A national anti-pornography advocacy group has rejected a cease-and-desist letter it received from a leading K-12 research database provider used in many public schools after warning for years that the company is exposing students to sexually explicit content.
The Washington-based National Center on Sexual Exploitation said Tuesday in response to the demand letter from EBSCO Information Services that despite years of pressure, the provider continues to allow live links to hardcore pornographic material and prostitution sites to be accessed by minors through its search databases.
With services widely used in many U.S. public school systems and libraries, NCOSE claims that EBSCO allows eroticized stories and material that promotes commercial sex and sex toys in its databases.
NCOSE, which regularly pressures companies to avoid promoting or profiting off of pornography, has long asked EBSCO to clean up its databases that are accessible to minors. The nonprofit warns that children using the databases for school purposes could be exposed to pornographic content.
The letter from EBSCO, sent in October, demanded that NCOSE rescind information from a blog post about the content EBSCO had permitted. But NCOSE maintains its post is "appropriate and truthful."
“After alerting EBSCO to pornographic content on its K-12 databases several times since February 2017, EBSCO assured us it would address these concerns — and in some instances, it did," Dawn Hawkins, NCOSE senior vice president and executive director, said in a statement shared with The Christian Post Tuesday.
"We believed EBSCO was trying to improve its curation processes and training for school administrators."
NCOSE formally contacted EBSCO in February 2017 to alert it of its placement on its "Dirty Dozen List," an annual list produced by the nonprofit to raise awareness of companies or entities that are said to be "facilitators of sexual exploitation in our society and culture."
NCOSE asked EBSCO to either remove sexually explicit content or, at the very least, adequately warn users that the sexually explicit content may appear on its K-12 products.
But last month, EBSCO's letter demanded the group take down a "Back to School" blog post that urged parents to be aware that problems continue on EBSCO databases and their children might be at even greater risk to exposure during virtual schooling.
NCOSE sent a response letter on Oct. 30 rejecting that EBSCO's assertion that the organization's claims were not truthful. In the letter written by lawyer Douglas Baldridge, NCOSE attached even more evidence of explicit content found in the company's databases in the past two weeks.
In a Wednesday phone interview, NCOSE Director of Corporate and Strategic Initiatives Lina Nealon elaborated that her group was profiling EBSCO because of the tremendous influence they have with students and schools.
Nealon is a mom of three children in a public school system. She said she was able to access the material "quite easily" on their school-issued Chromebooks.
"We're now waiting to hear back from EBSCO's legal counsel," she told CP.
"The fact that we are able to so easily find this material, that parents are finding it, that other organizations are finding it, but EBSCO continues to claim that their databases are clean and safe. Now we're finding that the material is almost more egregious than in the past."
Asked about why there seems to be such a back-and-forth process where EBSCO has addressed some issues that NCOSE highlighted but then ignored and denied others, Nealon offered that she could only speculate. But she reasoned that EBSCO's business model is based on publishing numbers and titles.
"So they seem to have a vested interest in keeping numbers high," she said. "And what we can gather is that they don't want to remove these [explicit] things because it would potentially impact their bottom line."
These databases have been an issue for years, she added. Nealon said it's especially the case given how many children are doing virtual schooling due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"Any corporation that is involved so closely with students or with children I believe should feel the weight of responsibility to do everything it can to ensure their health and well-being," Nealon contends. "And for EBSCO to claim that they're educating and empowering when instead they are actually endangering them is highly negligent, in my opinion."
Founded in 1962, NCOSE is the leading national non-partisan organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health harms of pornography.