01Mar16c Fear for nudity: that's the perversion
"Young kids know that nudity is natural. They have fun doing
ordinary things in their homes without clothes on. But as soon as there is one
private picture of this, their parents become the worst criminals. They may
immediately lose their children, their job, their reputation -- long before any
trial. They are guilty until proven innocent. And to prove or sustain innocence,
they must undergo a humiliating psychological program.
December 26th 2000
When a Picture is Worth a Thousand Worries
A recent child pornography case discussed in Canadian newspapers has serious implications for everyone. Why? Let's look at the details first.
In February 2000, an Ottawa area man, Andrzej Mikuta, was charged with making child pornography because of photos of his 4-year-old son. The Children's Aid Society immediately removed his two children from his home. When they were returned, for a time he was barred from seeing them and forced to move out of his own house. With her limited English, his wife couldn't do much. His whole family was devastated. His standing in the community suffered. His son, previously free of psychological problems, now worries that he is a bad person. He is afraid of many normal activities and people.
What was Mikuta's crime? Four photos of his son without clothes. The photos were sent for developing to a Costco store. An employee called the police, the police laid charges, and the Mikuta family went through a two-month nightmare.
In April, the Crown dropped the charges, saying there was no reasonable chance of conviction. Was there an apology to the Mikutas? Costco expressed no regrets. The police sent out a news release smugly claiming moral victory. The Children's Aid Society wanted to pursue child protection proceedings against the family. The nightmare goes on.
Is this case an aberration? Unfortunately not. Similar ones appeared recently in New Jersey and Ohio. Store clerks turned photos over to the police, who laid charges.
In both the Ontario and Ohio cases, a parent underwent psychological testing or counselling. Mr. Mikuta had to be tested to prove he was not a pedophile.
In Ohio, the mother, Cynthia Stewart, was ordered into six months of counselling to avoid the possibility of 16 years in jail for two photos. Her grave error was one depicting her _daughter_ washing off with a showerhead.
So let's get this straight. Young kids know that _nudity_ is natural. They have fun doing ordinary things in their homes without clothes on. But as soon as there is one private picture of this, their parents become the worst criminals. They may immediately lose their children, their job, their reputation -- long before any trial. They are guilty until proven innocent. And to prove or sustain innocence, they must undergo a humiliating psychological program.
Our culture has a phobia about unclothed bodies. We hear that adults should not be nude in front of their children -- from Joyce Brothers, Ann Landers, and other popularizers who have no research behind their opinions. From the Mikuta and similar cases, we hear that all child nudity is potentially heinous pornography.
But research on this subject suggests something different. Families where nudity is accepted may raise children who are better adjusted in significant ways -- with fewer teen pregnancies, fewer divorces, and higher acceptance of their adult sexuality. It's not the nudity itself that's important, but the attitudes towards it within the family.
In scandalizing nude bodies and using almost-nude ones alluringly to sell anything, we reveal an attitude that simultaneously says "Come and get it" and "Be damned if you do." That this accompanies appalling body hangups is hardly surprising, given the intimacy and vulnerability in sexuality. But a nude body does not itself imply or invite sexual activity, proper or improper, in adults or children, especially in the privacy of one's home.
While we know of healthy attitudes towards nude bodies, we are often trained to deny them. The real perversion isn't nudity, it's fear and loathing of it. Body shame is then foisted on innocent children -- not by parents like Andrzej Mikuta and Cynthia Stewart, but by those standing in narrow, ignorant judgment over them. The CAS, for example.
The police and Crown prosecutor in the Mikuta case warned that his photos were not just cute baby-in-the-bathtub shots. Good. Now we know who the great Canadian photography critics are. Cuteness and baths are OK, but anything else with nudity may get us ten years behind bars.
James Kincaid, English professor at the University of Southern California, put it this way: It seems that every photo of a nude child "must pass this test: can we create a sexual fantasy that includes it? Such directives seem an efficient means for manufacturing a whole nation of pedophiles."
We need less fantasy about pedophilia, which is actually uncommon. We need instead to focus on children learning the physical natures of both sexes at all ages without fear or shame of their own or others' bodies. Their body image and self-esteem are harmed more by panicking over nudity than by ignoring it, accepting it, or using it to teach body education and respect.
Will hysteria over nude children ruin some wonderful family moments? Suppose we take a photo of our kid doing cartwheels or somersaults in a joyous state without clothes: How may we have it developed so that we get our photo back and not a pair of handcuffs? Using private film developers or digital cameras may be the only way.
Because of cases like the Mikutas', we may have to hide what is normal and healthy. Because children don't need the police and CAS exploiting them, harassing families, and trying to enforce false, harmful beliefs.