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For The Children. Against The Parents

by @ 2:58 pm on July 18, 2006. Filed under In The News, Random Thoughts

Salon has a piece up by Jody Jenkins describing the hell that he and his family went through when he decided to take some seemingly innocent pictures of his children during a camping trip:

As usual during the trip, we took several photos. Because I forgot my digital camera, I bought a disposable camera at a gas station on the way to the campground. I took pictures of the kids using sticks to beat on old bottles and cans and logs as musical instruments. I took a few of my youngest daughter, Eliza, then age 3, skinny-dipping in the lake, and my son, Noah, then age 8, swimming in the lake in his underwear, and another of Noah naked, hamming it up while using a long stick to hold his underwear over the fire to dry. Finally, I took a photo of everyone, as was our camping tradition, peeing on the ashes of the fire to put it out for the last time. We also let the kids take photos of their own.

You can imagine what happened next, I’m sure:

When we returned on Sunday, I forgot the throwaway camera and Rusty found it in his car. He gave it to his wife, whom I’ll call Janet, to get developed, and she dropped it off the next day with two other rolls of film at a local Eckerd drugstore. On Tuesday, when she returned to pick up the film, she was approached by two officers from the Savannah Police Department. They told her they had been called by Eckerd due to “questionable photos.”

One officer told Janet “there were pictures of little kids running around with no clothes on, pictures of minors drinking alcohol,” she recounted for me in an e-mail. “I asked to see the pictures and was told I couldn’t. I explained there must be a mistake. I was kind of laughing, you know, ‘Come on guys. There must be an explanation. This is crazy. Let me see the pictures.’ The officer told me that he personally did not find [the photos] offensive and that he had camped himself as a kid and knows what goes on.” But the officer also told Janet that “because Eckerd’s had called them and that because there were pictures of children naked, genitalia and alcohol, they would have to investigate.”

Janet asked the photo lab clerk what was on the photos and the clerk “replied very seriously that they were bad, that there was one that looked like a child’s head had been cut off, one with children drinking beer and pictures of naked kids.” As she drove to her house, Janet said, “I was in shock and felt sick to the pit of my stomach and was trying to process all of it.” She called my wife, who was driving home, and explained what had happened. Sensing how bad this might become, my wife pulled her car to the side of the road and fought the urge to throw up.

Neither my wife nor I, Rusty nor Janet has a criminal record of any sort. Yet over the next several weeks, the Savannah Police Department and the Department of Family and Child Services (DFCS) investigated us for “child pornography” and then “sexual exploitation of a minor.” We suffered the embarrassment of having DFCS interview our family, friends, employers and our children’s teachers, asking them whether we were suitable parents and what kind of relationship we had with our kids.

The article goes on from there, and, if you want to read the entire thing and don’t subscribe to Salon, you’ll have to sit through a commercial, but its worth it. While the charges will ultimately thrown out, this family was quite literally torn apart and branded as sex offenders thanks to overzealousness of a camera store employee and the overzealousness of the state, all in the name of the children.

This is not the first time something like this has happened to a parent:

For instance, in Dallas in 2003, as the result of a complaint by an Eckerd drugstore employee, a 33-year-old woman was charged with “sexual performance of a child,” a second-degree felony punishable by 20 years in prison, based on a picture of her breast-feeding her 1-year-old son. Although the district attorney dropped the charges in the case, the parents had to fight for weeks to get their two children back from the Dallas County Child Protective Services.

Also, Salon ran a story on this issue six years ago that showed the ways that parents were being caught in a web that was supposedly designed to trap pedophiles. Two examples from that article:

David Urban in 1989 took photos of his wife and 15-month-old grandson, both nude, as she was giving him a bath. Kmart turned him in and he was convicted by a Missouri court (later overturned).>

More recently, Cynthia Stewart turned in bath-time pictures of her 8-year-old daughter to a Fuji film processing lab in Oberlin, Ohio. The lab contacted the local police, who found the pictures “over the line” and arrested the mother for, among other things, snapping in the same frame with her daughter a showerhead, which the prosecution apparently planned to relate somehow to hints of masturbation.

The charges against Stewart were ultimately settled.

I’m not excusing child abuse or exploitation, but the point is this. Parents are being persecuted for taking pictures that parents have taken since cameras were invented. There is nothing lewd or pornographic about it. In today’s era, when even being charged with an offense like this is the equivalent of a Scarlet Letter, the eagerness with which police and photo store employees to jump at something like this and scream “child abuse” should be a concern to anyone.

More thoughts from Alex Knapp at Outside The Beltway

H/T: Hit & Run

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