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Girl Model Sites Crossing Line?
2:00 a.m. July 23, 2001 PDT
Amber seems like a typical 11-year-old girl who loves horses and hates chores. Her website shows her hugging a stuffed white rabbit and playing dress-up.

But her site also contains photographs that are only available to dues-paying members.

For $25 a month, "Lil' Amber" fans can ogle pictures of the little girl coyly hiking up her miniskirt or posing in a bikini on a faux bearskin rug. For $50, they can purchase a video of Amber "dancing and running around" in outfits that leave little to the imagination.

The money goes to her college fund, the site says.

Lil' Amber is one of several websites featuring "models" as young as 9 owned by Webe Web Corporation, an Internet hosting company in Florida. A list of the sites is available at Child Super Models.

Watchdog groups say the sites smack of pornography, but Webe Web argues that the sites constitute a perfectly legal enterprise.

"This is definitely not kiddie porn in any form," said Webe Web spokesman Evan Gordon. "None of our sites have naked children."

Gordon said that the child modeling sites were inspired by a birthday party thrown for a friend's 9-year-old daughter. Pictures of the Spice Girls-

themed party were posted on the Internet, and within a week they were getting 20,000 page views a day, he said.

"We decided to see if there was a market for this and there was," Gordon said.

The company started charging access to the site, which morphed into Jessithekid.com. Members can browse photos of a little blonde girl practicing yoga in a white leotard or strutting down a homemade runway in swimsuits. The site also sells videos of a coifed Jessi engaged in childish pursuits such as baking cookies or carving a pumpkin.

It proved to be a successful business model. Soon, other parents were contacting Webe Web to enlist their daughters.

Gordon said he had no idea why someone would shell out $25 a month to browse pictures of little girls in bikinis.

"That's something you'd need to ask a psychology professor," he said.

Mitchell Earleywine, a psychology professor at the University of Southern California, responded:

"Beats the hell out of me. I'm really at a loss why anyone would pay to look at these photos."

Earleywine said that men who are attracted to children tend to exhibit poor social skills and confusion on how dating works.

"I would encourage men who are on this site to seek professional help," Earleywine said.

But there's one thing Webe Web is sure about: The girl model sites are profitable.

"Many of these girls are making more money than their parents make," Gordon said, adding that while the company has been accused of exploiting children, he has no reservations about the sites.

"If you had a cute dog that I could put up on the Web and make money off of, I'd do that too," he said.

Webe Web also runs another business: hardcore porn sites, including Home From School. (The site www.homefromschool.com was taken down soon after an interview with Webe Web.)

Gordon said he was "irked" by a question of whether the company's child-modeling sites and porn sites were related and insisted there was no crossover between the company's two lines of business.

The images on sites such as Lil' Amber fall into a murky legal area, said Parry Aftab, a lawyer and the director of Cyberangels, an Internet safety and education group.

"This is utterly and absolutely distasteful, and I think it would invoke child abuse, but it's probably not illegal," said Aftab.

While the law explicitly prohibits images of minors engaged in real or simulated sex, it also forbids depictions of children designed to elicit sexual arousal.

In a landmark 1995 case, a Pennsylvania man was sentenced to jail for possessing videotapes of young girls posing provocatively in skimpy clothing. It was the first such conviction dealing with this issue in which the genitals were not exposed.

Meanwhile, controversial photographer Jock Sturges continues to sell photographs of nude children despite an FBI raid, pickets by angry mobs and a grand jury investigation.

Sturges, reached by e-mail at a photo shoot in France, looked over the Webe Web sites and concluded that their purpose was less than innocent.

"Whatever any of these websites original intent might have been, it is pretty clear that they have been (put) up for an audience with pedophilic leanings," Sturges wrote.

Some of the Webe Web images certainly push the arousal envelope, Aftab said. Consider Tiffany Teen Model, where for $75, customers can purchase a video of the 13-year-old and a friend cavorting in thong underwear.

"The girls model for each other, do each other's hair. You know. Girlie things. :)," states a description of the video.

The FBI, which declined to be interviewed for this story, is having a hard time keeping tabs on all the could-be child porn that is distributed over the Internet. The number of cases opened by the agency's Innocent Images National Initiative jumped 1,264 percent between 1996 and 2000, according to the FBI's website.

Groups such as Cyberangels and Pedowatch have picked up the slack by enlisting thousands of volunteers across the globe to scan the Internet for lurid images of children.

"It's getting harder for pedophiles to function on the Internet," said Julie Posey, the director of Pedowatch. "These (girl-model) sites may be their way of getting around the law.

"Why else would someone pay to see kids in their underwear?" she asked.

The mother of "Jessi The Kid" insists her daughter's site is geared toward other children, and that her daughter enjoys planning the themes for the photo and video shoots.

"There's so much smut on the Internet, we're completely on the opposite end of that," said the mother, who refused to give her name, referring to herself instead as "Jessi's mommy."

She said she didn't know who was buying pictures and videos of her daughter because she had no face-to-face interaction with customers. She said the site is profitable.

"Let's just say that from her portion of the earnings, she could apply for medical school right now and not have to take out a loan," she said.

But while Webe Web and Jessi's mother say they don't know what their demographic is, a quick peek at the girls' virtual fan clubs make it quite clear: men with nicknames such as "Cum ta Poppa."

At one of Amber's fan clubs, "humberthaze" writes: "We only get glimpses of her potential when she does a bit of 'bump and g,' but then she quickly relapses into something awkward and childish. Sometimes you can hear the photog get excited when he gives us what we/he want(s). She'll do a little killer wiggle and we hear him say quickly, 'What was that?' or 'Do that again!!!'"

Another complained: "She's gotten too developed for my taste, I doubt I'll be an Amber fan anymore."

The Webe Web sites are also featured on several adult search engines and pedophile links.

Jessi's mother said she was "amazed" to learn that her daughter's website was linked on Fresh Petals, a forum dedicated to people attracted to prepubescent girls.

"If they enjoy looking at a kid baking cookies in a video and find that arousing, that's their own sickness, not ours," she said.

(Source:  http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,45346,00.html)

 

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