For the past week, water polo has been brought to the public eye in a way none of us would have chosen…as the result of an OC register probe into rogue photographers placing pictures of young players on pornographic websites. Our community has been aware of this issue since October and we have all faced the feeling of helplessness as it became clear that the laws favor the offenders not the victims.
First of all, the water polo community owes a debt of gratitude to the OC Register for putting our most respected media person, Dan Albano on the story. Dan ensured that the story was presented respectfully without undue tabloid embellishment. The story took off and has swept across the world bringing up questions of ethics, morals and constitutional rights.
Any sensational story like this leads both us and the public to speculate into the unpublicized areas of the issue that I think could use some clearing up. As one who has been involved from the beginning, I thought I would gather and clarify some issues that are surrounding this. As a rather public commentator, I have received many emails and calls from people outside of the water polo community and feel it time to provide public rebuttals or clarifications. Consider this The FAQ’s of the issue…
"How the pictures were originally found? (Is one of our Parents a closet sex addict?)"
The photographs were initially found by a water polo mom who was looking at scores on the OC Varsity website. California Sports Pics (a well know photo entity in SoCal) had purchased an ad linking to water polo photographs. The mom clicked on the link looking for pictures of her son. Not finding any on the California Sports Pics site, she “Googled” the photographers name “Allen Rockwell” which returned the site “AllenSnaps”. On this site, the mom found clearly disturbing pictures of kids out of the water, all male, all young. The photographs were not illegal but taken as a group, were creepy and unsettling. This led her to “Google” further where the Allen Snaps name returned hundreds of sexually oriented sites where the AllenSnaps people had posted the same photographs on sexually oriented message boards inviting the community to discuss the boys. Comments ranged from “Oh what a lovely boy” to “I would like to &^%$ his #$% all nite long”.
The mom was speechless. She contacted a group of parents, school and water polo administrators, the police, lawmakers, all of which yielded sympathy but no action. In the meantime, they contacted the photographers who were adamant that what they were doing was legal. Not only did they refuse to stop, they continued to visit water polo games each weekend and posting more pictures.
It was at this point, in Mid October that the group of parents turned to me and Water Polo Planet.
"This is just a group of 'typical off the wall’ Orange County People"
No. This is not. I am a practical New Englander from Boston. Raising 2 daughters has also given me a very finely honed BS detector and absolutely no tolerance for suburban “soccer moms”. NEVER through this entire mess did I once think that this was a fabricated crisis. Never did I find that parents were off the wall or overreacting. As a matter of fact, my initial reaction was that some father was going to hurt one of these guys.
“Allensnaps had their photos stolen by someone else and reposted to these sites”
Untrue. The now infamous “posse”, (the watchdog parent group) has many screen shots of dedicated “Allensnaps” photo galleries on these sexually oriented sites with such titles as “Butt Crack Heaven” “Oh What A Beautiful Boy” and “Beautiful Bulge”. It was not until parental pressure forced the issue that these were taken down on SOME sites. Others remain. The group from Allensnaps knew exactly what they were doing and in most cases, posted the photographs to the pornographic sites themselves under the Allensnaps name. There are photographs posted to sexual websites as recently as January 15 2008 under the Allensnaps name.
“This is not Pornography it is Art”
Hogwash. Art is in large books on a coffee table that can be shown to your parents. There are NO settings where photographs of children with attached ads for sex aids and associated abusive and demeaning comments could be put on public display or shown to a parent. Art is the depiction of models willing to pose in the artistic context. There is NOTHING “willing” about the kids who have been used.
“Gays should have the same access to beautiful bodies as Heterosexuals”
No unsuspecting child’s or adult’s photograph should be displayed for sexual or lewd purposes on ANY website of ANY orientation. It is particularly not acceptable for anyone to use the images of unsuspecting kids for sexual purposes of any sort. If photos are necessary for your lifestyle, pay a model or pay a willing participant…there are plenty out there who are willing.
“This is just another instance of Gay Bashing”
The fact that these pictures were published on gay oriented sites is incidental to the fact that the sites are sexually explicit and emotionally abusive to unsuspecting children. No matter how you spin it, this is child abuse… be hetero or homo sexually oriented. Child abuse is not sexual orientation specific. The majority of the homosexual community is as appalled as we are at the flagrant abuse of unsuspecting children. Nearly all parents have asked “What do we do to protect our girls from similar (heterosexual) voyeurs?”
Apologists say “There is Nothing Wrong With Just Looking”
According to statistical data, there is plenty wrong with looking…
Sex Offender Study Shouldn't Be Deep-Sixed
Dom Giordano, The Philadelphia Bulletin
"A few weeks ago, the New York Times reported that the Bureau of Prisons had conducted a study on Internet child porn. The study focused on the connection between viewing child pornography and those who molest children.
The conclusions were stunning and sobering. The report showed that 85 percent of those convicted for downloading, viewing and sharing child pornography had admitted to molesting children. This report was alarming because previous studies had found the figure to be lower: Somewhere in the 30-40 percent range. This report shows that the problem is bigger than imagined.
The new findings validate that there is more to this story. It certainly should make the public - and criminal juries - more skeptical when accused kiddie porn viewers offer up a lame "I was only looking" legal defense. Second, it gives prosecutors the opportunity to leverage these findings when pursuing more severe punishment and jail terms for these creeps. And finally, while the report is disturbing, it's necessary reading to help parents and communities become more vigilant in protecting children from these dangerous predators.
But guess what? Neither you nor I can get this report. Quite inexplicably, the Bureau of Prisons has decided not to make the report public. It's pretty clear to see why the study is being kept under wraps. People on the other side of this issue will surely come out and say that the study will spread hysteria and make it more difficult for released offenders to return to their communities without the full range of civil liberties afforded to ordinary citizens.
Frankly, those types of arguments are weak and out of whack. People on the other side of the pedophile issue are on the wrong side. Our response should always be that kids come first. Their safety and well-being should be the priority of our society, not the concern of whether convicted sex offenders feel welcome in their neighborhoods."
“Why is Water Polo Planet Involved?”
We became involved because no other entity was willing or able to publicize and get the word out quickly to parents and coaches. We felt that it would be better to publicize that it is happening before one of the “lookers” turned into a “do-er” and a boy was hurt. OC parents were collectively afraid to comment publicly fearing retaliation against their children so I took the lead publicly. I am further away geographically and have no young children. I have 2 large dogs and a husband with a whistle and a red card.
“How Can this be LEGAL?”
The First Amendment to the constitution guarantees Freedom of Speech. Freedom of speech is the concept of being able to speak freely without censorship. The synonymous term freedom of expression is sometimes preferred, since the right is not confined to verbal speech but is understood to protect any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.
The photographers involved are claiming protection under this constitutional amendment, claiming that limiting their “freedom” to use images of our children for their own “expression” would be a restriction of those freedoms promised all people in the Constitution of the United States.
“How Can We Prevent this from Happening?”
Every pool in the country should have a sign as follows “To protect the athletes, No photography of any kind is allowed in this venue without the express permission of the pool or Venue Director. ALL images taken at this facility are the property of the athletes and/or parents. No model releases are expressed or implied”
All parents should register with www.maspofcalifornia.org and support the Surrogate Stalker Law. It is important to know that this bill ONLY criminalizes acts against children under the age of 14. This should be raised to age 18 if at all possible.
Each parent should take ownership for advising their school districts COMPETITIVE SWIMMING and DIVING parents and coaches that this threat is even more widespread in those areas than in water polo.
Question, Question, Question. Do not be afraid to question any people photographing aquatic events. Legitimate photographers will not be afraid OR insulted at being asked to produce media credentials or photo ID.
“What Are Our Legal Remedies?”
According to a recent ABC News story (http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=4178713&page=1) “Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the parents might be able to take legal action against the photographers and Web sites.
"This issue represents just one of a whole range of new issues arising around the use of personal images on the Internet," said Rotenberg. "In some cases, publishers of online information may be immune because of an act of Congress. Internet publishers are given broader protections than other forms of media, but that doesn't mean the parents don't have a case.
"If the pictures appear alongside other more explicit images, it might be an example of a false light privacy tort, which occurs when publishing a true fact but in a context that allows people to draw a wrong conclusion," he added. "If that's the case, there may be a basis for the parents to bring an action."
A Zone/HS parents meeting should be held in Southern California to determine whether or not a class action (civil) lawsuit should be filed on behalf of the kids for invasion of privacy. The publicity surrounding this issue should make it far easier to interest an attorney in taking the case on a contingency basis where legal fees are taken out of the proceeds rather than paid for up front.