- The Washington Times - Monday, September 16, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) The photos on the Web sites portray neither nudity nor sex, yet men by the thousands pay to ogle them shots of preteen girls posing in bikinis and halter tops.
Defended as free speech by some, such pictures are being blasted as a "fix for pedophiles" by a congressman who is waging an uphill campaign to banish them from the Internet.
The pool of such photos is growing "at an unabated pace," said U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican.
Mr. Foley has authored a bill, now before the House Judiciary Committee, intended to shut down the Web sites by outlawing "exploitive child modeling." Even he concedes, however, that the measure has potential loopholes, and anti-censorship groups say it is likely to be struck down as an unconstitutional infringement of free expression.
"It's doomed from the start," said Garry Daniels of the National Coalition Against Censorship.
At Florida-based Webe Web Corp., which runs one of the largest networks of child-modeling sites, co-founder Marc Greenberg says he can't vouch for the motives of his customers. But he insists that no child featured on his sites has suffered any physical harm.
"If I said pedophiles are definitely not looking at these sites, that would be a crock," Mr. Greenberg said by phone from his Fort Lauderdale office. "But the majority of people looking at them are not bad people. If it's within the law and people want to do it, more power to them."
Mr. Greenberg said the girls featured on Webe Web sites wear outfits that could be bought at a typical mall and seen at a public beach or backyard picnic. But critics counter that the pictures and videos of girls in swimsuits, leotards and sleepwear are intended to be erotic even while complying with anti-pornography laws.
Webe Web subscribers, who pay about $20 monthly, are not able to chat online with the models or e-mail them directly, Mr. Greenberg said. Mr. Foley contends that some sites do provide direct contacts between customers and children, and worries that models are at risk of abduction, abuse or even murder.
Any such crimes are covered by existing laws, said Kim Hart of the National Child Abuse Defense and Resource Center in Holland, Ohio.
"This is something best handled case-by-case by child-protection services," Miss Hart said. "If there's something of concern, let professionals talk to the girl, look at the background."
Personally, she said, "as a mother, I may not like it. But the question is whether it's illegal, whether it's harmful."
Mr. Foley isn't swayed by arguments that any abuse of child models could be prosecuted under current laws. "Taking care of the problem after it occurs that's when the child is found dead or raped," he said. "My bill is an attempt to ward off problems before they occur."
Mr. Foley's bill would impose prison terms of up to 10 years for exploitive child modeling, defined as "marketing the child himself or herself in lascivious positions and acts, rather than actually marketing products."
The bill has possible loopholes, Mr. Foley admits. If Webe Web offered T-shirts online with the name of one of its sites, the company could say the site was marketing a product.
"Maybe my bill will never pass," he said. "Half the battle sometimes is to alert the public."


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