Tuesday, April 21, 2009

nice work if you can get it

when i was in high school, many years ago (my 15th reunion is coming up), like many aspiring writers i kept notebooks where i'd jot poems, short stories, song lyrics, and what have you.

most of these were naturally terrible, and i'd be ashamed to show them now. one such awful story involved a photo shoot being interrupted by right-wing censors. the "twist" if you can call it that was that the model in the shoot (naturally inspired by a fellow student i was crushing on at the time) was in fact modestly dressed, but still the photo shoot was censored because the model was so pretty that it was believed her smile alone would be overly titillating.

the story was stupid and corny; the twist not particularly clever. and it wasn't so much meant as a clever satire (which is wasn't), but more as an excuse to fantasize about a pretty classmate. so imagine my surprise at how things have changed since i was in school.

these days, a teenage girl in a swimsuit can get prosecuted for child pornography simply for posing for a photo if she's "posed provocatively"—which i take to mean if she's cute.

under the current (insane) interpretation of the law, "child pornography" is so impossibly illegal that teenagers can't even own mildly erotic photographs of themselves. a teenage girl who takes a photo of herself in a bra or bikini risks being placed on the sex offender registry for life.

but there is one loophole. apparently, the only people who are allowed to own "child pornography" are teachers and school administrators:

atrios quoted this passage on his blog, but i think he ended the quote one paragraph too soon:

Marissa and her parents joined a group of about 50 others at the courthouse. Before showing the photos, Mr. Skumanick explained his offer to the crowd, answering one father's question affirmatively, that -- yes -- a girl in a bathing suit could be subjected to criminal charges because she was posed "provocatively."

Mr. Skumanick told them he could have simply charged the kids. Instead, he gave them two weeks to decide: take the class or face charges.

He then told the parents and teens to line up if they wanted to view the photos, which were printed out onto index cards. As the 17-year-old who took semi-nude self-portraits waited in line, she realized that Mr. Skumanick and other investigators had viewed the pictures. When the adults began to crowd around Mr. Skumanick, the 17-year-old worried they could see her photo and recalls she said, "I think the worst punishment is knowing that all you old guys saw me naked. I just think you guys are all just perverts."

Mr. Skumanick dismisses the criticism, saying that no one could see photos of teens who weren't their own children.

no one, that is, except for skumanick himself, who no doubt has a copy of every racy photo his students have ever sexted to each other, and has surely seen them all multiple times.

now, i don't know if skumanick is the kind of guy who'd go home and touch himself while looking at all those photos of underage girls with their shirts off. i'd like to think that he's not. but i do know that if i were that type of guy, a job like skumanick's would be my dream job.

update: as john m points out in the comments, skumanick is actually the district attorney, so it appears that the best way to get your hands on lewd photos of underage girls is actually to work in the DA's office. though i'm sure school administrators do still get to see plenty of that stuff.

1 comment:

John M said...

Unless I'm reading the article wrong, Skumanick is the district attorney, not a teacher or administrator, so I'm not sure how his behavior justifies the shot at school officials as a class, a class to which Skumanick doesn't belong.

I agree with you completely on the merits of this case: prosecuting the distribution of swimsuit/underwear photos is patently absurd, as is the notion of putting teens who have distributed photos of themselves in any sort of criminal jeopardy, let alone the sort of criminal jeopardy that could result in lifetime placement on the sex offender registry.

Still, even free speech absolutists generally agree that the restriction of "true" child pornography, i.e., actual nude sexual photos of kids under the age of consent, is necessary. Clearly, in a prosecution against a truly egregious case of child pornography, it would be necessary for police, prosecutors, or anyone else who might come across the evidence (including school officials) to view the items. I suppose, as in the case you discuss, that it would be a great job for someone who likes looking at such items, but I'm not sure it's a fair criticism.

In other words, I agree with you completely on the merits, but I think your approach here is a bit cheap-shot based. Clearly, the prosecutor is overreaching. Child porn charges for photos that could be taken at the community swimming pool are absurd. Child porn charges against kids who take photos of themselves are outrageous. I'm a little less sympathetic for recipients who send a "for your eyes only" photo of a girlfriend to others, but even if some charge is justified, registration as a sex offender is not.