Porn Week: D’Evils – Investigating Child Porn

January 23rd, 2009 | Author: Anthony Springer Jr

The old cliché states, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” but in the era of emerging technology, a seemingly innocent photo can also be worth 15 minutes of infamy. Last December, two Washington cheerleaders were suspended after nude photos of the pair were circulated. I’m not talking about Washington Redskins cheerleaders—though any NFL owner would likely terminate a cheerleader for a similar infraction. I’m talking about Washington state high school students.

After school officials uncovered the tawdry photos, both girls were suspended from the cheerleading team—one for 30 days, the other for the duration of the school year. As a result, the parents of the unidentified minors filed suit, alleging that administration violated the girls’ due process rights, and failed to report the incident to the police as possible child pornography.

The charge that the administrators were in possession of child pornography is perhaps the most serious and has far reaching implications. In fact, it’s one of a handful of cases in which nude photos or videos of teens have been at the heart of an investigation. On January 14, three teenage girls and three teenage boys in Greensburg, Pennsylvania were busted for child pornography. According to reports, the girls allegedly sent nude or semi-nude photos of themselves to the boys in question. The photos were uncovered after school officials confiscated a cell phone that was used inappropriately during school hours. The seemingly innocent moment of camera play mixed with stupidity has led to adult charges. All six teens—between the ages of 14 and 17—were hit with various charges including manufacturing, disseminating or possessing child pornography.

Similar cases have been reported in a number of states, and while the mainstream media is just beginning to pick up on this trend, the issue of “sexting”—as it has been dubbed by some—is nothing new. However, the increased attention from authorities presents a growing problem for a handful of exhibitionist teens and webmasters that may have images of underage kids in compromising positions.

While pornography is essentially at the heart of this debate, teens and amateur sites that create and distribute sexually explicit images is not likely to cause a backlash among the adult industry. “Amateur sites are not a problem for the industry; they’re a problem for the people who have them,” attorney Eric M. Bernstein of Bernstein and Associates, LLC told HipHopDX. “You have an obligation for record keeping; record retention and most people don’t go out and do that kind of thing.

While many critics of the porn industry may try to dubiously link the rise of lewd teen behavior to smut peddlers, the fact remains that the adult film industry religiously practices the art of covering their asses (no pun intended)—ensuring that would be underage performers never see the bright, hot lights that come with shooting a professional sex scene. Michael Fattorosi of AdultBizLaw.com underscores Bernstein’s point on this issue. “It really doesn’t have an impact on the industry,” he said when asked if the current crop of cases will cause further scrutiny of the porn industry. “This industry does not use children. 18 USC 2257 requires us to keep records of the performers’ identification attesting that they are 18. I don’t remember the last time a mainstream production company shot somebody under 18 knowingly.

For those of you outside the legal realm, 18 USC 2257 is the statute that mandates that any producer of a sexually explicit “book, magazine, periodical, film, videotape, digital image, digitally- or computer-manipulated image of an actual human being… create and maintain individually identifiable records pertaining to every performer portrayed in such a visual depiction.” In other words, when, or if the law comes calling, producers must be able to prove that all performers met or exceeded the age of majority at the time of production.

In the case of a growing number of “home grown” sites cropping up in the Internet featuring—in many cases—scantily clad (or fully nude) girls displaying their wares for the world to see, the prospect of jail time is very real. Many amateur sites are lacking the required documentation under the 2257 statute and it won’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the grown up body dancing in front of the Sponge Bob bed sheets and the posters of the latest teen heartthrob has likely not reached the age of consent. Though many of these home grown videos are created and disseminated by teens, not taking action would potentially create an environment that would give a safe haven to pedophiles, Fattorosi said.

This is the slippery slope that you have,” he explained. “A teenager took a picture of a teenager and sent it to another teenager. That’s not necessarily what child porn or child exploitation is. The idea is that it’s an adult taking photos of a child. The problem that you have is unless you prosecute that in the same manner, it allows an adult to hire a sixteen year old kid to shoot his girlfriend and sell it. You don’t want to give any opportunity for that to happen. I understand why they’re prosecuting that and treating it with such contempt.

As current technology allows a computer savvy individual to take a nude photo and distribute it to the world within minutes, the legal attention given to teens disrobing for the camera poses potential problems for social networking sites such as MySpace, which boasts millions of members. Though the number one social networking site in the world reserves the right to remove inappropriate photos, and aggressively goes after users who violate its terms of service. “The social networking sites are very specific, they will not accept naked or topless photos because teenagers are doing things they have no business doing,” Bernstein said. “I think you’ll continue to see crackdowns.

Self policing beats federal policing any day of the week, particularly when one’s freedom and livelihood are at stake. Video sharing site YouTube is crystal clear on its no porn policy. The community guidelines on the site explicitly state, “YouTube is not for pornography or sexually explicit content. If this describes your video, even if it’s a video of yourself, don’t post it on YouTube. Also, be advised that we work closely with law enforcement and we report child exploitation.” Ning, a site that allows individual users to create their own social networks, removed all of the adult content on its networks at the beginning of the year. While reports stated that adult content on Ning’s social networks were a mere one percent, a sliver of that contained video and photos of minors—or women who appeared to be under the age of 18.

It may be very possible that all these youngsters need is a stern talking to and the public embarrassment that comes when personal photos get into the wrong hands. The increasing media attention should also be enough to scare perpetrators—and future perps—straight when it comes the creation and distribution of pornographic photos. However, the legal option is on the table and due to the serious nature child pornography and the potential exploitation that accompanies the crime, a growing number of prosecutors seem to be treating these juveniles as adults.

I really think they’re going to have to prosecute [these cases] as if it were child porn,Fattorosi said in regards to future occurrences of sexting gone wrong. “It’s unfortunate, but I understand. Would I prosecute it if I was a prosecutor? Probably not, if you can see that it was kids. But I understand why they’re doing it.

The final chapters on teens use—or misuse—of cameras and the Internet are being written as we speak. Warnings against the distribution of pictures or video among minors and the serious charges that follow being caught are not likely to deter hormone driven teens in love—or in lust. Consequently, home grown sites are also likely to keep popping up, record keeping be damned. Though the Pennsylvania teens probably won’t serve hard time if convicted, they may have to register as sex offenders—a potential deathblow to future job prospects. And while the teens in question may skirt prison sentences in every new case that develops, the law is not likely to treat a web master found distributing child pornography with the same kid gloves. In addition to being a violation of federal law, possessing and distributing child pornography is a felony in all 50 states, and if the local district attorney wanted to get in on the action of prosecuting a case, state charges will pile on to any federal charges.

At the end of the day, the threat of legal prosecution and public shame won’t deter teens determined to create and share homemade nude images. Legal prosecution also doesn’t take the place of something not often talked about in this new child porn debate: parental supervision. Fattorosi isn’t sure that nude teen photos or videos should necessarily be labeled as porn, however, he is certain that parents are the key to stopping the trend—not prosecution.

[It’s] still problematic that a 16-year-old girl with a web cam puts [an explicit video] on YouTube. Is it porn if a girl isn’t engaging in sex if she’s not naked? Is it irresponsible for her to put herself out there and her parents aren’t supervising? Yes. What it all comes down to is parental responsibility. If you leave a child unsupervised, things like this happen.”

Ultimately,” he added, “it comes down to the parents and that’s what people don’t want to hear.

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