[Cool Teen Sites]
Legal child porn under fire
The "Lil Amber" Web site featured a 12-year-old Florida girl who suddenly
retired from her career as an Internet "model" in December, only to be replaced
by a new Amber.
March 28 WTVJ Miamis Deborah Sherman reports on a Florida Internet company
that is selling child erotica with the permission of the preteen models'
March 28 The photos of 12-year-old Amber cavorting in a
swimsuit and various skimpy outfits wouldnt have raised so much as an eyebrow if
they had been posted on a family home page. But on lilamber.com one
of a growing number of preteen model sites operating in the legal gray area
between innocent imagery and child pornography they have drawn the attention of the
Justice Department and prompted a congressman to declare war on the
reckless endangerment of such kids by their parents and Web site operators.
THIS IS AN unacceptable way for a child to earn lunch money
performing like a circus animal, Rep. Mark Foley said of the sites, which feature
girls as young as 6 wearing revealing clothing and striking sexually suggestive poses but
display no nudity or overt sexual material that would run afoul of child pornography laws.
It sickens you that a parent would have such disregard for their own child.
Foley, R-Fla., was informed by the Justice Department earlier this month that, at his
request, it had instructed the FBI to review the pre-teen sites in order to determine
whether they are breaking any laws. Foley also asked a House Judiciary subcommittee to
hold hearings on the subject, which would allow parents of the girls and the Web site
operators to be subpoenaed.
Lil Amber, the site that touched a raw nerve for Foley, is one of dozens of
preteen model sites that have popped up on the Internet over the last few
MOST CUSTOMERS ARE ADULTS
There is ample evidence that the sites, which sell photos and videotapes to members, cater
primarily to adults, very few of whom are in the market to hire models. Many if not
most customers are sexually interested in children, and some are pedophiles,
according to law enforcement officials and childrens advocates.
This is legal child porn, said Ken Lanning, a retired FBI
agent who studied deviant sexual behavior during most of his 30 years with the bureau.
Its not against the law, but its exciting and stimulating and arousing
for people with a certain deviant interest.
Officials at Webe Web Inc., the Davie, Fla., Web- hosting company behind a half-dozen
pre-teen model sites, including Lil Amber, have previously denied
that the sites cater to pedophiles or constitute child pornography. But after a rash of
bad publicity including an investigation by NBCs Miami affiliate, WTVJ/NBC 6,
that revealed many previously unreported details about Amber, her family and
the company they are no longer doing so.
No one here is going to talk about it anymore, said a man who answered the
phone at Webe Webs offices but declined to give his name.
MOMMY DEFENDS SITE
But in an e-mail conversation between and an individual who says she is the mother of
another pre- teen model known as Jessi the Kid, the respondent said the site
was created to help her daughter fulfill her dream of becoming an actress and was no more
racy than ads for fashion lines such as Benetton that appear every day in national
publications. Furthermore, she said, the media are focusing only on the revealing outfits
and missing the other material on the site geared to appeal to other kids.
Our site is filled with so many wonderful things that any kid would be happy to see
and browse through, said the respondent, who signed her e-mail as Mommy.
Why are you stuck on the few photos we have of her in her custom-made clothing? Have
you seen the great updates where she shows you how to make an excellent salmon dish using
only tinfoil to bake it with? What about the very fun and informative software reviews
that took her months to put together? Any [of] her Yoga video/pics!??
But fan discussion groups on Yahoo! and Internet news groups support the contention that
the child models most ardent fans are adults, said Scott Zamost, a WTVJ producer who
spent four months investigating the Lil Amber site and Webe Web, which also
hosts several adult porn sites.
You could tell by the postings that these werent kids who were viewing the
sites. Some people were posting poetry, Zamost said, adding that Lil
Ambers fan club at one time had more than 9,000 members.
A CHILLING QUIP
Likewise, on an Internet news group for girl-lovers, a subscriber who
identified himself as Rainbow posted a brief positive review of the new
Jessithekid Web site in December 1999, then signed off with this chilling
quip: Anyone for 10-ish? (groan).
Foley, who is co-founder of a congressional caucus devoted to issues surrounding missing
and exploited children, learned of the pre-teen sites late last year when WTVJ asked about
I was outraged when I first saw it because its being passed off as some
career-building opportunity or [raising money] to apply for college, he said,
referring to statements on several of the sites saying the proceeds will go toward the
girls college educations. To me, it borders on pornography and indentured
After purchasing a membership to Lil Amber site, which cost $25 for the first
month and $19.95 a month thereafter, com reviewed dozens of photos and purchased a
videotape for an additional amount to determine how far the sites creators were
willing to go.
In all instances, the material stopped well short of what is popularly considered child
porn. The shots showed Amber (which is not her real name) in bathing suits,
short shorts and skimpy halter tops, but never revealed any genitalia or her breasts. Some
of the photos were disturbing such as one in which she appeared to have been rolled
in clay but others could just as well have been from a backyard birthday party.
MTV MEETS BAD HOME MOVIES
Video #4 Amber Models Summer Fashions was like a cross between MTV and
bad home movies. Amber spent most of the hourlong tape energetically dancing
in front of a fireplace in a living room, with a placard reading Jesus and a
family photo on the mantelpiece and a dog statuette alongside.
She modeled a dozen different outfits during the dance-a-thon,
apparently fashions that were requested or purchased by Web site members. In one scene,
she lifted her skirt, giving the briefest glimpses of underwear. In another, the
unidentified cameraman lay on the floor and shot up her skirt as she danced away
un-self-consciously. That was as far as it went.
At another point in the videotape, an unidentified man whose face was not shown presented
her with a new Dell Computer and said, This was a gift from all your fans
Lanning, the retired FBI agent, reviewed a sampling of the photos at coms request
and said that at least one conceivably could considered child pornography under a 1994
decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In that case, U.S. v. Knox, the court ruled that language in the Protection of Children
Against Sexual Exploitation Act of 1977 prohibiting the lascivious exhibition of the
genitals or pubic area can include non- nude depictions. The court
upheld the conviction of defendant Stephen Knox on the grounds that videotapes he had
purchased showing children posing in leotards were marketed as being sexually exciting.
But Lanning noted that even under that decision, which set precedent only in the 3rd
Circuit, prosecutors would have to prove lascivious intent on the part of the
parents or the Web site operators for a successful prosecution. That would be particularly
difficult given that the pre-teens are being presented on the Web sites as
models rather than sexual objects
Debbie Mahoney, CEO of Safeguarding Our Children United Mothers
(SOCUM), an organization that aims to protect children from pedophiles, says prosecutors
also have an abundance of more clear-cut cases to pursue.
The is so much hard-core child pornography and so many pedophiles on the Internet
that when prosecutors see a kid like this, they say, It may be egregious, but
its not child porn, so lets move on to something that we can
prosecute, she said.
But Rep. Foley said he intends to explore a new legal avenue whether the parents of
the child models could be prosecuted under child-endangerment laws.
This is reckless endangerment if Ive ever seen it because youre
basically introducing your child to some really sick people, Foley told com this
RISK OF PEDOPHILE STALKERS?
Such laws vary from state to state, but in general that would require a prosecutor to show
that posing for the Web site would subject a child to a substantial risk of
harm. In the case of the pre-teen sites, both potential physical harm from a
pedophile stalker and possible psychological trauma from being treated as a sexual object
could be considered, said Chris Paulitz, an aide to Foley.
The idea that a stalker could track down a child model was bolstered by the fact that
Zamost and his WTVJ team were able to track down Amber and her family,
starting out with only a hint from Webe Web co-founder Jeff Libman that she might live in
Palm Beach County and visual clues in the photos and videos in which she appeared.
The girls mother and step-father declined a request for an interview, but armed with
their identities, the TV crew was able to determine that the mother had been a porn
performer on an adult Web site several years earlier. Through court records, the crew also
was able to track down the girls father, who said he was opposed to the site, Zamost
STUDY OF THE RISK URGED
But anecdotal evidence like that likely would not be enough to persuade a jury to convict
on child endangerment charges, said Howard Davidson, director of the American Bar
Associations Center for Children and the Law.
One would have to document the risks to children of engaging in these modeling sites
rather than just be speculative about the dangers, he said. If there
had been cases where kids had been sexually abused as a result of involvement, then I
think it would be easier to sustain both in the legislature and, ultimately, in the
Such an approach also would raise raise serious First Amendment concerns, said Kim Hart,
director of the National Child Abuse Defense and Resource Center.
I think that we need to define child endangerment to make sure that were not
casting a really broad net, she said. Does that mean that today we would
charge Brooke Shields mother for Blue Lagoon?
Hart, whose non-profit group seeks to ferret out cases of falsely reported child abuse,
also said that while modeling pictures such as those on the Lil Amber site are
distasteful, they dont necessarily equate with endangerment.
Just because someone does something that you dont like, it doesnt
necessarily mean that they dont care about their children, she said.
If you want to check out the parents and make sure that the child is being
clothed and fed and going to school, fine.
UNSAVORY, BUT NOT ILLEGAL
Stephen B. Levine, a professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University
School of Medicine and an expert on sexuality, made a similar point.
I think its reasonable to think that these sites are pandering to pedophiliac
interests ... and they are unsavory, he said. But this is America, where we
tolerate lots of unsavory things for freedom of expression, and I dont think
were willing to give up these freedoms.
While the implications of the effort to crack down on the pre-teen model sites
will continue to be debated, the girl known as Amber will no longer figure in the
She abruptly ended her career as an Internet model in December with no
explanation and was replaced with a new Lil Amber, who bears more than a
passing resemblance to the original. A posting on a now-deactivated Yahoo! fan group
states that Amber has passed on her legacy to a new model, 11-year-old Jana. ...
Amber supports this group ... and [has] authorized it as Janas official fan
Her successor doesnt yet have her own video, but the Lil Amber site
promises that one is coming soon.