| Underage and selling their sexuality on the web
By DOUG THOMPSON
Sep 23, 2002, 00:48
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She has the right look, innocent with a touch of naughtiness beckoning the viewer, a shapely body that looks good in a pair of tight jeans and a bare midriff top and even better in a bikini.
All woman – except for one fact.
Bobbi Jo is 13.
At 13, this Alabama sex kitten has been modeling for two years, has a Yahoo discussion group (called “Beachbabe”) and a web site where those willing to put $19 a month on their Visa can look at dozens of photos of her wearing very little clothing and a come-hither look.
Her parents know what she is doing. Her mother not only approves, but encourages it, saying Bobbi Jo is on her way to becoming a super model.
“Not likely,” says child psychologist Dorothy Grange, who has a lot of experience dealing with kids who are forced to grow up too fast. “More likely, she will be burned out at 16, robbed of any real chance at a normal childhood.”
We’ll just call her Bobbi Jo. She has enough to worry about without broadcasting her last name all over the Internet. She and her mother appeared recently on John Walsh’s tabloid TV show, defending the girl’s profession as “perfectly normal” and a necessary path for a young model who wants to make it big.
Her mother was willing to talk with Walsh for a fee, didn’t respond to our emails.
Bobbi Jo is just one of many teen and pre-teen kids who strike suggestive poses with little clothing for photographers who put these children on the Internet in “members only” sites and suggest they are available for real modeling assignments.
Professional modeling agencies like Next Model Management in New York, however, say child model sites are not the way to break into the business.
"Talent agencies don't look at these sites," a spokesman for Next Models said. "They look at portfolios produced by professional photographers and submitted by the models or their agents."
Teen Model: Age 9
"We stay away from these girls," she said. "There's too much potential for trouble."
Bobbi Jo is represented by Soopermodels, which has sold nude pictures of its clients to Playboy’s Book of Lingerie and College Girls special editions and other softcore magazines like The Joker.
Soopermodels’ web site promotes one of its clients as “Georgia’s next Playmate” and features sample photos of seven teen models, adding that if you “become a member, you can view thousands more.”
Soopermodels did not answer our request for an interview.
“It’s exploitation, nothing less,” says Dr. Grange. “These children are visually selling their bodies on the Internet.”
Teen Model: Age 10
Like Bobbi Jo, Miss Electra peddles her young body with full parental approval and support.
And as long as they approve, she can legally strut her stuff on the Internet for all who are willing to pay to see.
"They skirt the law by avoiding explicit pornography,” says Dr. Grange. “But they are selling a sexual fantasy that appeals to pedophiles. Every time I see another child go missing, I wonder if whoever grabbed her was visiting some of these web sites.”
Statistics compiled by the FBI and state and local police departments show more than 75 percent of those arrested on pedophilia or child sexual abuse charges in the last five years have visited Internet sites which features teen and pre-teen models.
David Westerfield, the next-door neighbor convicted of killing seven-year-old Danielle Van Dam in San Diego regularly visited child model web sites according to evidence introduced at his trial.
Alijandro Aliva, the 27-year-old man charged with kidnapping and killing 5-year-old Samantha Runnion in Orange County, California, frequented such web sites and had printouts of pictures from the sites in his home.
“I’ve interviewed a number of sexual offenders who admit visiting the sites,” Dr. Grange says.
Dr. Grange became interested in the Internet child model issue three years ago when she started treated a 14 year old child model.
Teen Model: Age 16
Proponents of child modeling claim it is a legitimate industry and children are protected, but child psychologists say there is no way you can exploit a child’s sexuality and then claim to protect them.
“You’re teaching a child to use their body as a sex object,” says Dr. Oswald Ruttan. “This makes them even more curious about their own sexuality. When children get curious, they don’t stop until they satisfy that curiosity.”
Dr. Ruttan says he has treated 12 year old child models with active sex lives.
"Those who are still virgins admit to mutual masturbation and/or oral sex with older men," he says. "It is much more common than the child modeling industry is willing to admit."
Search the Internet and you will find more than 15,000 “child model” web sites in the U.S. and abroad. Search court records on Lexis-Nexis and you find more than 1,000 cases in the U.S. in the last five years where photographers of child models or parents of child models have been charged with sexual offenses involving minors.
“Cause and effect,” says Dr. Ruttan. “Pedophiles often made good child photographers. Parents who exploit their children’s sexuality can, and do, carry it to the next level.”
Gary L. Smith is a Chicago-based photographer who runs a number of child model web sites. One of those sites features a 16-year-old St. Louis girl named Molly pulling down her panties or lounging on a bed in a "why don't you join me" pose.
In 1998, Smith copped a plea in Arkansas for "kissing and fondling" his 15-year-old babysitter's breasts. Shortly after his conviction, he moved to Chicago and became a photographer. His only photo work is with child model and pornography sites. He is name is on Chicago's sex offender registry.
Yet his conviction does not prohibit Smith from working with underage girls nor does Smith feel compelled to disclose his past to his young models or their parents. Nor does it prohibit him from running the porno site Chicago Dream Girls.
It's not, he says, liked "I raped somebody."
Capitol Hill Blue conducted a random check of the 100 photographers who run the highest-traffic child model sites and found that 37 had been convicted of sex crimes involving minors and another 22 had been charged but not convicted.
Teen Model: Age 12
Opponents of child modeling point to several factors that they feel have led to the growth of the practice:
--Teen and pre-teen fashions that feature bare midriff looks, low slung leans and short skirts;
--Teen-oriented pop stars like Brittany Spears whose on-stage acts and music videos feature overt sexuality;
--Parents who live out their fantasies (including sexual ones) through their children;
--More nudity and sex in mainstream entertainment, including music videos, TV, movies and magazines;
--Sexually-oriented marketing campaigns aimed at teenagers.
--Teen age role models who espouse a relaxed attitude towards sex.
"Three years ago, Brittany Spears was 17 and claiming to still be a virgin," Dr. Grange says. "Now she's 20 and says sex is not that big of a deal. She may be older, but her message goes straight to the younger teens and pre-teens who make up the bulk of her fans."
Parents of child models claim they are doing nothing wrong yet most refuse to be interviewed. We contacted over 50 parents of child models and most refused interviews and simply did not respond. Those who were willing wanted to be paid for the interview and wanted the right to approve all questions in advance. We declined.
Dr. Grange said studies of child models show more than half lose their virginity by age 14.
"They are thrust into a world where sexuality is paramount,” she adds. “They feel that sex is necessary to be part of that world.” One child model she treated last year was sexually molested at 8 and pregnant at 12.
Emily is 12 and models bikinis and underwear on her web site. Amber is 11 and her web site has a photo with her miniskirt hiked up to show her panties. For $24.95 a month, members “see a lot more” the site promises.
“At the select-a-shoot web site, the models range in age from 7-11 and all model bikinis while some are photographed in skimpy lingerie. Visitors are encouraged to “vote for their favorite pre-teen model.” The same is true at the “Our Little Angels” web site. The “Sunny Lolitas” web site promises even more.
One model for a pre-teen web site admitted she has experimented with sex and says she often exchanges "dirty email" with older men."
"It gets their rocks off," she brags. "I like that."
Her photographer, she adds, "lets me blow him. It's no big deal. I may be too young to f--k but I'm not too young to have fun."
“The photographers have a nice racket here,” says Dr. Ruttan. “They set up the web site, take photos of these children and collect at least half of all income from the memberships. I’ve found that many of these photographers also run porno sites. When the girls turn legal age, they are enticed to pose nude or in sexual situations to make more money.”
John Grantman, a retired FBI agent, says some child models can also be found on child pornography sites now, before they turn 18.
"When I was still at the bureau, we found children whose pictures were on both the so-called 'legitimate' sites as well as pure porno sites," Grantman says. "The problem with find them is that these sites change constantly and no law enforcement entity has enough resources to keep track."
One photographer who agreed to be interviewed on condition we not disclose his name admitted that many of his child models move on to the more explicit web sites in their late teens.
“We’re dealing with a very competitive market out there and only a few make it on the regular modeling side,” he says. “And I tell them hey, even Cindy Crawford posed nude for Playboy so what’s the big deal?”
When asked if he ever had sex with his models, he shrugged and said "it happens."
John Chrighton, a construction worker turned photographer, runs a half dozen child model sites as well as two porno ones.
"It's not like we're having to kidnap these girls and drag them in front of a camera," Chrighton says. "The send emails and put up notices on the Web, begging to be photographed. Their mothers drag them in here. It's supply and demand, man. I'm just helping the economy."
And sex with models?
"Hey man, if they're of age and want to play around, I'm willing. I'm a man."
Auburn, who turned 18 three months ago, worked as a child model for five years. Now she poses nude on an adult web site and is considering offers to make porno videos.
“Hey, I started giving it away when I was 14 so I might as well make some bread on it now,” she says.
At 13, Auburn looked 18. At 18, she looks 35 or older.
You grow up fast when you start selling sex at 12,” says Dr. Grange. “That doesn’t mean you grow up well.”
We talked at length with one of the few child models who agreed to be interviewed without paying a fee or pre-approving questions. Her name is withheld because of the content of the interview.
“"I started modeling at 9," she said (she's now 12). "Mama thought it would be a good idea. At first it was fun. I liked the idea of posing and having people see me."
But the thrill soon turned sour. Her first photographer molested her at age 10. The molestation continued until she finally told her mother seven months later.
"Mama went to see him and threatened to have him thrown in jail. He paid us $25,000 to keep quiet. I wanted to quit but mama found another photographer."
She started getting obscene email, so she stopped reading her email. Her mother kept it, however, and shared it with her boyfriend. Her mother also kept her earnings "for later," but she's sure the money won't be there when she turns 18.
"I wanted to quit but mama won't let me," she said. Earlier this year, her mother's boyfriend exposed himself to her and asked for oral sex. She put him off by masturbating him. When she told her mother, the mother laughed and said "Honey, you're not woman enough yet to satisfy him. Don't worry. I'll let you know when you are."
After the interview, we notified Child Welfare in the girl's home state. She was removed from the home last week and her web site has been shut down by the State Attorney General. The case is now before a grand jury.
"An extreme case to be sure," says Dr. Grange, "but the fact that these kinds of things happen should be enough to make people say something has to be done."
Rep. Mark Foley (R-Florida) introduced a bill earlier this year to outlaw child model sites but legal experts say the bill, if passed, would probably not survive a court challenge because it is too broad and would bar commercial photographers from even shooting legitimate photos of children.
“The bill, the Child Modeling Exploitation Prevention Act, is “constitutionally hopeless,” says Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain.
Foley says the legal types are overreacting.
“These web sites are nothing more than a fix for pedophiles,” he said. Foley said the House legislative counsel’s office is working to make sure the bill targets the right web sites.
In the meantime, the sites remain both legal and popular.
Evan Gordon, whose Florida company, Webe Web, hosts a number of child model web sites with thousands of paying members, defends his operation as a “legitimate business” and claims he doesn’t know why people are willing to pay money to see photos of little girls.
“You’d better ask a psychology professor,” Gordon says.
Beats the hell out of me,” says University of California psychology professor Mitchell Earleywine. “I don’t know why anyone would pay extra to see these photos.”
But, Earleywine added that he would “advise anyone who does to seek professional help.”
Tiffany, a 12-year-old child model, says she knows why people pay to see pictures.
"It turns them on," she says. "I like turning men on. It's a blast."
Dr. Grange has no doubt such sites are visited frequently by pedophiles and sexual predators.
“These sites are like an amusement park for pedophiles,” she says, "and sooner or later, they will want to go on the rides."© Copyright 2002 by Capitol Hill Blue
Copyright © 2006 Capitol Hill Blue. All rights reserved
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