Robert Peters: SEC pornography scandal shows harms of obscene material

Robert Peters: SEC pornography scandal shows harms of obscene material

Morality in Media president Robert Peters.
Morality in Media president Robert Peters.


The exposure of workplace pornography use at the Securities and Exchange Commission while the 2008 financial crisis was unfolding shows the harmful consequences of such material, Morality in Media president Robert Peters has said. Calling for open condemnation of the vice, he said existing anti-obscenity laws should be enforced.

“Addiction to this material in the adult population is contributing to sexual exploitation of children, to the breakup of marriages, to sexual violence against women, to the demand for women trafficked into prostitution, to on-the-job sexual harassment, and to a decline in worker productivity,” Peters told CNA on Friday.

His comments came in response to news that an internal investigation of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), conducted at the request of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), found 31 serious offenders involved with pornography during the past two and a half years, ABC News reports.

While the SEC has about 3,500 employees, 17 of the alleged offenders were senior SEC officers whose salaries ranged from $100,000 to $222,000 per year.

A senior attorney at SEC headquarters in Washington, D.C. spent up to eight hours per day accessing internet pornography, the unreleased report says. After he filled the space on his government computer with the images, he downloaded more to CDs and DVDs and stored them in boxes at his office.

One accountant with the Commission tried to access pornographic websites 1,800 times in a two-week period and had 600 images on her computer’s hard drive, ABC News said.

Another employee tried to access pornographic sites hundreds of times and was denied access, but he bypassed the network filter to visit a “significant number” of pornography sites. He resigned after being told he would lose his job.

Several of the major offenders are still at the SEC, sources told ABC News.

Most of the cases began in 2008, just as the financial system was threatened with collapse. The most recent case in the report took place four weeks ago.

"These guys in the middle of a financial crisis are spending their time looking at prurient material on the Internet," Peter Morici, a professor at the University of Maryland, told ABC News.

A former director of the Office of Economics at the U.S. International Trade Commission, Morici said the behavior was “reckless” and indicated contempt for the taxpayer’s interest in monitoring financial markets.

Robert W. Peters spoke about the problems pornography creates in a Friday e-mail interview with CNA.

Asked how pornography use could have impaired the SEC reaction to the financial crisis, he said distracted employees will neglect work whatever the nature of their distraction.

“Odds are that the misuse of time at the SEC is not the cause of our nation’s financial crisis!” Peters told CNA. “But I suspect we will never know what might have been prevented had SEC personnel been focused on their jobs instead of on computer screens filled with hardcore pornography.”

He reported that there have also been problems about misuse of government computers to view pornography at the National Science Foundation.

He cited a February 24, 2009 article in Industry News reporting that visits to pornography sites at work increased 23 percent in the previous year. Almost 25 percent of employees are visiting porn sites during the workday. A pornography industry leader has said visits to porn sites are highest during office hours.

According to Industry News, workplace pornography use poses a “major legal liability risk” for employers, who can be sued by other workers offended at being exposed to such material. It reported lost productivity is also a business problem.

Though not cited by Peters, writer Mary Eberstadt has reported that a 2007 survey by the American Management Association and the ePolicy Journal found that out of the 30 percent of bosses who reported firing an employee for internet misuse, 84 percent cited pornography as the reason.

Peters referred CNA to a “disturbing article” published at the Marine Corps Times and other military newspapers, titled, “Addicted to online porn: X-rated Internet explosion wreaks havoc with troops’ careers, lives.”

The article explains problems pornography poses for the military, including marital breakup and career-ending misconduct. The problem is believed to be even more serious than among the civilian population.

“Our nation’s role in polluting the world with pornography is also making the war against terrorism more difficult,” Peters added. He cited a Gallup Poll that found 36 percent of Baghdad residents believe Western culture has undermined moral standards by spreading sexually indecent influences.

Discussing other harms of pornography, Peters said that children’s exposure to hardcore adult pornography can interfere with their psychological, moral and spiritual development. It can lead to sexual misconduct, even including sexual abuse of other children.

Asked how the problem of pornography can be combated, Peters said parents, religious leaders and educators need to do a much better job of informing boys and girls about the harms of pornography.

“It would also help if religious leaders in particular would state unabashedly and often that it is morally wrong (sinful, if you will) for individuals of any age to view pornography!”

“There is also a role for government,” he continued, saying law enforcement is a “necessary part” of the response. He noted obscenity laws on the books at federal and state levels can be enforced against the distribution of hardcore pornography on the internet, television, and in local retail establishment.