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600 gather to condemn the spread of pornography

Speakers include local pastor once addicted to porn

SANDY — Every time Pamela Atkinson tried to close a pop-up on her computer that contained sexually explicit content, another window with the graphic material opened. It took her 12 clicks to finally end the ordeal. That's when she decided something had to be done about the growing infiltration of pornography into society.

As one of the first trustees of the Utah Coalition Against Pornography, Atkinson and the organization began a campaign to protect children and families against the estimated $97 billion worldwide pornography industry.

At their seventh annual conference Saturday, a crowd of over 600 gathered at the South Towne Exposition Center.

Topics such as teaching healthy sexuality in the home, healing for couples dealing with addiction to pornographic material, keeping children safe on the Internet and help for ecclesiastical leaders that encounter pornography problems were discussed at this year's conference.

"In the United States this is a $13.3 billion industry," Atkinson said. "Thirteen- to 17-year-olds is the group with the largest access ... I think we are on the tip of a crisis, and we aren't addressing it."

The conference featured a number of speakers — each conveying the rise in addiction to pornographic materials and the growing concern for its effects on families and children. The speakers included: Daniel Gray, a founder and clinical director of LifeSTAR, a sex and pornography treatment program; Geoff Steurer and Jill Manning, both marriage and family therapists; Jack Sunderlage, founder of ContentWatch Inc., an Internet filter provider; Jeffrey Robinson, a psychotherapist; Cindy Moreno, president of Communities for Decency.

Sunderlage, a trustee of the group, said over 150 million Americans are actively participating in social networking Web sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Friendster, and that these Web sites create increased avenues for cyber-bullying, "phriending" and pornography.

Cyberbullying can vary from spreading malicious rumors to posting private photos. Phriending is a new phenomenon used by Internet predators through social networking sites to find victims, Sunderlage said.

"Kids are revealing more than they should," Sunderlage said. "This social networking phenomenon is bad stuff."

The conference also featured local pastor Bernie Anderson of the Wasatch Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in Salt Lake — a man who overcame his own addiction to pornography.

Anderson said addiction to the material was devastating.

"It disintegrates your life," Anderson said. "We humans have an intense desire to be loved, to be embraced. Pornography plays on that legitimate desire ... and offers you what is called a false intimacy."

Anderson said he overcame his addiction by being honest. It wasn't easy, but admitting his problem to a close friend and asking for help was the first step. Opening up about his problem "broke" the desire he had to view pornography — allowing him to be completely honest to his congregation, friends, and family and to himself.

He said through increased accountability and professional help that he has been able to stay away from pornographic materials.

"This is by no means what God had in mind for relationships," Anderson said. "Porn is an enemy of intimacy, it destroys relationships."

E-MAIL: nhale@desnews.c om