Online Free Speech - Client, Mitchell S. Tepper

October 20, 2006
ACLU Defends Free Speech Online >>

Mitchell S. Tepper is the founder and president of The Sexual Health Network, Inc.

Visitors of all ages come to my Web site, SexualHealth.com, looking for answers to sexually explicit questions that they have been too afraid or too embarrassed to ask their doctors, their parents, their partners, their teachers or their religious leaders. Some questions are apparently from minors who simply want to know, "Am I normal?" Younger visitors tend to ask about body image, genital image, masturbation and chances of getting pregnant or a disease from various sexual activities and behaviors. We get questions from adults on topics ranging from pain during intercourse, abnormal bleeding, post partum sex, and low sexual desire to erectile dysfunction, early or delayed ejaculation, infertility and effects of medications. We also get questions about sex and disability, and about sex and aging. SexualHealth.com plays an invaluable role in filling the sexual health information gap with medically accurate and potentially life saving content.

In fulfilling our mission of ending the silence around sexual health related matters by making sexual health information easily accessible at the click of a mouse, I and my company, The Sexual Health Network, Inc., would be at risk of criminal prosecution under the Child Online Protection Act if we continued to offer easily accessible, uncensored content. COPA makes it a criminal offense to make available to minors any form of communication that may be deemed harmful with respect to minors. The statute is overly broad, covering matter as benign as the exhibition of a "post-pubescent female breast." Since we publish thousands of sexually explicit questions along with frank answers and articles that depict, describe, or represent sexual acts or conduct that some may find patently offensive with regard to minors, we would be potential targets under COPA.

I agree that there is a compelling interest to protect minors from harm’s way when they are using the Internet. However, COPA does not serve this interest and may put children at greater danger. COPA misses the target by focusing on static content instead of interactive platforms like chat rooms and instant messaging where children are at real risk of harm. Hence, COPA would leave parents and guardians with a false sense of security when their children are online.

In missing the target, COPA would cause significant collateral damage. Under COPA, the government would require SexualHealth.com to collect visitors’ credit card information in order to verify age before they can access our site. The easy access, affordability and anonymity that has allowed millions of our visitors over the past 10 years to bypass guilt, shame and embarrassment in search of hard to find answers would be lost. COPA would block minors and seriously deter adults from visiting SexualHealth.com, perhaps making it impossible for my company to maintain our Web site. The government would essentially abolish visitors’ free, easy and anonymous access to life enhancing, empowering and even life saving public health information in the name of protecting children from harm.

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