Does Defining Child Porn Go Too Far? Should You Get Rid of Naked Baby Pics?

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Did I commit sexual abuse when I took this picture of Lilly? Is this "child pornography"?

In 2008, an Arizona couple was accused of sexual abuse after taking bath-time photos of their children -- then ages 1 1/2, 4 and 5 -- and then trying to have them developed at Walmart. The parents were not allowed to see their children for several days and didn't regain custody for a month while the state investigated. Ultimately, neither parent was charged with sexual abuse and they regained custody of their children.


Lilly (at almost 3)

Imagine the lasting harm this inflicted on the children and their parents. Then imagine it happening to you.

With sexting and nude photos of minors causing a growing cultural panic, as addressed in a recent article by professor emeritus Paul Rapoport, it is not too unlikely. Stated a Canadian police officer recently after an eruption in the media's talk about sexting in Cape Breton, N.S.: "Taking naked photographs of anyone under the age of 18 -- even themselves -- constitutes making child pornography.” Comments Dr. Rapoport: "Really? Forget about teens; it’s time to destroy those cute photos of your baby in the bath."

The media thrives on sensationalist, fear-inducing stories, including on the most shocking outcomes of sexting, but a new survey found that teens aren't the rampant sexting maniacs we thought:

Just 1 percent of teens say they've created sexually explicit images and shared them, according to a new survey of 1,560 teenagers by the Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC) at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. About 2.5 percent of teens said they'd appeared in or created nude or nearly nude photos or videos. That's a far cry from the "20 percent of all teens are sexting" data that's been tossed around in the past few years.

Nevertheless, a number of US states have at this point criminalized the sending and sharing of nude photos, hitting teenagers with child pornography and sex offender charges. In her book Dirty Little Secrets, practicing psychotherapist Kerry Cohen further discusses the mistaken approach of penalizing youth for sexting. Exposing the sensationalist stories blown up by the media for what they are, without glossing over some real concerns, e.g. about older men soliciting teenage girls via Facebook, Cohen forces us to consider what the real problem is, which "is not necessarily that girls are victims of predatory males. It's that they are victims of very narrow definitions of sexual desirability, and in many ways, sexting is one more way girls wind up viewing sexual behavior as completely removed from their own desire."

The issue is that many girls -- you guessed it, loose girls -- use sexting and cybersex to try to feel wanted, and just like when they use male attention and sex in similar ways in real life, they don't get what they're after. When I asked the girls I interviewed why they sexted, their answers all pointed to a desire for connection. Amelia said, "It makes what is basically impossible to me possible, which is a hot guy liking me and wanting me in all ways." "All ways?" I asked. "Well, sexually, I guess," she said.

When the thing is that girls post nude pictures of themselves as "sexy" and "fun" girls as a way to gain the attention of boys, it means that girls are already victims. They are victims of our culture's warped ideas about sex and gender that tell girls to be "sexy but not sexual." Further penalizing them is not the place to begin. Again, I would urge that the we penalize the predator, not the victim. Which begs the question: when the predator cannot be identified as "the predatory male," but a cultural set of ideas that shapes the behavior of girls (and boys), then what? The issue is hugely complex. For now, Cohen implores parents not to let "their fears turn into what teenagers perceive as violations of privacy."

Blocking their Internet usage, checking up on their computers, and wrangling passwords from their teens will only lead teenagers to tell even less, and the more open the lines of communication are between teenagers and adults concerning sex-related issues, the better.

She also reminds us that online resources and positive communities can be a good place for youth to turn for real, frank information when conversations with parents can be embarrassing. And the potential of sexting as a safe way to explore sex:

Sexting and sexual Internet activity does not seem to lead to real-life sexual activity among those who don't already engage in it. Regardless of all the increased access to sex online, teen sex rates haven't skyrocketed. In fact, they've lowered some during the past decade ... One could argue, in fact, that sexting is not only safe but also keeps kids safer than if they were having real-life sex. [See also Teen Sex Update: Fewer Doing It, More Boys Using Condoms]

Concludes Dr. Rapoport:

Alarmist warnings about sexting both reflect and promote a moral panic over children’s nudity that’s supposed to help them but does the opposite. They disrupt lives and increase anxiety, already prevalent in teens, in shaming them about their bodies. Child pornography is a serious matter; but how do we protect children from abusers by declaring them to be one? What’s the logic that says a child is simultaneously victim and perpetrator? Child porn laws weren’t meant to apply to sexting but to people abusing children for their own gratification. [...]

Sexting may connect to personal expression or courtship. It may be a joke. Whatever it is, berating teens for it with nonsense thwarts the possibility of honest, safe, helpful discussion of teen sexuality. [...]

Law enforcement should attend to sexting only in instances of exploitation or other real crimes. The solution to this problem lies with parents and other responsible adults in a process of education, not in repeated false alarms from the Chicken Littles of the sexual disaster brigades.

 

Originally posted at New porn by women.

Quizzical mama, aka Anne G. Sabo, PhD, is a former academic turned mama and sex blogger who recently founded LOVE, SEX, AND FAMILY, a site devoted to progressive human sexuality information. As a college professor, she taught numerous courses in women's and film studies. In her New porn by women blog she writes about sexual politics and re-visioned porn. Her Quizzical mama blog is an educated and personal approach to the politics and philosophies of parenting, often addressing controversial issues and reflecting on different cultural values and practices in the US and her native Norway. She lives in a small Minnesotan college town just south of the Twin Cities with her husband and their toddler daughter.

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