"> Name: Washington newsstand owners imprisoned on obscenity charges

Date:  1995 - 2005

Location:  North America

SubjectExplicit Sexuality , Other

MediumPrint Journalism

Artist: Jim and Debbie Goad and various artists

Confronting Bodies: A Western Washington student. Whatcom County Crisis Center director and the county prosecuter.

Date of Action: 1995

Specific Location: Bellingham, Washington

Description of Artwork: "Answer Me!" is an annual alternative journal that features drawings by cartoonists, and articles about a particular theme, such as murder, suicide and rape. The issue in question addressed rape. It included graphic drawings and a centerfold game. The issue came with a disclaimer, warning against actions taken that resemble those described in the issue.

Description of Incident: Laura Bergstrom, a Western Washington University student, complained about the issue that she saw at her local newsstand; she claimed that its content promotes violence against women. Bergstrom asked that they remove the journal. When the newsstand owners, Kristina Hjelsand and Ira Stohl, refused; Bergstrom contacted the Whatcom County Crisis Center, an organization that helps women who are victims of rape or domestic abuse. The center director viewed the journal and called local police. Detective Mark Green notified the newsstand that the prosecutor's office was investigating the complaint, citing a possible violation of state obscenity laws. Hjelsand and Stohl almost complied with the officers suggestion, to remove the stack of publications. Instead they bound the stack with chains and presented information about the first amendment. After ignoring a warning from the state prosecuter, the couple was arrested and charged for promoting pornography; a class C felony carrying a maximum of five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

Results of Incident: Several months after these events Bergstrom wrote a letter to the university paper retracting her position. She also suggested that detective Green had bullied her to pursue her charge. The couple was acquitted of the charges. Stohl, Hjelsand and their defender, Tom Hillier, were awarded the ACLU's 1996 William O. Douglas Award

Source: Artistic Freedom Under Attack, 1996

Submitted By: NCAC

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