Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Terrorized by Bureaucracy

Did you know that pictures of your young children playing naked in a stream during a camping trip is child porn? I didn't. But apparently it is in Georgia:

When we returned on Sunday, I forgot the throwaway camera and Rusty found it in his car. He gave it to his wife, whom I'll call Janet, to get developed, and she dropped it off the next day with two other rolls of film at a local Eckerd drugstore. On Tuesday, when she returned to pick up the film, she was approached by two officers from the Savannah Police Department. They told her they had been called by Eckerd due to "questionable photos."

One officer told Janet "there were pictures of little kids running around with no clothes on, pictures of minors drinking alcohol," she recounted for me in an e-mail. "I asked to see the pictures and was told I couldn't. I explained there must be a mistake. I was kind of laughing, you know, 'Come on guys. There must be an explanation. This is crazy. Let me see the pictures.' The officer told me that he personally did not find [the photos] offensive and that he had camped himself as a kid and knows what goes on." But the officer also told Janet that "because Eckerd's had called them and that because there were pictures of children naked, genitalia and alcohol, they would have to investigate."

The officer's sympathy did not prevent the subsequent humiliating and terrifying investigation of the author and his wife by Georgia Department of Family and Child Services:

During that time, my wife and I, our children and friends, lived in a kind of suspended animation, a limbo of unreality where our privacy was invaded and we were stripped of our sense of dignity and seemingly our rights. To be accused unjustly of any crime is a terrible thing. But to be accused of using your own children for pornographic purposes or sexual exploitation bears a special taint because no matter how highly people think of you, they don't know you in your most intimate moments, which forever leaves you open to suspicion.

You can read for yourself the rest of the indignities that this family, children included, were subjected to.

Now, don't get me wrong. I understand that it is incumbent upon the police and state agencies to take extremely seriously any allegation of child abuse that's brought to their attention. But should we really be letting an ignorant low-wage employee at Eckerd's unleash a frightening, intrusive and demeaning investigation of a family over some
innocent pictures? I don't think so, and it's the willingness of everday people to assume that any allegation of child sexual abuse is de facto proof of such abuse that results in situations like this one, or this one, or this one. This does not mean that I think that agenices such as DFCS, or Child Protective Services here in Texas, should find it harder to do their jobs. After all, we've all heard the sickening stories of children left with abusive families who were later killed by those families, all as a result of the failure of some agency or beauracrat or law enforcment to follow up on legitimate tips they'd recieved of abusive treatment. Rather, I believe that child abuse investigations need to be more fair and more accurate, to save the time wasted on investigations like the one here that should be spent looking after children who are being sexually or physically abused. That's a job for our legislature, to provide more legal protection for both children and families, and more money for the people at agencies like the CPS to do their jobs...the right way.


adam said...


Nat-Wu said...

Yeah, you know we have a problem when overzealous enforcement lands average families in this kind of situation, but completely misses actual abuse time and time again. We need to fix that.