Thorny legal issues raised by effort to ban child modeling sites
NEW YORK (AP)
The photos on the Web sites portray no nudity and no sex, yet
men by the thousands pay to ogle them shots of preteen girls posing in bikinis
and halter tops.
Defended as free speech by some, such pictures are being blasted as a "fix for
pedophiles" by a congressman who is waging an uphill campaign to banish them
from the Internet.
The pool of photos is growing "at an unabated pace," said U.S. Rep. Mark Foley,
Foley has authored a bill, now before the House Judiciary Committee, intended to
shut down the Web sites by outlawing "exploitive child modeling." Even he
concedes, however, that the measure has potential loopholes, and anti-censorship
groups say it would likely be struck down as an unconstitutional infringement of
"It's doomed from the start," said Garry Daniels of the National Coalition
At Florida-based Webe Web, which runs one of the largest networks of
child-modeling sites, co-founder Marc Greenberg says he can't vouch for the
motives of his customers. But he insists that no child featured on his sites has
suffered any physical harm.
"If I said pedophiles are definitely not looking at these sites, that would be a
crock," Greenberg said by phone from his Fort Lauderdale office. "But the
majority of people looking at them are not bad people. ... If it's within the
law and people want to do it, more power to them."
Greenberg said the girls featured on Webe Web sites wear outfits that could be
bought at a typical mall and seen at a public beach or backyard picnic. Critics
counter the pictures and videos of girls in swimsuits, leotards and sleepwear
are intended to be erotic even while complying with anti-pornography laws.
Webe Web subscribers, who pay about $20 monthly, are not able to chat online
with the models or e-mail them directly, Greenberg said. Foley contends some
sites do provide direct contacts between customers and children, and worries
that models are at risk of abduction, abuse, or even murder.
Any such crimes are covered by existing laws, said Kim Hart of the National
Child Abuse Defense and Resource Center in Holland, Ohio.
"This is something best handled case-by-case by child protection services," Hart
said. "If there's something of concern, let professionals talk to the girl, look
at the background."
Personally, she said, "as a mother, I may not like it. But the question is
whether it's illegal, whether it's harmful."
Foley isn't swayed by arguments that any abuse of child models could be
prosecuted under current laws. "Taking care of the problem after it occurs
that's when the child is found dead or raped," he said. "My bill is an attempt
to ward off problems before they occur."
Several modeling sites assert that the parents' share of profits will go toward
their daughters' college tuition. But critics say the parents deserve as much
blame as the entrepreneurs.
"Anyone from pedophiles to rapists can pay the monthly subscription fee and lust
after the little ones," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel of Concerned Women For
America. "Why would parents permit such a thing?"
Foley also believes some parents are blameworthy, and suggests others mistakenly
think the modeling sites represent a legitimate chance to build a career for
Daniels, of the Coalition Against Censorship, agrees that parental ambition is
at play. "The parents think, 'Maybe my child is the next Britney Spears,'" he
said. "If it takes putting her on the Internet in a bikini, so be it."
Greenberg guesses that 99% of parents wouldn't want their children posing on
Webe Web sites. However, he says the parents he deals with are comfortable with
the arrangements "They don't have hang-ups" and are little different than
parents who push children into acting or traditional fashion modeling.
"The people we work with don't see anything wrong with this they think it's
fun, and the kids like it," Greenberg said. "They understand everything that
goes with it ... they know there are people out there looking at the pictures.
It doesn't take a genius to figure it out."
There are scores of child-modeling Web sites, though Foley's staff has been
unable to pin down the number or calculate how much money they make.
Foley's bill would impose prison terms of up to 10 years for exploitive child
modeling, defined as "marketing the child himself or herself in lascivious
positions and acts, rather than actually marketing products."
The bill has possible loopholes, Foley admits. If Webe Web offered T-shirts
online with the name of one of its sites, the company could claim the site was
marketing a product.
Foley is seeking legal advice to address such problems, but he believes his
efforts are worthwhile no matter what happens in Congress or the courts.
"Maybe my bill will never pass," he said. "Half the battle sometimes is to alert
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