Thursday, April 15, 2010

Using porn as a guide for The Talk: criminal, stupid, or brilliant?

This morning, on my walk, I listened to an NPR story about a father, his two daughters, and Internet pornography.

I'll include a few salient quotes from the article, but I highly suggest you read the entire piece (it's a short easy read).

"[Crystal] Buckner says her daughter had told the counselor that late one night at her father's house, he'd shown his daughters pornography on a computer.
"When he called them over, it was a live webcam of a woman by herself and Daddy was typing to her what to do," Buckner says.

The live webcam action was followed by exhibitions of other online video pornography. The pornography was all adult. The girls reported that their father, Crystal's former husband, Jack A. Buckner II, said he was showing them the pornography because sex was something they needed to know about."
As parents, we can all relate to the general concept of "whew, that was a mistake" along with "not the best approach." We all err as parents, and our children have to deal with the fact that we are mere humans. The idea is to do our best to mitigate and minimize our mistakes, learn from them, and more importantly, think it through especially in big moments like this.

As parents, I seriously doubt we can relate to a father thinking a live Internet porn show, in which he was participating, is a good way to educate two young daughters about sex.
"Jack Buckner II declined to comment about the case. His current wife, Jennifer Buckner, told NPR the exhibition was a one-time occurrence. She said her husband knew the next day he'd made a mistake attempting to educate his young daughters by using computer pornography."
Good.

Still.

It leads to questions: with such a colossal lack of judgement, what else has he done? And what was impairing his judgment on this occasion? Was it an impulse? Was he engaged in Internet porn, and upon being discovered by his daughters, impulsively decided to turn this into a Teaching Moment? Or did he plan it? Was it a cover up? In short, what in the world...?

I have an eight year old. She is very curious, especially about the human body, particularly about differences between male and female human bodies. She has asked questions, but I have learned to ask her what she wants to know before launching into something way beyond what she needs, and past what she can process.

She has also walked in while I am watching a show I consider "not suitable for children." In my case, this means a crime solving television program that contains what I think of as violence or scary parts that could frighten or worry a child. I pause the show. If she asks a question, I try to answer on a practicality, with mention it's a grown-up program and fake.

I believe in honesty with kids, but with that huge, weighty caveat: as is age-appropriate.

Under no circumstances do I think live action Internet porn qualifies.

I realize I am a very Thinky Mom and have probably written an entire script prior to opening my mouth, but I also feel confident most parents will agree with me on this: that was a tremendously stupid thing for that dad to do.

The father, Jack Buckner, has full custody of the girls. The porn incident came to light, though, when their biological mother took them to see a therapist because the eight year old had been acting out.
"Crystal Buckner was waiting in a therapist's office last summer for her 8-year-old daughter to finish a session. The child had been having behavior problems — anger, acting out. At the end of this session, the therapist came in looking grim.

"The counselor put the kids in one room and called me into her office and said, 'Crystal, you need to sit down,' " Buckner recalls. Buckner's other daughters were there for counseling, too.

Buckner says her daughter had told the counselor that late one night at her father's house, he'd shown his daughters pornography on a computer.

. . .

The girls kept it secret for months, but the 8-year-old eventually told her therapist — and after informing Crystal Buckner, that therapist called child protective services in northern Texas."
This is the point at which it gets very tricky.

I strongly believe the therapist was right to call child protective services and ask them to investigate. A father who will show his daughters live Internet porn, in which he was participating, needs to be checked out. That action is too far past reasonable parental judgment.

I confess my perspective is subjective. However, in this case, letting CPS make the call of "okay" or "actionable" was wise and right.

But what do you think, and why?

As it happens, CPS did decide it warranted investigation. They referred it to Randall County District Attorney James Farren.
"It is not illegal to possess adult pornography," he says. "It is not illegal to look at adult pornography regardless of how we may feel about it morally or philosophically."

But Farren wanted to prosecute the father. The Texas penal code allows prosecution of anyone who sells or shows harmful material to a minor. And the law stipulates that pornography is considered harmful. The law was written in 1973, but it came with one important caveat, Farren says: It doesn't allow prosecution when the child was accompanied by a consenting parent or guardian.

In this case, not only was the minor accompanied by a parent during the exhibition, but the parent was the exhibitor. Nevertheless, Farren says he was willing to take his chances with a West Texas jury anyway. But there was a hitch.

"If the judge is made aware of that, I won't even get to a jury," he says. "He'll give me an instructed verdict."
I agree with this: it was stupid, and bad enough to warrant CPS investigation to ensure the three girls were not in danger, but I do not think it was criminally stupid. Buckner needs some education, and support to make a better choice in how to educate his daughters about sexual topics.

However, he does not need to be prosecuted. Far better, I think, to provide access to parenting tips and help. Most importantly, I think the government needs to respect parental decisions and privacy. District attorneys need to understand, as frustrating as it can be, that stupid, poor choices, and even acting like a jerk and creep are not per se against the law. Moreover, that doesn't per se mean the law needs to be changed, as DA Farren would like.
District Attorney Farren knows that in conservative West Texas, people are wary of aggressive government intrusion into matters that could be seen as private.

But he says his constituents are disgusted by the case, and so is he.
I'm disgusted too, but let's be clear: what disgusts me doesn't mean illegal, and it also doesn't mean someone ought to be in jail. Not only is that not always the most constructive response, it may not even be the right one.
George Dix, a law professor at the University of Texas, is less enthusiastic about the state's putting itself in the middle of this situation.

"It may be impossible to define with precision what a parent should be permitted ... to provide to a child in the course of 'the talk,' " he says.

Dix says cases like this one speak to the issue of parental intent: Was the father really trying to educate the girls, or was it sinister? Educational intent is also a defense under Texas law. This can be a tricky area for a prosecutor to wander around in.
I don't think prosecutors need to be wandering around in this quite so much. We need to be cautious about letting moral outrage overtake our comprehension of legally criminal. This was poor judgment, but were the girls in imminent danger, permanent harm?

That's the current question as DA Farren pursues another line of prosecution.
Farren is unhappy with the language in the Texas penal code. So he has charged the father with a different crime — child endangerment, a felony punishable by up to two years in prison. To get a conviction, Farren will have to prove the father put his daughters in "imminent danger of mental impairment" by showing them pornography. It may be a long shot, the D.A. says, but he's going to try.
Does this father belong in jail, with a conviction?

The girls' mother at the least doesn't believe he deserves to be the custodial parent any longer and has sued for a change in custody.

Without knowing either of the parents, more information, how the initial arrangement came to be and why, or any other relevant details, it's hard to say whether a custody change would be best.

It's hard to even know whether there is more to the story, or whether the father has a history of situations like this.

On the merits we do know, though, it seems to me that there is little to support a sinister intent, and therefore, the DA needs to let this one go...and find a more constructive solution.

9 comments:

thordora said...

oh lord.

Stupid. Completely utterly stupid, warranting a hard look at custody arrangements and parenting classes. But something to prosecute? Am i missing something? Did the girls say anything else happened?

As a mother I'd be extremely leery about his judgement, and would want sole custody, but I can't imagine why you'd waste court time with something like this. Unless it's being considered abuse, in which case...odd slope?

As a now single mom dealing with the knowledge of my ex's questionable judgement, this makes me nervous.

Julie Pippert said...

Thordora, for me it really boils down to intent, pattern and escalation.

It's not a logical leap to assume that doing somethign this stupid means he's on a bad path to abuse or that there is abuse, or other horrible danger to the kids. But, it is logical to ask CPS to check. When they did not find other, and closed their investigation, but referred it to theDA to check for criminal, that makes sense too. Covering base to protect kids makes sense. I know it can get witch-hunty, but this is pretty serious and should be vetted thoroughly. Once done, though, it needs to end.

This is bordering on harassment. IMHO.

So yeah, I agree with you.

I also hear you on worrying about an ex. I know a few moms who have to work hard to come to agreements about things they'd never allow but the ex does. But I can say it seems that usually it gets worked out and it's often minor, or not something like this! Hang in there.

theSpacemom said...

This is tough. The one girl was 8? Yes, I agree that live porn is just a wee bit too much for her to process.

However, at the same point, we HEAR about 10 year olds having sex. So, while I agree it was entirely idiotic, I can imagine a guy not knowing how to bring up the topic using his porn as a tool. (no pun intended)

The parts that this left out was what damage was done to the girls? Did the acting out have to do directly with the porn? Was it soft or hard or inbetween?
If I tell my kids about sex in detail, am I endangering them? If they see me nude (I have 2 girls), does that mean I am endangering them?

I tend to think this is a witch hunt, but at the same point, I can see that this dad just made a stupid mistake.

Julie Pippert said...

SpaceMom, great comment, thanks.

IMHO it's never too early to teach kids about sex. it's the how and the age-appropriate part that's tricky.

We don't do tickles, hugs, or other body touching without permission or if we do, we stop if my girls say stop. Immediately. And we demand the same of family. This is, actually, part of my sex education plan. It teaches my kids they and they alone have ABSOLUTE dominion over their bodies. I don't tell them, though, all the things in my mind about why I am teaching this. Yet.

So I agree with you. I just disagree with his method, which was colossally stupid. But that doesn't make him evil, necessarily, and it doesn't make him a criminal. It does seem to indicate he needs some help, at least in this area.

To provide some more info:

There are three girls, two of them involve din this incident and those two are 8 and 9.

I don't know when or why they sought therapy. It may have been before the incident.

The three girls were watching a movie, the youngest fell asleep, and the dad called the older two over to the computer then showed the porn.

Here is another story: http://abcnews.go.com/US/wirestory?id=10303237&page=1

And the father did lose custody -- temporary full was granted to the mother.

Ed T. said...

Here's the bottom line:

The prosecutor is looking at this as a career-booster. With a "family values" Bible-belt jury, he hopes to get a conviction which will give him publicity and boost his chances for future elective office.

In order to do this, he has to deceive the judge (as he seems to admit), and probably also the jury (as he can't let it come out in open court about this aspect of Texas law.)

Even worse, he has to make sure that *no one* brings out this particular piece of the Texas penal code, otherwise the case is lost. IIRC, as an officer of the court he is *obligated* to bring all relevant facts to light, whether they help or hurt his case. Failure to do so is a violation of his oath as an officer of the court.

This is a slam-dunk (such as it is) for the defense, unless the DA can find a sympathetic (read: activist) judge. If the judge gets wind of what is going on (highly likely IMO), then the prosecutor is looking at a severe tongue-lashing (at the very least), and possible disbarment for violating the oath he took as an officer of the court. (Please note that IANaL, so you lawyers out there don't hate on me. I am approaching this as a layman, also as a citizen.)

I agree that what he did was incredibly stupid, and his judgment is highly suspect. However, at least for now, 'stupid' != 'illegal'. Thank God for that, otherwise we all would be in jail.

This does bring up another, related "what if", though: what if the parents decide to use *themselves* as a live "show & tell" for The Talk, or if they decide to turn an instance of kiddoes walking in on them while they are Doing It as a teachable moment. Does this also become prosecutable? How about families that live in 1 room dwellings, where there is no wall or other barrier between the children and the consenting adults during intimate moments?

This prosecutor is opening up a real can of crap soup IMO.

~EdT.

Ed T. said...

BTW, I think what the man did was stupid, to a large extent because I don't think that pr0n represents what I think kids should be taught about sex (in fact, I think it represents all the wrong stuff, if you know what I mean.)

That said: when my own was younger, I found out that he was visiting this type of site. I sat down with him, went over the web access logs, and then we "visited" a few of the places he had been, to show him that I *knew* what he had been doing, so there was no point in denial. We then had a good long talk (including "would you like me to bring your mother in on this discussion?") and I think this helped get the point across that yes, we were keeping an eye on what he was doing.

However, if it had been a daughter instead of a son, I might have handled it differently (e.g. I might have let her mother confront her, or I might have found another means to make the point that I knew what she had been doing.)

~EdT.

jeanie said...

Poor little girls.

See, I have a different take on it and don't see something like this as a lapse in judgement.

I don't know the case so I can't comment on this one particular instance, but my first reaction was regarding grooming a child - which is very much a criminal offence. Because what he did is what pedophiles do.

Julie Pippert said...

Jeanie I hear what you are saying, and the act itself was horrible enough that *anyone* would reasonably and rightly wonder. That's why i fully 100% agreed that the therapist was right to take it seriously and report it to CPS, and that CPS was right to investigate, and subsequently hand it to the DA to review for crime.

But all of the investigations turned up nothing other than this one thing. And clearly, it has been vigorously investigated and pursued because the DA desperately wants this man charged with *anything* he's so troubled by what the father did.

So that's why I am calling it as I am.

Ed, I wonder about that too. The reporters in the stories seem positive that a conservative constituency would object to this type of government interference, but they don't know Texas like we do, i guess (although I'd expect that Wade Goodwin of Dallas would!).

If they were true conservatives, possibly they would. You know my position and I object to this type of interference. So maybe it's more by principle.

But I know so-called conservative voters and they'll back government interference with moral issues regularly IME.

So he could very well be politically driven, with full support, versus taking a risk as has been depicted!

I'd be skeptical and wonder if this was the tail wagging the dog (him responding to media and constituent reaction) but his actions seem to be driving the media therefore it looks at least like the dog wagging the tail.

I think he is truly morally outraged to the point he want to convict this guy of a crime.

So I concur with most of your legal points. If not all.

I do solidly agree 200% with your point -- and a good one it is -- that porn is NOT the right example or lesson of sex I want my kids to learn.

As to your Qs:

Your what-if -- well generally that is the huge parental dread. Doing it deliberately? I'm sure more children than we like to think are exposed, and if not deliberately, then through a lack of trying to prevent it. And as much as I might be troubled by that, by the law, no it does not seem illegal. And at the moment I'm leaning towards it shouldn't be. ICK

I know there is a natural curiosity but how you handled it sounds smart.

thriftymomma said...

Nope. Never ever okay to show a minor porn. Wowee on the lapse in judgement. Stunning really.! I agree with Julie entirely in that I discuss sexuality as it is directed by my child's need to know, with an eye to figuring out what it is she's really trying to ask. Too much info can be overwhelming and scary for a child and frankly often what they are asking is not what we think they are asking.

As for charges I guess if they have investigated and turned nothing else up then leave it at that. Ideally this Dad has learned one hell of a lesson. They were absolutely right to investigate with CPS. More people should look honestly without flinching at children's behaviours as indicators of possible trauma, distress or abuse.