Coming home

Q&A Former ‘scandal queen’ Donna Rice Hughes on becoming a voice of decency and morality | Marvin Olasky

Coming home

Donna Rice Hughes
Lexey Swall/Genesis Photos

Late in 1987, the frontrunner for the following year’s Democratic nomination for president was Sen. Gary Hart. Reporters asked him about rumors of extramarital affairs, and he dared reporters to follow him. Two Miami Herald reporters staked out Hart’s Washington townhouse and saw Donna Rice, 29, going in one night and coming out the next morning. The National Enquirer soon after front-paged a photo of her sitting on Gary Hart’s lap. Seven years later Rice married Jack Hughes and joined the anti-pornography group Enough Is Enough: Today she is its CEO. 

You grew up in Christian settings? From middle school up through high school and college I was very involved in youth group and choir. I was a summer missionary through the Southern Baptist Association and I dated Christian guys. I was really like a poster child for “good Southern Christian girl.” 

When you graduated in 1980—a magna cum laude biology major at the University of South Carolina—did you know what you wanted to do next? I really was not sure. I knew I wanted to make a difference. 

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What happened over the next seven years? Toward the end of my college career, I started making these little left turns. Before long I was dating some non-Christian guys and thought, “That’s not a big deal.” As soon as I graduated I lost my virginity when I was date-raped by one of those non-Christian guys. I was Miss South Carolina in the Miss World pageant and was on my way to New York. That was the catalyst. I went radically prodigal for seven years. 

It started with subtle compromises? It’s hard to believe how you can go from here to there—you don’t go there overnight, you go there by little wrong choices. I saw Hart only twice—but all that said, God had been trying to get my attention prior to that, and it took an international sex scandal because I was stubborn. God will track you down. He will let things happen, the natural consequences of our choices. 

So suddenly you’re infamous: What happened then? It was a year and a half of hell. I had been a model, so all these old bathing suit pictures of me were popping up on covers of magazines all over the world. I was being called names you wouldn’t believe. Playboy said we’ll do an interview—it will start at a million dollars and go up, depending on what you’re willing to say. 

You did the one commercial for No Excuses jeans—and what about the other temptations? I was offered some of the things I had wanted. The chairman of CBS saw me on Barbara Walters’ show and said, “Do you want to do drama, news, daytime, nighttime, whatever?” Millions of dollars thrown my way, blank checks at times, a lot of exploitive things—and over here God saying, “Come home.” I started taking baby steps back to the Lord. There were no good role models of women who had been in situations like this whose reputations had been restored and redeemed. So I started my journey back to the Lord and went underground for seven years.

Where did you go to get away from this? I hid in plain sight, living in Northern Virginia with a family, taking care of a disabled lady. Eventually I moved to California and started a production company, but moved back to the Washington area, planning to get married, and took a job with Enough Is Enough as communications director.

You’ve now been at it for almost two decades. Give us a two-minute education in the current pornography problem. Nine out of 10 kids have seen pornography on the internet. The pornographers put free pictures and free videos and everything else on the internet in order to get people to come to their site and get hooked on the material before they ever get charged for it. We have today, in this country, absolutely no regulation with respect to softer-core material. The harder-core material, including sex acts or any deviant material like bestiality, group sex, and rape, violence, everything else, is prosecutable for adults as well as for minor children. 

But those laws aren’t enforced. They’re not, so it’s freely available for anyone, including kids. Then there is child pornography showing a child who’s being abused. It’s a huge business on the internet, and kids as well as adults have free and easy access to that as well.

The battle against sex trafficking is a strong priority for a lot of college students, but is “pornography” a cold topic right now? Yes, but pornography fuels the trafficking business: Someone gets hooked on it and wants to have the sexual experiences he’s seeing. Most anyone who’s been trafficked is appearing in pornography on the internet, and that fuels more and more of the behavior—a vicious cycle.

A lot of folks say, “Sure, I’m against something involving children, but with consenting adults it’s a private matter.” Why is it a public matter? The Witherspoon Institute has gathered the evidence of the harms against men and women from the addiction standpoint and how this fuels sexual abuse. There has been a rise in sex crimes by children against other children imitating what they’ve seen in pornography. Brain science is showing how this affects the chemicals in your brain: These images get so imprinted that it’s very hard to get them out of your mind and experience any type of sexual satisfaction without that material. There’s a whole epidemic of young men who are using Viagra because they are having trouble relating to their wives because of pornography. There is a big trend now with business people losing their jobs: About 40 percent of people who are sex addicts lose their jobs because of their addiction. They can’t stop, and then of course you’ve got acting out. 

If you hadn’t visited Gary Hart in Washington and painfully become the center of a sex scandal, do you think you would have continued in the mistaken course you had set over the seven years since graduating from college? I really don’t know. Prior to going up to Washington, where The Miami Herald followed me, I had made a deal with God. I had said, “I just need to have one more conversation with this person, and then I’m coming back to you, Lord.” I hope I would have done that—but who knows? Oddly, I was Miss Scandal Queen 1987 and now I’m seen as this voice of decency and morality. That’s a God thing. 

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