. One such book, “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health,” shows illustrated images of nude men and women, and even shows an illustrated couple engaged in sexual activity.

“This book can be in the libraries,” Representative Ehardt told Dr. Duke Pesta. “Right now we’re trying to find out how many libraries this book is in. It’s certainly in the public libraries…it’s obscene, it’s pornography, and it needs to go.”

It’s time schools are put on an even playing field with the rest of Idaho, Gifford said, which is why she’s eager to see Representative Ehardt bring two bills to the Idaho legislature.

Legislator’s Address Sex Ed in Idaho

“There are really two bills that Representative Edhardt is sponsoring,” Gifford said. “One of them is this repeal of the obscenity exemption and it’s about as simple bill as you can get. It takes one word out of statute and that’s it. It’s just removes the word ‘schools’ from the list of entities that have an exemption and are able to distribute obscene material…and then the second bill that she has and they really go hand in hand is an opt in bill versus opt out.”

Idaho law currently requires parents to opt out their child out a school sponsored sex ed, rather than opt in. But, that approach, Gifford said, doesn’t empower parents to be involved their child’s sexual education.

“Parents may or may not receive notification,” Gifford said. “If they don’t want their kids to participate then they have to go in and sign a form to that end. But, it’s far more productive and safe for parents to have to be notified of what’s being taught and send back positive permission saying, ‘Yes, my child can participate.’ When you require that, then you require that parents have notice and that they’re fully informed of what’s happening and it’s a much better way to safeguard our families and allow parents to control that they are entitled to.”

Going Forward 

While neither bill expected from Representative Barbara Ehardt have come to committee, Gifford said it’s vital parents begin to have open conversations with their children about difficult topics, including sex.

“We are to a point where we can no longer not be talking to our children about sexual things,” Gifford said. “You know, it can be incredibly uncomfortable sometimes. It’s not anyone’s favorite topic over dinner, but our kids live in a world where this stuff is everywhere and they see obscene things everywhere they go…it’s easier said than done…I know it’s not always easy…I think it’s just a real wakeup call for parents and for families to have open communication and to be there for their kids.”

In the event the law does pass, Gifford also said the work of cleaning up Idaho’s schools is not done simply with a signature from the governor. Educators and parent alike will have to work together to ensure their students are free from obscene materials while in school.

“If we are successful in repealing the obscenity exemption, then we have a lot of cleanup to do because there are materials being used that would have to be reevaluated and you know, the search databases are a really big deal,” Gifford said. “It will take an effort to be able to replace that with something that’s safe for our students to search on, and so I think, you know, it’s always idealistic to have legislation and bills and things that are going to solve problems, but it’s another thing to implement and put it into place and it will take some time. But, I think as long as we’re moving forward and doing everything we can to protect our children, then progress will be made and we’ll be able to do it.”