November/December, 1997 Volume XII Number 9

The slippery slope of child pornography

by Paul deParrie

The shot not heard around the world. That's what I would call the most recent campaign of Randall Terry, founder and former director of Operation Rescue and recent convert to the "solve our problems through political involvement" school of thought.
Terry and his "Patrick Henry Boys" have been roaming the country in search of a lever that will move him and his cohorts into Congress. More power to him.
Along the way, the ever-controversial leader bumps into some important battles -- even when the media ignores them.
Most recently, Terry uncovered the sales of photography books -- the works of one Jock Sturges -- in Barnes & Noble bookstores and their subsidiaries, Borders bookstores.
Sturges has a one-track mind of photographing naked people in nudist colonies. Most of his subjects, from what I saw, were underage females running from about eight up to 17 years of age.
The photos are not surreptitious and apparently are taken and shown with the permission of the parents of these young girls.
Terry was outraged by what he called child pornography and, with some friends, went to his local Barnes & Noble and proceeded to tear up one of the Sturges books. The store refused to arrest them -- thereby defusing what could have been a big news story.
But Terry was not satisfied. He organized to have "Jock Sturges tear-ups" in cities across the country -- all on the same day. Someone in Oregon tore up about $500 worth of Sturges books in a sweep of visits to eight stores before he was finally arrested.
I was curious. I looked at one of Sturges' older books at the library in order to determine whether the photos were in violation of state and federal laws on child pornography. The law requires either sexual activity involving minors -- an explicit standard -- or "lewd exposition of the genitals" -- a more subjective standard. After looking at the book entitled "Jock Sturges," I had to conclude that about a dozen of the photos should be decided by a jury. Three of those would get my absolute vote as "lewd." Such a finding would make the entire book an illegal book of child pornography.
This, though, is the slippery slope. People like Jock Sturges (who has been identified by a victim as having molested her when she was 14 and a student at a school where Sturges taught) will put out "art" books of this type which can be used by child molesters to "normalize" nudity in the minds of their victims. They are careful to have nothing which is overtly child pornography, but purposely bump the gray areas of the law where subjective words like "lewd" can be used to get them off any charges. But the "work" serves the needs of the pedophiles and it softens the public will against the unspeakable crimes committed against children (Since when is this new?).
However, the question that haunts me on a deeper level is why the law would allow so much latitude with the innocence of children at stake?
Consider the 11-year-old girl: her family practices nudism so she is not particularly bothered by the prospect of being photographed, and her parents give Sturges or one of his type permission to photograph and publish the pictures.
What happens in three or four years when this child is in the throes of adolescence and her classmates -- whose families are not nudists or after she has decided that she is no longer comfortable with nudism -- discover this book? How does she feel later when she realizes that her naked body is and has been seen by tens of thousands of strangers across the country and even around the world? Suppose she now objects to having her naked body displayed in this way. Can she demand the recall of the books? Can she demand the recall of the memories of those who -- with whatever motives -- viewed her private parts?
No. It is an act which cannot be revoked. And she had absolutely no say in it. "Stars" of what everyone agrees is child porn universally testify to the constant fear that people they pass on the street will recognize them from the porn. Can it be any different for Sturges' "models?"
Anyone who has had daughters (I have five) knows how easily embarrassed they become over old photographs because of the expression on their face or the dated style of clothing they wore. One cannot easily share these pictures with family members, much less publish them in books.
Do parents exercise such complete control over their children that they are permitted to make contracts and agreements that could impact their children's future in the way these nude pictures do? Shouldn't the law prohibit such agreements?
We do not allow minors to make binding contracts precisely because they cannot be expected to know all the future ramifications of their acts. We shouldn't allow parents to enter into agreements that will affect their children in ways like this. It is the child, not the parent who pays the price.
These are not adults. These are not photos of babies in the bathtub or on the bear skin rug -- for the eyes of family only. These are not Raphael's paintings of cherubs. They are real children. They are being exposed to tens of thousands. They are real people, not paintings.
It should be stopped. If tearing up a few books will help, so be it. Go to it, Randy!

Copyright © 1997 AFLM