Lynne Powell, a woman who lives in my school’s town of Oberlin, Ohio, just had a very interesting non-fiction book published. It’s called Framing Innocence, and it is quite the compelling read.
The plot of the book centers around an incident that occurred in our usually quiet town about ten years ago. Back then, a woman by the name of Cynthia Stewart was arrested on charges related to child pornography after dropping off a roll of film at the local Drug Mart. The photos on the roll were flagged as suspicious when they were printed. Why, you ask? Well, part of the roll of film contained photographs of Stewart’s eight year old daughter Nora taking a bath. In some of the photos, she is rinsing herself off with a shower nozzle. In others, …
… she is coming up from under the water. Obviously, since she was taking a bath, she is naked. The rest of the roll contained images of Nora standing, fully clothed under a cherry tree. Ms. Stewart had been taking photos of her daughter since the day of her birth, and this was just another roll out of hundreds.
What happens next was to me, shocking. Cynthia Stewart’s photos were sent to the police, who promptly launched an investigation on Stewart and her family. I won’t go into all of the details of the case here, but essentially she was brought to trial by an extremely conservative prosecutor and threatened with the prospect of having her daughter taken away from her by child services.
While the charges against Stewart were eventually dropped, it’s worthwhile to consider: where is the line when taking a photograph of a nude child? This mother thought nothing of documenting her young daughter’s life (there’s much more on this in the book, which once again, I highly recommend reading!), and even saw all of the photos as a gift that she could give to Nora later in her life when she was no longer a child. I’m sure that many parents take pictures of their children naked. Young children spend most of their time naked, really, if you think about it (I know I did, anyways!). How scary to think that someone’s parenting skills would be called into question for taking pictures of their child in the bathtub!
Powell’s book is a well-written, well-researched account of not only the case, but all of the moral and legal questions that come with it. Obviously child pornography is not something to be taken lightly, but really, where do we draw the line? Do we need to worry about every picture taken of a child naked?