The line between cute kids at play and child porn

If what the wife of a Mankato football coach is saying about her husband’s arrest on felony child porn charges is true, there’s another chapter in the book of people taking cute pictures of their kids naked.

“The charges against my husband are ridiculous and baseless,” Melodee Hoffner said at her husband’s attorney’s office today. “My family does what every family does – we take videos and pictures of our kids in all their craziness. My husband would not ever abuse our children or any other children.”

Her husband, Todd Hoffner, head football coach at Minnesota State University, Mankato, took his broken cellphone to the university IT department to get a new one and the video and images transferred. The technician called the cops when he/she saw the images.

He was charged with possessing child porn and using minors in a sexual performance or pornographic work.

“It’s a difficult distinction to make. What’s a cute butt and what’s pornographic?” That’s a classic quote from Stan Rebert, York County (Pennsylvania) district attorney, who charged a 59 year old woman with child porn after she took her film of her two-year-old granddaughter getting out of the bathtub to WalMart.

Fifteen months later, the charges were dropped and the woman, Donna Dull, filed suit against the police.

The same thing happened in Arizona. Lisa and Anthony “A.J.” Demaree dropped film off at WalMart of their vacation to San Diego. Several of them were “bath- and playtime” photos of their daughters. The kids were taken from the home for a month. Neither parent was charged with a crime, although the police released statements describing photos that they contended went beyond playtime.

The couple was placed on a sexual offender list. Mrs. Demaree was suspended from her educator job for a year.

A judge returned the children when he viewed the photos and found them to be “innocent” in nature.

“If one of these images that our folks reviewed somehow circulated and it was reported that our office had seen that or that CPS had seen that and basically turned a blind eye, I think most people would say, ‘That’s not right, you aren’t doing your job. You’re supposed to be acting to protect children from potential exploitation and an image like that is suggesting that maybe something else is going on here that ought to be investigated,'” a spokesman for the Arizona attorney general told the Arizona Republic newspaper.

The FindLaw Crime and Criminals blog noted the case and explained the guidelines authorities have to make in making these kinds of charges.

Though many acts are obviously sexually explicit, “sexually explicit conduct” under federal law also includes “lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person.” Federal court have identified some factors to help decide whether genitals in particular images constitute a lascivious exhibition. These factors include:

Whether the genitals or pubic area are the image’s focal point;

Whether the setting is sexually suggestive;

Whether the child is depicted in an unnatural pose or age-inappropriate attire;

Whether the subject is nude, partially or fully clothed;

Whether the image suggests a willingness to engage in sexual activity; and

Whether the image is intended to elicit a sexual response in the viewer.

“The downside of society’s increased awareness that bad things happen to children is an increased tendency to see those bad things everywhere,” Lisa Belkin of the NY Times parenting blog wrote.

In the Hoffner case, according to the Associated Press, the videos show the children dancing and exposing their genitals.

The Star Tribune describes them this way…

According to the charges, in one video, all three drop towels covering their bodies and jump around, while an 8-year-old boy fondles himself and the two girls bend over and spread their buttocks. In a second video, the girls are dancing naked and the boy enters naked, wearing only a football helmet. In the third video, one of the girls is shown being awakened in bed and told by a male voice “to go potty” before she is followed to the bathroom in her underwear with the camera focused on her buttocks.

The system will sort all of this out. In the meantime, the message to parents is clear: Don’t take pictures or videos of your children unclothed.