Mother as Photographer or Pornographer?

This was the question in a case that grabbed national headlines in 1999 when a mother from a small Ohio town was arrested for child pornography after dropping off a roll of film at the local pharmacy. That routine, mundane act landed Cynthia Stewart in the center of a legal battle that separated her family, consumed her life for the next year and a half, and threatened a 16-year prison sentence.

Now author Lynn Powell tells the story in Framing Innocence: A Mother’s Photographs, a Prosecutor’s Zeal, and a Small Town’s Response. Tomorrow night hear the harrowing tale from the author when she visits Watchung Booksellers. She’ll discuss the ordeal Stewart undertook to clear her name, the determined prosecutors she went up against and the community that came to her defense.

The case is a fascinating one with serious implications especially in today’s digital age where family photos fly almost instantaneously from the camera to the Internet. Stewart certainly never imagined her prints could be construed as pornographic. She was simply an avid photographer who took thousands upon thousands of pictures of her daughter. Two among those – her 8-year-old daughter in the bathtub – were deemed objectionable by a photo processor who informed the police. When the town prosecutor saw them as harmless and declined to prosecute, the police brought them to the county prosecutor (now a federal judge) who brought charges.

Ultimately, Stewart was absolved, but her case was not unique. At that time two other, similar child pornography cases ensued, one against another Ohio mother and one against a New Jersey grandmother. With well-meaning but loosely worded laws regarding child pornography, it seems any photo of a naked child could invite criminal prosecution. Find out the full story tomorrow night.

Framing Innocence Book Discussion
Who: Parents.
What: Book discussion and signing.
Where: Watchung Booksellers, 54 Fairfield Street, Watchung Plaza, Montclair, NJ 07042
When: Thursday, October 21 from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm.
Cost: Free.

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