Grandma Arrested for Child Porn

Monday, May 4th, 2009

And she’s suing.

Back in 2005, a Walmart worker in Pennsylvania reported 59-year-old Donna Dull to local authorities after she dropped off some film that included shots of her three-year-old granddaughter in and just out of the bath. Dull was arrested–roughly, she says–and charged with producing and distributing child pornography. The charges were dropped 15 months later when a Pennsylvania special prosecutor overruled the local DA. Only Dull, her attorney, and police and prosecutors have apparently seen the photos, which are now under seal.

In this follow-up article from the York Daily Record, state officials seem to be trying to reassure parents and grandparents that they have nothing to worry about–that you needn’t fret about having your life ruined and reputation destroyed by false child porn charges for taking nude pictures of your infant and toddler son or daughter. Problem is, their reassurances aren’t very convincing.

Christopher Moore, a special prosecutor in the York County District Attorney’s Office, is after “perverts, not parents.”

Moore was commenting on the “gray area” between the typical family picture of the 2-year-old getting a bath in the kitchen sink and a picture a pedophile may enjoy.

It can be the same picture, Moore said.

But, Moore added, that is not a reason for parents and grandparents to avoid taking those pictures…

“It’s not what the (child protection) law was designed for. Your rights are not restricted in any form by the law.”

But it appears that’s precisely what Dull was arrested for. And the DA in Dull’s case insists he was right. Or at least he’s pretty sure he was:

[District Attorney] Rebert said in Dull’s case, “What made them offensive was their graphic nature. A little girl with her bare butt showing, kind of looking over her shoulder.

“It’s a difficult distinction to make. What’s a cute butt and what’s pornographic?

“I think what she (Dull) did was stupid and in very poor judgment. It was an interesting case and I think we did the right thing.”

So because the photo could have been interpreted as pornographic by someone who was looking for child porn, arresting the woman and ruining her life (or at least severely disrupting it) was the “right thing” to do. From the description, we aren’t talking about splayed legs or exposed genitalia, here. It’s a kid’s butt, and a playful peer over the shoulder. I’m glad Special Prosecutor Moore overruled District Attorney Rebert, but that Dull was arrested in the first place puts the lie to Moore’s assertion that this sort of hysteria “is not a reason for parents and grandparents to avoid taking those pictures.” It most certainly is. Or at least getting them printed somewhere outside your home. Unless you consider an arrest and 15 months under the label of “accused child pornographer” to be harmless.

It only gets more confusing from there. Here’s the prosecutor who initially approved the charges against Dull:

David Cook, now in private practice . . . declined to say if he disagreed with Rebert’s decision to dismiss the charges.

He did say, “There was no legitimate purpose for those photographs. I would never pose my daughter or my step-daughter like that.

“It kind of boils down to a gut feeling. If it feels wrong, it probably is.”

That sounds . . . ambiguous. How are Pennsylvania residents supposed to follow the law if the state’s prosecutors can’t even agree on its application?

Here, once again, is Special Prosecutor Moore, again laying out yet more guidelines that are nearly impossible for anyone to follow:

“It’s a subjective versus objective standard,” Moore said. “You think it’s cute. Someone else might think different. That doesn’t make it a crime.

“Lots of sexual offenders use the Sears catalog to get off. That doesn’t make (the catalog) illegal.”

“It’s a reasonable person standard with the reasonable person being a juror,” Boyles said.

“And reasonable people can disagree,” Moore said. “That’s the gray area. That’s when it comes to us.”

Boyles and Moore also agreed that parents don’t need to worry unnecessarily.

“Family pictures are family pictures,” Boyles said.

“But if more of your pictures of your kids are of them naked rather than clothed, you might have a problem.”

So in sum, if you don’t want to get arrested and charged for taking nude photos of your infant or toddler, make sure you know what criteria your local prosecutor uses when navigating that “gray area” between a cute butt and a criminally alluring one (note: you probably don’t want to actually pose this question to your DA). Also, if you find yourself under investigation after dropping a roll of film off at the CVS, you might want to bake the prosecutor some cookies, since it appears that his “gut” will be the final arbiter of whether you’re a doting parent or an accused child pornographer.

Finally, even if the nude photos you’ve taken of your kids pass the clear-as-mud “cute butt,” “gut feeling,” and “reasonable people can disagree/that’s when it comes to us” tests, and are deemed innocent as a basket of puppies, you could still be in violation of the law if the state determines that the clothed to unclothed-but-innocent ratio in your family photo albums is inappropriate.

Got all that? Good. Because we promise, you really have nothing to worry about.

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66 Responses to “Grandma Arrested for Child Porn”

  1. #1 |  parse | 

    Back to the original point, naked pictures alone should NEVER be considered grounds for criminal charges. If their is an actual sex act depicted, IE penetration involving the genitals, then we can start thinking about crime.

    Ceci n’est pas un pipe. Ceci n’est pas un actual sex act, either. It’s a depiction. What’s the point in making the depiction illegal?

  2. #2 |  JS | 

    To hell with the state. Its too late to fix. We need a revolution.

  3. #3 |  Ken | 

    Ceci n’est pas un pipe. Ceci n’est pas un actual sex act, either. It’s a depiction. What’s the point in making the depiction illegal?

    I was actually thinking more of a crime by the person depicted in the picture doing the unmentionable things to the child.
    If they are kind enough to provide photographic evidence it’s all to the good.
    As for making it a crime just to posses the pictures. Tricky. I don’t believe that just looking at this stuff makes you want to go out and rape kids.
    It seems much more likely that people who crave sex with children would like to look at pictures of same.
    The argument could be made that if someone likes that sort of thing maybe they are willing to act out on it, so the possession of the pictures should lead to a closer look.
    Of course, that is way too close to a creepy ‘pre-crimes’ vibe; and don’t even get started on things like lolicon.

    If my position is not too clear that may be because I really don’t know what my position is.

    I know I don’t think that pictures of nudity alone, no matter what age, should be criminal.

    If you have actual pictures of a child who has been sexually abused…..well, that is disturbing no matter what the motivation, but just because something is disturbing is no reason alone to make it a crime.

    I know I don’t think that lolicon or other artwork, even if it depicts the same sort of abuse of a child as the real photos, should be a crime.

    So, should possession of pictures of actual child abuse/rape be a crime? If the fictional representations should not, then why would/should the actual pictures be? They would certainly be evidence of a crime, at least for the persons depicted, but…..

    If I had to argue for criminal penalties I would say eliminate all for mere nudity, have none for artwork no matter what the subject matter, and for actual photographs of abuse, maybe a misdemeanor charge and confiscation….oh hell, I’ve already thought of several unintended consequences even of such relaxed rules.

    Maybe we could go after those who actually harm children and not worry so much about whether someone is ‘getting off’ inappropriately. Of course, just the definition of what is ‘harming children’ can be stretched to cause a lot of grief.

  4. #4 |  Dave Krueger | 

    This is a serious issue for me. I am pleasantly surprised to find so many people seemingly on the same page on this topic. Most discussions I see on this topic elicit a knee-jerk reaction that anyone who objects to child porn laws is as bad as a child abuser. I hate the willingness with which many people are willing to surrender First Amendment rights based on the theory that expression is dangerous and needs to be suppressed.

    There is no end to those who now mindlessly repeat back the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes about shouting fire in a crowded theater to justify an endless list of speech that is now not permitted. The biggest ally the government has in abolishing our rights is the typical U.S. citizen who believes that people can’t be trusted with freedom.

  5. #5 |  Ben | 

    Look at that, Radley, two green lights on fark in one day (this one and the 911 operator). Shame they didn’t cite the source.

  6. #6 |  Z | 

    So if someone somewhere may get pedophillic joy from a photo you take you’re a pedophile? Wow, that expands our view of civil and criminal law tremendously! For instance, if you sell your used car and someone somewhere gets hit by it while its piloted by a drunk, you’re on the hook. If I use a bank and then someone robs it, I could get arrested: after all my sweet sweet cash enticed them!

  7. #7 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #50 Aspasia

    Hell, ask Max Hardcore. The adult industry has been complaining about this for YEARS but are dismissed by most people because they engage in that “dirty” “naughty” sex stuff.

    I followed the FSC fight against the 2257 changes. In stead of saying these laws mostly target them, I should have said that these laws mostly affect them. What the law really does is allow the cops to prosecute child porn cases under child porn laws that don’t involve any child porn at all. The government likes this because finding real child pornographers is hard work.

    I actually tried at one point to get the ACLU to take up the issue, on behalf of artistic expression outside the commercial porn industry. I still find it interesting that 2257 requires such onerous record keeping requirements with such severe penalties, that only the commercial porn industry is actually likely to be able to afford the resources necessary to comply. In effect, 2257 sacrifices individually-produced explicit art leaving the highly lucrative commercial porn industry.

    However, I’m happy that the FSC challenged it, in any case, even though they lost. 2257 is a perfect example of a law pretending to one thing, but really being something completely different. It’s institutionalized persecution of protected speech simply because…. they can. It’s not like Joe Public is going to come to the rescue of the evil porn industry, protected speech pr not.

  8. #8 |  JOhn Davis | 

    Stupid lowlife cop. If that was my Grandma, there would not be a spot on this planet that stupid cop could hide from me.

    RT
    http://www.anonymity.ru.tc

  9. #9 |  HorsesAss.Org » Blog Archive » Open Thread | 

    […] As a new father, this news item was extra terrifying for me. Permalink | Leave a Comment | RSS addthis_pub = ‘nietsdlog’; […]

  10. #10 |  Frank | 

    What does “released” from the lawsuit mean? Did the defendants settle, or were motions to dismiss sucessfull?

  11. #11 |  Judi | 

    Well I guess we need to round up and corral all those thousands and thousands of parents who used to have pictures taken of their babies’ bare-bottoms on those fuzzy rugs in professional studios…(sigh…) and threatened to show them later in life to their teenager’s prospective date just to be funny.

    Oh and what about that horrible pornographic photo of Jody Foster taken when she was a toddler for the advertisement of Coppertone?

    Geesh…!@#$

  12. #12 |  Windy | 

    That wasn’t Jodie Foster, it was Natalie Wood in the first Coppertone ad with the Cocker pup.

  13. #13 |  JB | 

    Interestingly I once heard a woman from MI-5 in the UK being interviewed on the BBC. This was in relation to the bust of a world wide child pornography ring that she helped bring down. She stated that it was important to actually define child pornography and to explain why it is illegal. She stated that child pornography is videos and/or photographs of actual sex crimes involving children, i.e., children too young to consent or even to young to be able to have sex being raped, abused, tortured, molested, etc. She went on to state that in the UK they have no interest in prosecuting 15 year old boy having cybersex via a webcam. To them, that’s not child pornography. And this is coming from the UK which is considered more puritanical and prudish than other advanced industrial nations.

    In the US however, mere nudity of children can be considered pornographic and photographs/videos of young adults under the age of 18 engaged in completely normal natural and healthy consensual behavior (the average age of first sexual experience in the US is 14.9; the age of consent varies by state from 14 to 18; and most adolescent psychololgists believe the age should be 15) can be considered child pornography. The US law fails to conform to the international legal standard and the generally accepted definition. It goes beyond protecting children (a good thing) and instead enforces socially conservative “moral values”.

    Sooner or later, aspects of the US child pornography laws will be struck down when it applies only to nudity; or only to faked/created/manipulated images; or when it applies to young adults under the age of 18 engaged in consensual sexual behavior. The current laws violate Constitutional freedoms such as right of privacy; freedom of speech; freedom from cruel/unusual punishments; equal protection doctrine; right to a fair trial; freedom from state enforced religion, etc. But in the meantime the lives of individuals who have done no harm to themselves, or to society or to any other person will be utterly destoyed. Just today I read of a man who was sentenced to 24 years in prison for private photographs of young adults aged 16. If the behavior is not illegal and if the behavior is not harmful, how can photographs or videos of the act be illegal?

    The real problem is the incredible ignorance in American society when it comes to science in general and especially when it comes to psychology, sexuality, adolescent sexuality, etc. On top of this we have many people who believe that religious values should be imposed by law.

    Where is the organization that is lobbying to amend these unjust laws? Where is the organization that is fighting these unjust laws in the legal system? Where is the organization that is trying to educate the population and get the media to address sexuality in a rational way?

  14. #14 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Simple underage nudity is not illegal in the U.S. The pictures must show the minor engaging in “sexually explicit conduct”.

    But, a prosecutor out to make a name for himself isn’t exactly the best judge of what constitutes sexually explicit conduct. And, it makes very little difference whether, as a defendant, you win the case if your life is destroyed in the process.

    You’re correct that, not withstanding SCOTUS rulings of the past, child porn doesn’t even have to involve a child in its production. It just needs to look like a child. So, they’re clearly not out to protect children so much as persecute people whose sexual interests they find objectionable.

    One of the major problems with U.S. child porn laws, and U.S. law in general, is that it targets the legitimate industry. By simply saddling producers of adult porn with onerous record keeping requirements, they vastly broaden the range of potential targets which can be prosecuted under the child porn laws. In the U.S. you can go to prison for five years, not for producing child porn, but for simply not proving to the government’s satisfaction, that all your models were over age 18. It’s a codified instance of “guilty until proven innocent”.

    To government (especially prosecutors), us citizens are the enemy. They aren’t concerned with who they lock up as long as they lock up as many as they can. Their resume resembles the body count statistics from the Vietnam war where innocent villagers were slaughtered to inflate the numbers.

  15. #15 |  m mc | 

    this story hits home…police came into my home after being told we had child porn on the computer….the pictures were of my kids and grandkids first bath and diaper changes….one was over thirty years old…we was trying to get my photos on cds….long story short my husband is sitting in jail right now convicted of child porn….the arresting officer was there at the sentencing hearing with the pictures…he asked the others with him if they wanted to see the pictures….one was a civilian, husband of one officers present….i say that consitutes distributing what they call child porn at its finest…

    if the public continues to play into the hysteria, many more people will find themselves in jail…it is such a shame what this world is coming too…no common sence used at all in some of these cases…and you are right…the DA and police have no common sence at all when dealing with these cases…my poor grandmother would be facing charges as well if they find a 50 year old picture of me lying on a towel naked in the back yard mind you…for shame for shame…gosh what would happen if they found out that my mom bath me and my brother together and we had to share a room until i was almost a teenager….i need to stop before i am arrested too…..

  16. #16 |  Amun-Ra Sharif | 

    The law is the law and like playing a board game with a toddler, he/she will change the rules to their liking. I studied everything on the laws concerning this dilema, but it says “any medium containing underage persons in sexual or can be construde as such is a felony.” This may have been ok from the 70s on back, but it’s best for all of you parents/grandparents to not do as shuch anymore. As far as taking pictures with a digital camera and storing them on the computer, bad idea. According to the new law, that is posession of CP with intent to deseminate; which is very bad because that is several years for every count, plus registrating with Megan’s Law and severe risk of being killed by angry neighbors.