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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Walmart Provides Authorities Photos of Young Children




How much should law-abiding American citizens err on the side of caution? Has zero tolerance gone too far? With good intentions, people sometimes overreact to the smallest hints of possible danger. Yet, today represents a time of extremes as others believe al Qaeda terrorists should be read their Miranda rights. We are committed to protect the innocent and the guilty with overwhelming means. It seems common sense has taken a backseat to fears of potential danger and possible personal abuse.

And, what about when the beliefs and rights of a family clash with those of what some in society would consider the norms of today? Certainly, society will never be free of all risk, yet some wish to make it so, no matter what the cost to others. This protection can occur at the expense of family preference.

Are we becoming a society so overly concerned with every possible interpretation of abuse that we can no longer express long-cherished personal freedoms in fear of the potential consequences of our innocent actions? Protection is, by all means, important. Yet, in some cases are we limiting ourselves by our silly reactions to protect those who would suffer no harm on our account? There must be some common, sensible ground in such cases.



The Walmart Photographs Story 

A Peoria, Arizona, couple, Lisa and Anthony "A.J." Demaree, is suing Walmart and the state after they were accused of sexual abuse for taking bathtime photos of their daughters, according to court papers.Their three young daughters, ages  5, 4 and 1 1/2, were taken away by state Child Protective Services last fall when a Walmart employee found partially nude pictures of the girls on a camera memory stick taken to the store for processing, the lawsuit claims.

Walmart turned the photos over to police and the Demarees were not allowed to see their children for several days and did not regain custody for a month while the state investigated, according to their lawyer, Richard Treon. Also the Demarees said they were placed on a list of sexual offenders. Paul Strand of CBN News reported Lisa Demaree, who works as an educator, was suspended from her job for a year while the case was under investigation.

Strand continued to say a medical exam of the children revealed no signs of sexual abuse and a judge ruled that the photos were harmless.The couple said they have spent $75,000 on legal bills.(Dan Przygoda, Sarah Netter, and Desiree Adib, ABC News, September 21 2009) 

Treon said the images in question were part of a group of 144 photographs taken mostly the families' vacation in San Diego. He said there were seven to eight bath- and playtime photos of the girls that showed a "portion or outline of genitalia." (Dustin Gardiner, The Arizona Republic, September 19 2009)

It was about "wanting to admire their (children's) beauty," Treon said, according to Dustin Gardiner. "There was nothing sexual about it." Neither parent was charged with sexual abuse and they regained custody of their children, but the Demarees say the incident inflicted lasting harm.

"Some of the photos are bath time photos," mother Lisa Demaree said, "but there are a few after the bath. Three of the girls are naked, lying on a towel with their arms around each other, and we thought it was so cute." (Dan Przygoda, ABC News, September 20 2009)  

"Our family is very open and comfortable. We don't want our children to feel inhibited in their own house," A.J. Demaree said. "If they want to run around in their underwear, if they want to go run and grab an old Halloween costume and throw that on and run around the house, or if they want to run around the house naked and play around, that's what we encourage." (Current News, http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Weekend/parents)

Lisa Demaree added, "We have told our girls that they have freedom to be in their home and feel OK about their bodies and their nudity, but that there is a time and a place for it." (KJCT 8, ABC News, September 21 2009)




The Charges



"The fact is: When we are contacted about children who may be at risk, we investigate," said a statement issued by the city and Peoria police. "This is what we should do."

According to The Arizona Republic, investigating officers said, "The photographs depicted three young girls in various states of nudity, and several of the pictures depicted close-up views of the girls' genitalia." The report also quoted the Walmart photo clerk as saying the photos went beyond what she considered "normal" child bath-time photography.

Then the police report, which was distributed to media outlets, was released with a statement from City Attorney Steven Kemp defending the Peoria police.The city stands behind the appropriate actions of our officers," Kemp said. "The city will vigorously defend against these accusations." The report issued by local authorities described the photos as "child erotica" and "sex exploitation."

Lawyer Richard Treon, challenged the police officers' evaluation of the photos, saying, "that's in the eye of the beholder." He referenced the ruling from Superior Court Judge J. Richard Gama that sided with the Demarees.
"There aren't any close-ups (of genitalia)," he said, dismissing the police report.


The Lawsuits

Fox News and the Associated Press (September 17, 2009) reported one lawsuit names Arizona, Peoria and the state Attorney General's Office as defendants, claiming that employees from each defamed them by telling friends, family members and co-workers that they had "sexually abused" their children by taking pornographic pictures of them.
Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Hunter is specifically accused of making slanderous remarks against the Demarees at a mediation meeting where 35 of their friends and family members showed up to testify in support of the couple. (Dustin Gardiner, The Arizona Republic, September 18 2009) 

The second lawsuit, naming Walmart as the defendant, says the company is at fault for not telling Anthony Demaree that it had an "unsuitable print policy" and could decide to turn any photos over to law enforcement.(Fox News) The complaint claims Walmart concealed its policy from Anthony Demaree, causing the couple severe damage.


The girls are back home now, but the parents said they still suffer from anxiety. Lisa Demaree is back to work, and the parents' names are no longer listed on Arizona's sex offender registry.

The Demarees said there is a lesson for all parents to learn from their case:

"With all of the technology that we have we're able to disperse photographs so easily, we need to have an awareness of one, how our innocent photos can be misconstrued or misperceived, and that you need to have an awareness before you go to get anything printed or developed of what the policies are," Lisa Demaree said. (Paul Strand, CBN News, September 22 2009)




Is Nudity Obscenity?

"Nudity is not obscenity,'' said FBI bureau spokesman, Duke Diedrich. He said applicable Federal law defines child pornography as the ''lascivious display of genitalia'' of any person under 18 years of age and forbids interstate transportation of such material. (Katherine Bishop, New York Times, July 23 1990)

While it is ultimately up any jury to decide whether pictures are obscene, Mr. Diedrich said it was the bureau's policy to investigate when it seemed ''the focus of the photos is directed toward the genitalia.''

For example, state law in California defines as obscene the developing or duplication of a photograph that shows ''the genitals, pubic or rectal areas'' of a person under 14 years of age ''for the purpose of sexual stimulation of the viewer.''




Sexting -- Another Concern


But, consider this news from the Family Violence Prevention Fund website titled "An Emerging Issue."Sexting is a highly emotional issue. Few want young people who make mistakes to be labeled child pornographers or sex offenders for life. But many prosecutors are determined to take a strong stand in order to stop this practice, even if it means prosecuting a teenage girl who sends a semi-nude picture to her boyfriend, or the boyfriend who forwards it to one friend.

A recent survey from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com found that one in five teen girls – and one in ten younger teen girls (age 13 to 16) – say they have electronically sent or posted nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves. Some question about the difference between nude and semi-nude has been raised by readers as well as the fact the survey didn't ask if the photos included faces -- which would make them identifiable and more troubling. (Wall Street Journal, April 8 2009)

Even more teen girls, 37 percent, say they have sent or posted sexually suggestive texts, emails or Instant Messages. The survey also found (51 percent) say pressure from a guy is a reason girls send sexy messages or images, while only 18 percent of teen boys say pressure from a girl is a reason. 






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