National Center on Sexual Exploitation

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), formerly organized as Morality in Media (MIM) before changing its structure, is an American non-profit known for its anti-pornography stance and anti-sex trafficking advocacy based on abolitionist principles.[1][2] When it was MIM, versions of the group once campaigned against obscenity, sex shops and sex toys, decriminalization of sex work, comprehensive sex education, and various works of literature or visual arts the organization has deemed obscene, profane or indecent.[3] The group was started as a part of the religious right and primarily Catholic. Transformed into the National Center on Sexual Exploitation in 2015, the group's current president is Patrick A. Trueman and the organization describes its goal as "exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation".[4][5]

The group has modernized its message through a name change, reflecting a more multifactorial cause of sexual exploitation and responding to pornography's increasing acceptance from the Sex-positive movement.[6] It has also stated that pornography constitutes a public health crisis though this claim is yet to be backed by any global health agency.[7][8][9]

Operation Yorkville (OY) was founded by an interfaith group of three New York clergymen in 1962.[10] Father Morton A. Hill of St. Ignatius Loyola Roman Catholic Church became the public face of the group.[11] The group connected exposure to different types of "salacious" magazines and pornography to atheism, obscenity, juvenile delinquency, masturbation, murder, sexually transmitted diseases and "high school sex clubs".[12] Although the group's actions emphasized the protection of minors, First Amendment Law Review wrote that "at times the organization seemed to be using children as a pretext for a society-wide ban".[13] The group maintained that they were fighting obscenities and not advocating censorship.[14] In 1963, the organization began a long-running effort to ban John Cleland's erotic novel Fanny Hill, which ended with the 1966 Supreme Court decision Memoirs v. Massachusetts.[15]

Operation Yorkville was renamed to Morality in Media (MIM) in 1968.[16] Hill, president of MIM until his death in 1985, was appointed to serve on the 18-member by President Lyndon B. Johnson.[17] A report was submitted in 1970 that said all "adult" obscenity laws should be repealed.[17] Hill called the commission's report a "magna carta for the pornographers".[18] After the four justices nominated by President Richard Nixon reshaped the Supreme Court, the Burger Court disregarded the commission's report and upheld obscenity laws in 1973, citing the dissenting reports by Hill, minister Winfrey Link and Charles Keating, the leader of the Citizens for Decent Literature.[19] In 1973, a member of the group complained to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about George Carlin's anti-censorship routine "Seven Dirty Words", leading to the 1978 decision FCC v. Pacifica Foundation.[20] In 1980, the organization launched an unsuccessful lawsuit over the New York premiere of the film Caligula.[21] The group also condemned the Monty Python film Life of Brian as a "direct, aggressive, deliberate violation of the rights of believing persons".[22] In 1983, MIM asked for federal action against pornography in a White House meeting with President Ronald Reagan.[23]

In the 1990s, the organization attacked the National Endowment for the Arts for funding what it deemed as obscene and profane art.[1] The group also pressured adult stores by picketing them, contacting landlords and prosecutors and by lobbying for changes in zoning laws.[24] In 1992, the group called for a boycott of all Time Warner products due to the publication of Madonna's book Sex.[25] In the mid-1990s, MIM was part of a religious boycott campaign against The Walt Disney Company.[26] The organization was an active supporter of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, although the group stated that many of its proposals were not implemented.[27] After the Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, MIM began advocating for internet filters.[27] Primarily Catholic,[28] the organization joined other groups in the religious right to criticize the Waxman report, which found that abstinence-only sex education programs were unscientific and contained false information.[29] MIM has argued that safer-sex information is indecent.[30]

Once affiliated with the Christian Coalition, MIM would state that it "strongly upholds traditional family values and Judeo-Christian precepts".[31] At the time, the organization was part of the Coalition for Marriage which was a group known to be a part of the religious right.[31] In 2010, MIM hoped that government officials would take action against adult stores and sex toys, which Bob Peters, part of MIM's leadership, likened to "a cancer, a slow-moving cancer".[32] The organization's influence had declined due to the decreasing interest in the anti-obscenity cause among prosecutors, politicians and religious leaders.[33] Peters conceded that "the war is over and we have lost".[34]

The group's current CEO and president is Patrick A. Trueman, an attorney and a registered lobbyist.[35] He served as Chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, a United States Department of Justice Criminal Division, when the George H. W. Bush administration aggressively prosecuted obscenity cases against adult pornography.[36] The organization underwent its most significant change in 2015 when it transformed into the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) in order to expand its focus to the social science and data on the intersectionality of sexual exploitation.[37][38][39][40][41] Sexuality Research and Social Policy writes that the name change reflects the group's modernization "from morality to exploitation".[42] NCOSE's flagship campaign is their Dirty Dozen List, an annual list of "mainstream facilitators of sexual exploitation".[43][44][45][46][47] In 2015, the organization successfully pressured Walmart to remove Cosmopolitan from its checkout aisles.[48] In 2016, NCOSE criticized Amnesty International after the human rights group joined Human Rights Watch and the World Health Organization in supporting the decriminalization of sex work.[49][50] NCOSE said the policy was irresponsible and that decriminalization would encourage human trafficking.[51][49][50] The group has also opposed the legalized prostitution in Nevada.[52] In 2017, the organization was one of the principal supporters of the (FOSTA).[53]

Elizabeth Nolan Brown of Reason has criticized the group for promoting claims about sexuality and pornography that she claims contradict the findings of peer-reviewed studies.[39] Anti-Trafficking Review made assertions against NCOSE by claiming they "use misleading ‘research reports’ to fabricate a false medical consensus about the harms of pornography".[53] Since the 2010s, the group has stated that pornography constitutes a public health crisis.[42] NCOSE drafted much of the language when Utah passed a resolution labeling pornography a "public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms".[42][54] The resolution called for action against "the pornography epidemic that is harming the citizens of Utah and the nation".[42] The claims are not yet backed by global health agencies,[42] and outside experts criticized the language for its assertions.[54] 15 other states replicated the resolution using mostly identical language.[42]

The organization operations can be categorized into three primary areas: grassroots corporate and legislative advocacy, legal advocacy through its law center, and public awareness and education.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation was one of over 70 groups that came out in support of the controversial EARN IT Act in 2020 and called it "the best piece of accountability in the tech space since the passage of FOSTA-SESTA in 2018, which makes it illegal for interactive computer services to knowingly facilitate sex trafficking."[55]

In 2017, NCOSE placed EBSCO on its Dirty Dozen List because its databases, widely used in schools in the United States, "could be used to search for information about sexual terms."[56] The group said that some articles from Men's Health and other publications indexed by EBSCO included articles with sexual (but not pornographic) content, and that other articles in the database linked to websites that included pornography.[56] EBSCO responded by saying that it took the complaint seriously, but was unaware of any case "of students using its databases to access pornography or other explicit materials" and that "the searches NCOSE was concerned about had been conducted by adults actively searching for graphic materials, often on home computers that don't have the kinds of controls and filters common on school computers."[56]

James LaRue, the director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, said that students have a right to receive information, even about topics that some groups deem inappropriate. He said that NCOSE's goal seems to be to get rid of any content "that will offend any parent in America."[56] "NCOSE has the right to advocate for greater restrictions on access to sexual content", said LaRue, "but they often do this by suppressing content. When they try to impose their standards on other families, the American Library Association would call that censorship."[56] NCOSE also put the American Library Association on their Dirty Dozen List, along with Amazon.com.[56]

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has advocated against pornography for decades and has taken aim at adult website Pornhub many times, including efforts to convince payment processing companies to stop working with the MindGeek-owned pornography site.[57] One of NCOSE's lawyers was mentioned by Nicholas Kristof in his article "The Children of Pornhub" for The New York Times in December 2020—a piece which may have been influential in Visa and Mastercard's decisions to stop working with Pornhub.[58]

On April 13, 2021, an article in Vice alleged that the National Center on Sexual Exploitation's rhetoric risked spiling over into real-world violence. The organization responded by alleging that institutionalized racism in pornography "fuel[ed] the demand for radicalized sexual violence."[59]

In the early months of 2020, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation led a group of NGOs from around a dozen countries internationally in a grassroots public advocacy effort in hopes of pressuring payment processing companies to recognize the allegations of abuse and criminality being levied by groups like NCSE against pornography websites and cut ties with them. In December 2020, in the wake of that campaign and a public awareness boost from an Opinion article about Pornhub by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, both Visa and Mastercard announced their intentions to end their work with Pornhub.[60][61]

NCOSE went after Parler, as well as Google and Amazon, in the wake of the platforms gaining national attention after the events at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021, by adding to claims that Parler has failed to moderate violence on its platform and re-iterating its own claims about Google and Amazon failing to deal with sexual violence and exploitation in their platforms and products.[62]

In early 2020, a lawsuit against Wyndham Hotels was brought by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law Center on behalf of a child sex trafficking survivor who was serially raped in Wyndham hotels.[63]

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law Center hit Twitter with a lawsuit in January 2020. The lawsuit, John Doe v Twitter, claimed that Twitter had knowingly refused to remove widely-shared child sexual abuse material (a.k.a. child pornography) even after Doe verified his age to Twitter and requested it be taken down. According to the legal filing, Twitter's response to Doe said that its investigation "didn't find a violation of the company's policies."[64][65]

MindGeek, an international corporation that owns and operates sites like Pornhub, found itself the target of a class action lawsuit brought by NCOSE and several other law firms in February 2021. The litigation, a federal class action lawsuit, alleges that MindGeek hosted multiple rape videos of child sex trafficking victims and profited from that material while not doing anything to verify the age or consent of the children in the material.[66] During the same month (February 2021), the Canadian Parliament began hearings to investigate the allegations against Pornhub.[67]

The organization has previously received funding from Philip Anschutz and the Coors Brewing Company family.[68][69] Joseph Coors was also a member of the organization's board of directors.[69] U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) grants of $150,000 in the 2005 and 2006 federal budgets funded Morality in Media's review of citizen-generated obscenity complaints submitted to the group's ObscenityCrimes.org website. MIM deemed 67,000 complaints legitimate by August 2007 and referred them to the DOJ,[70] but the program never resulted in a prosecution.[71] The grants were created by Congressional earmarks by U.S. Representative Frank Wolf of Virginia.[70]