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Fighting smut

Provo resident Lisa Baldwin became a community activist the day she read a classified ad seeking exotic female dancers for a downtown nightclub this past July.

When she called the telephone number listed in the ad, she discovered the place was LeMar's Nightclub, a bar two blocks from her house. Her next phone call was to City Hall where she found out a seminude dance clubs were perfectly legal in Provo. Angry and recalling a picket at an adult book store outside Mesquite, Nev., she called City Hall there. Mesquite put her in touch with HOME or Help Our Moral Environment, the organization that drove the bookstore out of town.Baldwin rallied neighbors and friends who petitioned, picketed and lobbied for a stricter sexually oriented business law. Several weeks later, they got it.

"It will be interesting come January to see if it's enforced," she said. The new ordinance gives LeMar's until the first week of January to relocate with its seminude dancers or stay put without them. The club intends to fight the law.

The battle is one in a continuous string of such clashes that take place regularly across the country. Not surprisingly, a new poll shows that 80 percent of Americans want federal obscenity laws against hard-core pornography to be "vigorously enforced." Another 68 percent believe the federal government is not doing its job to police and prosecute pornographers.

Results of the poll, conducted in September by Wirthlin Worldwide, don't surprise Baldwin or other Utahns who've taken up the challenge to do something about objectionable material in their communities. They say fighting obscenity in any form can't be left strictly to government.

Their national counterparts agree. Morality in the Media, a New York-based nonprofit interfaith organization, commissioned the recent poll. As a result of its findings, the organization has been circulating a petition calling on President Clinton to fulfill a written campaign pledge made in 1992 promising to make enforcement of federal obscenity laws a priority with the administration.

"That simply has not been done," says Robert Peters, president of Morality in Media. "Our only desire is for the president now to keep his promise." To help Clinton's memory, the organization is circulating a petition calling on the president to fulfill his promise and will continue to do so through Pornography Awareness Week, Oct. 26-Nov. 2. State and local governments are urged to participate.

A petition drive is nothing new to Michelle Brockbank of American Fork. Her crusade began one day last year inside a local Movie Buffs video rental store, when her small children wandered into an area at the back of the store that she thought was a playroom for kids.

Instead, she found "double XX-rated movies - not just the ones you see on late-night cable."

Brockbank and her husband, Doug, started a petition drive working with neighborhood watch programs already in effect in American Fork. "We ended up getting back about 5,000 signatures. The petition just states the community felt their standards were higher than the videos being rented at Movie Buffs and that we don't want these kinds of movies in our community."

Utah County prosecutors then took over, alleging that more than 800 videos at Movie Buffs outlets in American Fork and Lehi contained sexually explicit material. The case is still pending.

Though the immediate battle has cooled, residents have continued to meet, Brockbank said. "We've been trying to let people know which candidates (for mayor and City Council) are aware of the problem." With elections in November, "we're trying to elect a mayor who will help us write some strict anti-porn laws so we can avoid things like LeMar's before anything happens again."

`Messy to prosecute'

Brockbank says she agrees with the Wirthlin poll results. "There are state laws against pornography, but we find those laws are not enforced unless a citizen brings it to their attention. It's a messy thing to prosecute because they scream about the First Amendment and the ACLU jumps in."

Baldwin said there is irony in the First Amendment argument when government is so concerned about other areas of commerce. She quotes Dr. James Dobson, who served on the U.S. attorney general's commission on pornography in the 1980s. He describes video and film booths in adult bookstores in which patrons drop coins into a slot to watch a 90-second pornographic movie.

"Given the current concern about sexually transmitted diseases and especially AIDS, it is incredible that local health departments have not attempted to regulate such businesses," Dobson said. "States that will not allow restaurant owners, hairdressers, counselors or acupuncturists to operate without licenses have permitted these wretched cesspools to escape governmental scrutiny."

Baldwin said she and other activists were called prudes for speaking out against exotic dancing in downtown Provo. Some people who believed residents wanted to trample on LeMar's constitutional rights brought religion into the issue, derogatorily referring to activists as "you Mormons."

Her comeback? "Who do you blame in Indiana? Who do you blame in California or Texas?"

The Wirthlin polls shows that people nationwide want pornography laws enforced. It fits with Baldwin's thinking.

`A moral issue'

"It doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or a communist or a Mormon, if there's a pothole in front of your house, you want it fixed," she said. "This pornography issue is not a partisan issue. It's a moral issue."

Baldwin understands that the Constitution allows seminude or even nude dancing. But she fully supports Provo's stringent sexually oriented business law and a zoning ordinance limiting strip joints and adult bookstores to the industrial outskirts of town.

"It's not banning," she said, "it's regulating."

And such "regulating" can be long and painful indeed.

But Dena Hoff sleeps much better now on windy nights. The Mesquite, Nev., woman no longer worries about picket signs blowing away outside an adult bookstore where she and scores of others demonstrated 24 hours a day, seven days a week for, get this, 31 months. The dogged picket line Hoff organized eventually put the Pure Pleasure Video and Book out of business in March 1996.

Hoff was instrumental in getting Mesquite to adopt last year what she said is the toughest sexually oriented business law on the books. It's used as a model in many cities throughout the country. Provo patterned its new ordinance after it.

Since first toting a sign outside Pure Pleasure four years ago, Hoff has founded HOME (Help Our Moral Environment) and learned a lot about pornography, especially the legal matters. She refers to herself as a "little expert." She is regularly asked to speak at conventions and help organize residents, such as Baldwin and her neighbors, to fight incursions of sexually oriented businesses across the country.

Silent no more

"Silence implies consent," said Hoff, who participated in an anti-pornography conference in San Diego last weekend.

Apathy, she said, reigns nationwide. Most people stand by and watch rather than get involved.

And Hoff doesn't think the government does a very good job of enforcing current obscenity and pornography laws. She said it's up to the public to see that they do. Sexually oriented stores and clubs count on a lax enforcement of laws to keep them in business, she said.

Unfortunately, the government only does what it figures society wants it to do, she said. Hoff said people must demand more of government leaders and law enforcement.

"I think if it's child pornography they move a little faster, but still not as fast as they should," she said.

Hoff said there ought to be a government task forces that fights pornography just as they do drugs.

Pornography peddlers don't care for bulldogs like Hoff or Brockbank or Baldwin because they sink their teeth into an issue and don't let go. Hoff said others are willing to take similar hard lines when they're informed about the dangers and addictiveness of sexually explicitly materials. They can make a difference if they band together.

Hoff said it just takes "enough people saying, `I'm tired of this.' "

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

What is pornographic?

"I know it when I see it."

That less-than-definitive definition of what is legally obscene, penned by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in 1964, describes the crux of the national debate over pornography - what it is or is not, how to decide, and how to regulate it.

Results of the Wirthlin poll don't surprise Joseph Schouten, postal inspector team leader for Salt Lake City. Just because Americans say they want stricter enforcement doesn't mean he gets more leeway to prosecute those who mail what many consider pornographic materials.

"The problem is, what is pornographic? What might be to you might not be to me." Because the First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech, material that is considered truly pornographic has to depict "extreme sado-masochistic type material, bondage-type stuff or bestiality," Schouten said.

"That's prosecutable. But the depiction of sexual activity between two consenting adults - it's not me who decides what is and what isn't. In extreme cases, we take it to a prosecutor and to a judge, but it's tough to get a conviction with adult material."

Schouten knows it upsets parents to find their children have opened unsolicited sexual materials mailed by companies who buy mailing lists. In such cases, he says, the Post Office has forms for residents to fill out that demand the mailings cease.

If at that point the mailings continue, the Postal Service will take civil action against the company in court.

Mailings may not be the biggest cause for concern. With the internet becoming increasingly accessible to people of all ages, access to pornographic materials is a mouse-click away. The lack of regulation on the net and its relative newness mean the courts and Congress are trying to figure out how to regulate it.