On Saturday, September 23, 2017, our team was invited to join the Hagerstown, Maryland Walmart for this year’s Walmart Wellness Day as well as the Global Pilot Collaboration for Healthier Lives monthly program. The event ran from 10am to 2pm and consisted of glucose testing, hearing tests, flu shots, and us. Stationed between the checkout lines and the produce section, our tables were on full display to the over 1000 people who came through the store on their busiest day at their busiest time.
We talked with mothers and wives, children and teens, husbands and fathers, professionals in their fields and antagonizing individuals. We discussed the harm pornography has on the brain, the body, relationships, marriages, families, children, and beyond. We were in the middle of the community and we were able to hear so many stories. We were able to cry with people picking up the pieces from sexual exploitation and encourage those itching to take action against bad actors in this fight.
Two of my most memorable experiences came one at the beginning of the day and one at the end. I had barely set up our table for ten minutes when a twenty-something young man came up to the table, his t-shirt reading, “SHH Stop Talking.” Not a very encouraging way to start a conversation. He started a little argumentative and told me all of the harms of pornography I was mentioning were in a person’s head and not actually caused by pornography. However, as I walked him through the sexual dysfunction caused by pornography there was a stark change in his demeanor. He began engaging by asking questions and even took a few flyers. He said it was hard to argue with the sexual dysfunction, and conceded that porn isn’t as pro-sex as he once thought. What started as an abrasive, argumentative interaction slowed into a dialogue about the research-backed physiological effects of porn and quite possibly a change in his perspective.
Then, later in the day as I was breaking down the table, I had a woman in her mid-forties who had been watching our table from a distance meet my eye. I watched as she took a deep breath and gathered herself. She came over to the table, picked up a flyer on the harms of pornography and my business card, then looked me in the eye and said “thank you.” I could see the tears she was fighting back and could hear the pain in her measured and controlled voice. This woman did not need to be told the harms of pornography, she was living them. It was in that moment that I felt the weight of what we do here; I saw the face of a woman who needs sexual exploitation removed from her home and her life. We are all affected, and it was an honor to share the burden of her pain in that one simple moment and those two simple words.
The most encouraging part of the day, though, came simply because we were invited to join the community health fair. In November of 2016, researchers at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation were alerted to eroticized child nudity photography books along with other sexually explicit material on Walmart’s online marketplace. Within 24 hours of being alerted to this, Walmart removed these books. Walmart has taken steps combat sexual exploitation within their physical stores as well. In 2015, Walmart instituted a company-wide policy to cover Cosmo magazines at the checkout counters. These actions show Walmart wants to be a good actor in our culture to combat sexual exploitation.
What we really appreciate at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation is that Walmart did not stop at these two actions. The steps they took before were wonderful, but were reactionary. They were in response to a violation of their own corporate responsibility, though they did show great timeliness and accountability in getting these issues cleaned up quickly. But by inviting us to Walmart Wellness Day as well as including us in the Global Pilot Collaboration for Healthier Lives Program for the month of September, they took proactive steps to implement preventative measures in the lives of their customers. By inviting us and creating a space for discourse amongst their consumers, Walmart invested in the health of the individuals and families they serve.
Acknowledging pornography as harmful to the communities in which they exist, Walmart took a stand in working to eradicate it, one shopper at a time.