An activist attempts to demonstrate the effects of pollution on her coal-mining community, and gets accused of possessing and displaying child porn.
A 17 year-old famous for being really creepy launches a website with provocative pictures of herself, and people snicker.
Marc Randazza describes what happened to West Virginia activist Maria Gunnoe:
A West Virginia coal activist hoped that she would be able to improve the environmental conditions for her neighbors by attending a house committee meeting in Washington, D.C. to present the story of her community. Instead, she was accused of attempting to show pornographic pictures of children.
The water on Maria Gunnoe’s property is not potable. Because of her community’s proximity to a coal-mining source, the water has been contaminated by the coal industry’s retrieval process. To illustrate this point, Gunnoe wanted to present a series of photos, one of which included a toddler taking a bath in a pool of orange-colored water. The politicians present decided it was inappropriate and would not allow her to make her presentation, as the child was naked. Police pulled her aside and apparently questioned her about child pornography.
You can view the photo here. Is this really what passes for child porn these days? A photo of a toddler taking a bath? The most disturbing aspect of this photo is the water she’s bathing in, not that she’s unclothed.
The War on Child Porn has gone so overboard that even the most innocent of photos — whose mom doesn’t have a photo like that of them lying around? — is considered “child porn.” Anyone who calls that photo child porn is either just trying to underhandedly shut down Gunnoe’s speech, or they’re sick fucks who fap to kids themselves — or both.
Compare that to the website of allegedly-17 year-old Courtney Stodden, who married some 50-something actor famous for marrying Courtney Stodden (no, I am not linking to it, and you may go and compare at your own risk.)
On the one hand, you have a photo of a child taking a bath, something every parent probably has (yes, there are bathtub photos of me out there, none of which have ever been digitized.) On the other hand, you have a teenager who will turn 18 sometime this year, posting naughty (but not nude) photos of herself.
The latter set of pictures gets splashed all over tabloids and the news, despite having no news value whatsoever. The former gets suppressed out of sudden concern for the welfare of a child forced to bathe in orange-colored coal-water.
One set of photos is meant to educate people about a serious problem, and serve an advocacy function. The other set is showing off a minor’s goodies. Since part of the definition of “pornography” involves an appeal to “prurient” interests, it ought to be clear which one is the real porn here. Courtney Stodden might not actually be showing any specific naughty bits, but it’s hard to call the site anything but “prurient.”
Here’s the thing, though. I don’t really care. I have no interest in Stodden’s website, and it honestly causes me pain to devote this much attention to her. Her parents seem to approve of everything that she has done up to now, and she is close enough to age 18 that she can’t exactly be called a “child.” It’s really none of my business what she does. My point is about consistency. I wholeheartedly agree with Marc Randazza that concern over alleged child porn, while it is a problem, has reached an unsustainable level of insanity. These laws are applied where convenient, where politically expedient, or where they can most effectively distract the discussion from something like, say, coal pollution.
We now live in a world where a teenager who takes a picture of him- or herself (usually her, though) can be charged with possession of child pornography. Fotunately, at least one federal appeals court refused to go along with that.
The rationale of the police who handled that case is rather remarkable:
“It was a self portrait taken of a juvenile female taking pictures of her body, nude,” said Capt. George Seranko of the Greensburg Police Department.
Police said school officials learned of the photos in October. That’s when a student was seen using a cell phone during school hours, which violates school rules. The phone was seized, and the photos were found on it, police said. When police investigated, other phones with more pictures were seized.
“Taking nude pictures of yourself, nothing good can come out of it,” said Seranko.
Police said the girls are being charged with manufacturing, disseminating or possessing child pornography while the boys face charges of possession.
“It’s very dangerous,” said Seranko. “Once it’s on a cell phone, that cell phone can be put on the Internet where everyone in the world can get access to that juvenile picture. You don’t realize what you are doing until it’s already done.”
And of course, the way to deal with the threat is to put the girls–who let us not forget, are supposed to be the victims here–in a position where they could spend the rest of their lives on a sex offender registry. For their own protection, I guess. Bravo to the Third Circuit for not going along with this. Education, and maybe more adult supervision, sure. What kind of twisted mind thinks throwing teenagers in jail for this is an appropriate response?
Meanwhile, Maria Gunnoe cannot present her case before Congress.
And a group of teenagers nearly had their lives ruined because they made some bad decisions with cell phones that only hurt themselves (and the cops wanted to send them to prison for an act of which they were the only victims, if you even want to call them “victims.”)
Blogger Aaron Brady, who first reported Gunnoe’s story, knows what this is all really about:
Coalfield activists like Maria face threats, intimidation, and vandalism regularly; she’s received verbal threats to her life, her children have been harassed at school, “wanted” posters of Gunnoe have appeared in local convenience stores, and so forth. This is a strong lady, and I suspect I’m not wrong to say that it’s far from the worst of the shit she’s faced for daring to be strong in a part of the country where Coal is King. It was just the kind of insulting humiliation that it was meant to be. Coal-friendly congresspeople were using the resources at their disposal to harass someone who had the nerve to speak out against the industry they shill for, to try to intimidate someone like Maria who speaks for (and is) one of the people that industry poisons.
But it’s pretty clarifying, don’t you think? The real obscenity is that people drink that water, that they have no choice but to bathe in it, and to bathe their children in it. You know that, and I know that. But if a massive surface mining operation in the vicinity of your house poisons your water table, and if your well water runs brown with coal sludge and heavy metal particulate, well, that’s just the cost of doing business in America, a cost that will be paid by the Appalachians who only live there. It’s regrettable, at best. You can’t call the police and the state doesn’t want to know. And if you dare to take a picture of child’s exposure to that poison, if you have the nerve to walk into the halls of Congress and show them the obscenity that is a child that must wash herself with poison every day, they will call you a child pornographer. They will call the police.