A Model Prisoner

Cops thought they'd busted the largest child-porn ring in Colorado history. But that's not how the case developed.

The one thing he didn't see a lot of on the Web, however, were sites showing off pretty young girls. Teenagers, their attractiveness shown off by a skilled glamour photographer -- and "non-nude," in the language of the Web. So that fall, Grady set up his first Web site, teenmodelquest.com, where prospective models could read about what Grady had in mind, send in sample photos and download an information packet for their parents to sign.

Soon Grady bought the domain name trueteenbabes.com. He also hired a full-time assistant and a full-time makeup artist. He printed up recruiting postcards to hand out at functions where cute girls might gather: parties, sports events, cheerleading competitions. He placed ads (including ads in Westword). And then he waited -- but not for long.

"It just kind of took off from there," he says.

Porn again: Attorneys Andy Contiguglia (left) and Mike 
Miller thought Grady's arrest violated the First 
Anthony Camera
Porn again: Attorneys Andy Contiguglia (left) and Mike Miller thought Grady's arrest violated the First Amendment.
Porn again: Attorneys Andy Contiguglia (left) and Mike 
Miller thought Grady's arrest violated the First 
Anthony Camera
Porn again: Attorneys Andy Contiguglia (left) and Mike Miller thought Grady's arrest violated the First Amendment.

You'd need to get pretty close to hell to find the proper resting place for child pornographers. Even the most permissive civil libertarian would have to wrestle with himself to justify the legal right of a person to create images of naked children engaged in sexual acts. And in jail, child pornographers are roundly despised even by other prisoners, as if there's an unspoken understanding that child porn is far beneath other crimes. Graphic images of children engaged in sex are appalling, terrible crimes of exploitation.

Child pornography is considered so universally loathsome, in fact, that it's one of only a handful of types of expression that don't receive automatic protection under the First Amendment. Unlike adult sex images (see "The Eye of the Beholder,"), when it comes to children, there's no legal distinction between "pornographic" and "obscene." There's simply no such thing as legal child porn.

Yet the definition of "child pornography" is not as clear-cut as it might seem.

The term "child," for example, is extremely broad, referring to anybody under the age of eighteen. Nearly everyone can agree that sexualized photos of a five-year-old are an abomination. But what about a sexy seventeen-year-old? After all, it was only two decades ago that federal laws increased the age of an adult from sixteen to eighteen in pornography cases.

Even today, the law still recognizes that older teens can act like official adults in some cases. In Colorado, for example, a sixteen-year-old girl may, with a parent's permission, be legally married. She could even marry at fourteen if a juvenile judge signed off on the union.

And, like it or not, teenage girls can be made to look extremely sexualized. (Britney Spears made a career of it long before she turned eighteen.) Lurking around playgrounds in the hope of catching sight of an elementary-school student's underwear is clearly unacceptable behavior. But is a 25-year-old man who ogles a high school senior -- in person or on a Web page -- really a criminal?

"The politically correct view is, no one should look at someone under the age of eighteen years old and be aroused," says J.D. Obenberger, a Chicago attorney specializing in obscenity laws -- especially those addressing child porn. "But if I had a nickel for all the times a guy driving down the street saw a sixteen-year-old in a tube top with low-cut jeans and a tattoo on her lower back and caused a car accident, I'd have a lot of nickels. He may be thirty years old, but he's not a pervert. Girls dress that way to look hot."

Sexy photos of legally underage teens are common in professional modeling circles, where the transitional ground between innocent child and knowing adult is considered a desirable -- and marketable -- look. "In bigger markets, especially, the fashion industry likes girls very young, thirteen or fourteen," says Frank Martinez, an agent for Denver's Maximum Talent Agency. And the young models are expected to pose in more -- or less -- than pinafores.

"We don't do a lot of sexy stuff here in Denver," Martinez adds. "But girls who want to go to New York or Europe, it's a lot sexier. Nudity is expected. It's not always healthy -- they tell the girls, 'If you don't do this, somebody else will.' But it's the way the business works."

By the time Brooke Shields appeared topless in an advertising campaign for Guess? jeans, she was already an old hand at going without clothes in front of the camera. At the age of twelve, she appeared completely naked in Pretty Baby, a movie about prostitution in New Orleans at the turn of the last century. Shields's appearance in that film was described as art.

British photographer David Hamilton has made a career of taking pictures of naked girls in the name of art, too. His 1995 book, The Age of Innocence, consists almost entirely of photos of completely nude adolescents. Printed underneath the photos are quotes from famous literature. But are fancy words and high-minded ideas the only things that distinguish art from child pornography?

Over the years, people have struggled to define what distinguishes obscenity from innocence, kiddie porn from art.

The first crucial legal distinction was made more than twenty years ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a New York City adult-store owner busted for selling movies of young boys masturbating. The judges agreed that when it comes to children, certain images -- masturbation, bestiality, actual or simulated intercourse, or "lewd exhibition of the genitals" -- should automatically be against the law.

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