March 6, 2008 — -- In an effort to shield children from what they deem is inappropriate adult content, some Durham, N.C., parents have waged a campaign against mall stores selling sexually explicit items that are accessible to children.
The parents have targeted the national chain Spencer's Gifts, which is known for selling sexually provocative items along with gag gifts and goofy presents. In fact, in one mall the store sits adjacent to a Build-a-Bear workshop and in another it's beside a kids' carousel.
Carol Shepard, one concerned mother, said she was upset by what she saw in the store.
"I went in to see for myself and it was disgusting," said Shepard, who confronted a store clerk a year and a half ago when she noticed two teens buying sex toys. "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, another parent, said she was shocked when she went to the store to buy a gag gift for her husband's birthday.
"My 11-year-old walked up with a sex toy and asked what it was," Hall said.
Some parents have taken a video camera into stores to document how graphic some of the items in the store are. When they attempted to post the video on YouTube to warn other parents, the site found the pictures too graphic and flagged it as inappropriate and restricted it to people 18 years old and older.
"The question to me is how are the YouTube standards, why pornographic there, but in our town of Durham, N.C., is it OK," said Virginia Dirschl.
So ABC News affiliate WTVD conducted an investigation to see what teens could access inside the store. With parents' consent, WTVD sent three girls between ages 13 and 14 into a Spencer's at Durham's Northgate Mall with a hidden camera.
The girls were allowed to view sexually explicit greeting cards, and pick up sex toy after sex toy.
When the teens tried to look at even more of the store's sexual selection, a clerk stopped them.
"Are ya'll 18? You can't be back here," the clerk said.
But the girls were allowed to purchase three things many would consider adult items, including two toy rabbits that vibrate, moan and simulate sex despite the "for adults only" warning on the product. They also were able to buy a necklace made of models of the male anatomy.
At another mall, parents allowed the station to send boys between the ages of 15 and 16 to Durham's Southpoint Mall.
The boys roamed freely and checked out explicit items, but when they tried to purchase a sex toy and sex game, a cashier thwarted their efforts.
Clerk: Are you guys 18?
Clerk: You have to be 18 to buy them.
Unlike the girls, the boys left with nothing, which was a small consolation to parents who don't think the kids should even be able to see them or pick them up in the first place.
In a statement Spencer's said, "Spencer's understands our obligation to maintain an environment of trust appropriate for the guests who patronize our stores. In every location, we inform our guests, before entering, that a small portion of adult-themed merchandise is on display in the rear of the store. It is also our policy to discourage the sale of items with an adult theme to guests under the age of majority. Spencer's has a 60-year tradition as the authentic destination for fun, humor and unique merchandise targeted to our core 18- to 24-year-old guests, but we also respect the choices of all individuals who visit our stores."