Sex toys at Spencer's

March 7, 2008 2:58:26 PM PST
A story about morality at the mall. Local parents are upset that a chain of stores is selling sexually provocative items at malls all over the Triangle.

Parents are so fired up, they've gone to the Attorney General, police and now Troubleshooter Diane Wilson. This isn't just one parent outraged, it's literally dozens and they're on a mission to keep adult items out of the reach of their children.

The stores in question are Spencer's Gifts. It's a national chain that's always been a bit edgy. When you go to Spencer's you know you'll find gag gifts, whoopee cushions and things you wouldn't find anywhere else in the mall. But things have changed. Spencer's now sell sex games, sex manuals even sex toys. Jay Peters is one of the upset parents. He tells Troubleshooter Diane Wilson, "To know that he can walk into Spencer's and buy something like this is very alarming." These parents were so fired up actually brought us a bag full of sexual items that they say they bought at Spencer's. Carol Shepard says, "I went in to see for myself and it was disgusting." She adds she was in a local Spencer's a year-and-a-half ago and witnessed two teens buying an oral sex enhancer. She says she was so offended she confronted the clerk. She says, "I said would you sell these to young kids and he said oh yeah the only thing we can't sell them is lighter fluid." Laura Hall says she got the shock of her life when she and her kids went in to buy a gag gift for her husband's birthday. She adds, "My 11 year old walked up with a sex toy and asked what it was."

Some of these parents have been on this crusade for more than two years. They even took a video camera in to a local store to document just how graphic they say some of the stuff is. When they tried to post it on YouTube to educate others, it got flagged as inappropriate and restricted to people 18 and older. Virginia Dirschl adds, "So the question to me is how is this to the YouTube standards pornographic but in our town of Durham, NC is it ok?" Some of these parents even took their fight to the Attorney General's office and police, but say they got nowhere. Will Hodges says, "I think there's laws out there. There's clearly a law of what's pornographic or not, it's just the enforcement of it. It just seems like this falls between a crack if they AG won't address it, and the police force won't address it unless there's a victim."

So we decided to see for ourselves. With their parents' consent, we sent three girls ages 13 and 14 into the Spencer's at Durham's Northgate Mall. The girls were armed with a hidden camera to see what they could buy. The girls checked out sexually explicit greeting cards and they played with a necklace made of beads and toy penises. They even picked up a phallic-shaped cup. Then, they went to check out the selection of vibrators and other sex toys. A sales person asked them if they were 18. When they answered no, she said you can't be back here. But when they went to check out, they had no problem buying three things many would consider adult items. They were able to buy a penis neckalce, a birthday card with a pop up penis inside and 'also Boinkin' Bunnies. The "Boinkin' Bunnies are two toy rabbits that vibrate, moan, and simulate sex. On the box it says 'For Adults Only' and 'ages 18+' right on the box. These girls were only 13 & 14.

To be fair to Spencer's, we sent different teens to a different mall to see what they could buy. This time, our undercover subjects were boys ages 15 and 16. With their parents' okay they went to the Spencer's at Durham's Streets at Southpoint. The boys roamed the store freely checking out explicit items including the selection of dozens of vibrators. But, when they went to buy the vibrator and a sex game the clerk asked if the boys were 18. When they said no, she said they can't buy them. Unlike the girls, they left with nothing.

This is a small consolation for the parents who don't think the kids should even be able to see them or pick them up in the first place. Lynne Mourman says "They need to put it behind the counter, where they have to ask for it, where they can't look at it, where they have to show id, we consider it pornographic items that should be sold to people who are over the age of 18." The parents are happy that the first clerk confronted the girls, and the second clerk denied the boys. But they still can't believe the kids were able to see what they saw, touch what they touched and in the girls' case, buy what they bought. They say they don't have a problem with Spencer's selling adult items, they just think they should only admit 18 and older like other adult stores in the triangle. They say they won't stop fighting until that happens.

As for Spencer's Gifts, they responded to Troubleshooter Diane Wilson with this statement.

"Since 1947, Spencer's has been committed to creating an exciting, entertaining and unique store experience for our core 18 to 24 year-old guests. Within our broad, eclectic mix of merchandise, a small percentage has an adult theme and has been available in Spencer's for decades. By policy, Spencer's management and associates have had an obligation and responsibility to the community to discourage the sale of items with an adult theme to persons under the age of majority. Spencer's understands its obligation to maintain an environment of trust appropriate for the over one hundred million guests annually who patronize our six hundred stores nationwide. In every location, Spencer's informs its guests, before entering that a small portion of adult-themed merchandise is on display in the rear of the store. In this way, Spencer's will continue in its sixty-year tradition as the authentic destination for fun, humor and unique merchandise targeted to our core 18 to 24 year-old guests, while respecting the interests of all individuals who visit our stores."


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