Photo Labs Part of Fight Against Child Porn?

ByABC News

Aug. 13, 2001 -- Have you ever taken a snapshot of your child or grandchild playing in the bathtub or frolicking in the backyard sprinkler with no clothes on?

Much to the dismay of many shutterbugs, some employees at photo processing labs inspect customers' photos, and if they decide the pictures resemble child pornography, in some states they are required to alert the police. The consequences for the customer are often dire.

False Accusation

Marian Rubin is a 66-year-old award-winning photographer. Last year, she took a roll of film of her granddaughters before they got in their bath. One of the photos depicted one of the girls lying on a bed naked while reading a book.

Rubin did not think there was anything unusual about her pictures, but an employee of the one-hour photo lab processing her film deemed Rubin's granddaughter's pose provocative, and she called the police. Authorities arrested Rubin when she picked up her pictures.

"I must have cried buckets," says Rubin. "To be charged with this kind of crime is despicable. It's a disgusting crime."

Looking for kiddie porn, police searched her apartment and confiscated most of her artwork and her computers.

Rubin spent the next year on probation and was suspended from her job as a school social worker during that period. It was also a year before she could get her confiscated property back.

Though charges against her were eventually dismissed, she worries that the effect of the ordeal on her grandchild may be long lasting.

"They asked her things like, 'Did Grammy ask you to spread your legs? Did Grammy ask you to touch yourself?'" Rubin says.

Furthermore, as a condition of her bail, Rubin was unable to see or talk to the girls, a punishment she calls "horrible."

'First Line of Defense'

Former child sex crimes prosecutor Bruce Taylor defends the responsibility of photo clerks to alert authorities, arguing that any photos showing a child's genitals are potentially illegal, and the clerks are helping fight crime by reporting what they feel is offensive.

"Even grandma is not immune from the law," says Taylor.

Though the lab workers undergo little or no training in determining whether a picture is lewd exploitation or artistic expression, he says that they are only the "first line of defense," and not the final arbiters.

There have been cases in which photo lab vigilance has helped fight crime. In San Jose, Calif., a photo clerk spotted a cache of weapons in a set of pictures and called police. As a result of the tip, authorities managed to stop a man who allegedly was planning multiple shootings.

Risky Snapshots

In 1999 Jeffry Bimonte's life was turned upside-down when a photo clerk saw some spur-of-the-moment snapshots he took while vacationing in Florida with his two daughters.

He says his daughters were goofing around and told him to take a picture as they mooned him. "I heard them say, 'One, two, three,' and they said, 'Mooned you, mooned you, ha, ha, we mooned you daddy,'" Bimonte remembers.

He says he saw nothing offensive about taking a picture, but while the film was being processed at a Genovese drug store, the lab worker noticed the pictures revealed Bimonte's daughters' genitalia so he confiscated the prints and called the police.

When police confronted him, he says he was dumbfounded and did not know which prints they were referring to.

He says the pictures were not posed — a claim he said was supported by a polygraph test. "It was cute, they were my daughters," says Bimonte. "I saw absolutely nothing wrong with it."

But one of his daughters testified that she had indeed been posed — which is significant because prosecutors claimed at the trial that Bimonte set up a lewd display for the camera.

Bimonte believes she was coerced into telling a lie, and the judge's clerk testified that the 8-year-old girl had her fingers crossed during her testimony.

Bimonte was convicted of attempting to possess child pornography and sentenced to four weekends in jail, though his case is on appeal. He says, however, the far greater penalty he paid was losing custody of his two children.

Former prosecutor Taylor has some sobering advice for shutterbug parents. As a rule of thumb, he says, parents should not "take pictures of kids under 18, who you know aren't fully clothed … If you do take pictures, you really have to be prepared to defend yourself in any courtroom in the country in front of 12 jurors."

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