'Porn czar' hears 1,500 complaints

Monday, October 15, 2001

SALT LAKE CITY -- Paula Houston keeps lewd magazines and titillating ads safely tucked inside her desk drawer so she won't offend colleagues.

The only indication that Utah's first porn czar spends her days immersed in the intricacies of pornography is a bumper sticker proclaiming "Porn Kills Love" and an academic handbook on "Prosecution of Obscenity Cases."

Houston reveals her distaste for pornography in her expression and somber tone when discussing the material sent to her office. She tries to avoid using explicit words, resorting to legal terms such as "graphic sex acts."

She describes pornography this way:

"It portrays a mindset that people buy into -- of objectification, of not having a primary relationship. Pornography promotes free sex and that's not good for marriages or families. I absolutely believe the only way to stem the tide is through grass roots efforts and understanding the law."

Houston has devoted her first eight months on the job to instructing others in pornography laws. Officially known as Utah's Obscenity and Pornography Complaints Ombudsman, she is believed to be the nation's first state official whose role is solely to fight pornography.

So far about 1,500 people have complained to Houston about explicit ads, pornographic Internet spam or partially obscured nude women on the covers of magazines.

She has heard few complaints about Penthouse, Playboy or Hustler; many calls concern Cosmopolitan -- offensive phrases about sex on the cover and pictures of busty women. Others stem from ads or magazine covers. showing a naked woman wearing only her strategically placed hands.

In conservative Utah, a Victoria's Secret ad of a nude woman covering her breasts with her hands at a mall in Provo prompted more than 1,000 people to sign an Internet petition.

Much of Houston's time is taken up explaining what makes something pornographic and why much of the material some people find offensive is nevertheless legal. She encourages distressed parents to petition shopping malls, stores or magazines about changing their advertising policies.

Many people don't understand her job, Houston laments from behind a desk strewn with papers.

She has no authority over the most frequent complaint: spam Internet porn from outside Utah. She hasn't prosecuted any cases and doesn't know of any taken to court because of her efforts.

"I'm not supposed to prosecute," said Houston. "I'm supposed to educate."

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