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Screensnap from Amazon.com - Editor's note: Parts of this image have been intentionally blurred. Msnbc.com believes there is value in seeing what is being discussed, but we don’t want to show the objectionable material or promote the product.
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By Wilson Rothman
msnbc.com
updated 11/11/2010 9:09:47 PM ET 2010-11-12T02:09:47

You may have heard that there's something rotten on Amazon.com. We have learned that it doesn't end with the company's dropping of "The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover's Code of Conduct." Books and videos depicting pre-pubescent Eastern European and Asian girls, some of whom are nude, are listed for sale on Amazon in the U.S. and Japan, as of press time.

The listings are disturbing, as you may be able to sense even from the blurred item pictured above. Nudist videos from Eastern Europe appear on the U.S. Amazon retail site; meanwhile, books and videos that feature scantily clad pre-pubescent Eastern European and Asian girls, specifically stated by an independent website as being between the ages of 11 and 17, are listed on Amazon properties in Japan and elsewhere, and on Yahoo in Japan. That there are more books and videos of this nature on Amazon and other online retailers is highly likely.

Amazon has not responded to repeated requests for comment, including one in which we shared a link to the content pictured above. The question is, how legal is it to sell content like this? As you can imagine, prosecuting it is hard.

After our initial story about Amazon's selling the pedophile book, we were contacted by child advocate Maureen Flatley, who shared the additional links. Flatley was among the key advocates who supported Sen. John Kerry and Sen. Johnny Isakson to enact Masha's Law, a federal law that gives victims of child sex abuse photography the right to sue producers, distributors and even those in possession of images for $150,000 per download.

Masha is a Russian girl who was adopted in 1998 at age 5 by a single man, who, for six years, abused her sexually and distributed photos of her to other pedophiles on the Internet. Flatley's expertise is in this link between child pornography, pedophilia and adoption. News about the pedophile handbook has given Flatley and other child's right activists a chance to speak out about the larger issue. "We should not be making disingenuous arguments about free speech," she told me.

"What the law has upheld is that nudity alone is not enough to prove that something is child pornography," said lawyer James Marsh, one of Flatley's teammates in the fight for Masha's Law. Marsh represents victims in child pornography cases and blogs about these issues at childlaw.us.

Amazon would never have sold material like the pornographic photos of Masha; however, as Marsh pointed out to me, the site currently lists a lascivious "true crime" book, for sale by four used-bookstore partners, about Masha's case, written by Peter Sotos, a man who once pleaded guilty to a child pornography charge.

Listing a book and selling pictures and videos are clearly separate acts, as is the difference between a simple baby picture and true child pornography. What people now want to know is this: Where does the line get drawn? And who gets to draw that line?

"There's a real disconnect on what the true nature of child porn is," Marsh said. "99.9999 percent of the material I deal with features pre-pubescent children being raped … the most graphic hardcore images you can imagine. People think downloading a picture of a baby in a bathtub is going to send them to prison. That's not what we're talking about."

But there is a fine line. When it comes to young girls in swimsuits, Marsh mentioned the case of a child model group in Florida that was successfully shut down, because despite the lack of sexual abuse in the imagery, the photos focused on sexual aspects of the children. "There are complicated legal tests that courts need to engage in to determine what is or isn't legal," he explained.

And what about the nudist videos? "We do see a big overlap between the child molesters and the so-called naturists. We have at least a couple of documented cases of public naturist advocates actually adopting and sexually abusing children for the purposes of child pornography." He cites the '"notorious" case of William Peckenpaugh, a naturist in Washington state who adopted an orphan boy from Romania and abused him sexually, distributing images of him online. He also says that people in Eastern European countries, Belarus and Ukraine in particular, are known to distribute child pornography, using children who may be "rented" from the countries' impoverished orphanages.

But Marsh also suggests, only half in jest, that maybe some of this is a government front to entrap pedophiles. "How those videos have managed to survive in circulation for years? Careful editing or a government front. Could be either, or both."

As for Amazon — and Facebook, another current target of Marsh's activism — he says free speech should not be the defense. "It's not about First Amendment rights," said Marsh. "It's about what material a good corporate citizen should be making available to the public. And that's the kind of decision Amazon should be making."

Flatley is of like mind. "We've allowed kids to become sex objects and let a major retailer commercialize this stuff," she told me. "These are real kids, and these instruments are doing them real harm."

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