September 6, 2010
White and his assistant refused to give Powell interviews, but her careful reporting lets the reader intuit a good deal. The book drags some in the legal sections -- a magistrate sustaining/overruling various objections -- but it also lets us ponder how a vague law was used against an unconventional mother; where the boundaries of family privacy reside; and how the First Amendment and notions of nudity came into play.
Nora Stewart is 19 now and a sophomore at Yale University. Her parents' partnership did not survive the ordeal.
* * *
Following is article published by City Beat while Cynthia was undergoing her ordeal.
Thursday, January 27,2000
A Snapshot of What Freedom Is and Isn't
by SYBIL IBBURTEZAN
Like many parents, Cynthia Stewart is an ardent amateur photographer when it comes to recording the lives of her children. Unlike most, the Oberlin Schools bus driver faces up to 16 years in prison on two criminal charges of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material and pandering sexually oriented photographs involving a minor.
Her crime was taking 19 pictures of her 8-year-old daughter Nora in the bath (apparently Nora takes her baths naked!) and giving the roll of film to a Discount Drug Mart in Oberlin for developing. The store sent it to Fuji Color Processing of Ohio in Mansfield, where technicians felt compelled to contact Mansfield police, who sent the photos to police in Oberlin, who arrested Stewart.
So what lewd and lascivious smut is occurring in these pictures, which Lorain County Prosecutor Gregory White describes as "well over the line" and "not anywhere near the category of normal"? Well, it's not so easy to say, as for months the prosecutor's office has refused to make prints of the photographs available to defense lawyers.
"The state of Ohio is not in the business of reproducing child pornography," Assistant Prosecutor Jonathan Rosenbaum explained, refusing to share the photos unless a court order compelled him to do so. "Clearly, the fewer copies of such prohibited material that are in existence will make the task of destroying them and removing them from the face of this planet much more easy."
Stewart herself has not seen the confiscated pictures she took.
In response to a defense request for more specifics about the case, Rosenbaum filed a one-paragraph reply, saying nine of the pictures had the child "assuming adult-like postures or expressions which are inappropriate and beyond her years" and in two of the pictures she holds a shower sprayer in "a provocative and adult-like manner which is inconsistent with normal photographs of a child of tender years and certainly inappropriate."
No sex acts here. No other persons or beasts. The child's not touching herself. There's no selling or publishing or posting of these images. It's just that the pictures are not what these publicly funded art critics consider "normal."
The ACLU has filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of Stewart, arguing that the Ohio statute under which she is charged is so vague and overbroad it permits violations of her constitutional rights. ACLU lawyers who have seen the photographs say they're completely innocuous pictures of a child playing in a bathtub. Stewart's attorneys agree, saying the pictures are "innocent depictions ... which journalize a child's activities and life. There is no evidence to establish that this child is abused or exploited in any way."
Meanwhile, Cynthia and her husband, Dave Stewart, put a $20,000 lien on their house to post Cynthia's bond to get her out of jail and have already used up their life savings for her legal defense. Nora has been taunted on her school playground, and her family is being investigated by child protective services, who are considering removing her from the family home. The fear and anxiety wrought by the genuinely "provocative," "inappropriate" and "well over the line" actions of local public officials has caused inexcusable and irreparable damage to this family's lives. The real abuse here has been confusing prosecutorial with persecutorial.
If photographing your child undressed is a criminal act in Ohio, countless other parents must be living in fear of prosecution. Simply picturing nakedness, even of minors, is not porn or obscenity and should not be a crime. Even sexuality is not something to be purged of representation, as it is a normal part of children's identities. We so need to grow up as a culture when it comes to these issues!
||False Child Abuse