During a week when human trafficking legislation is swiftly moving forward on the Hill, there is another story getting attention from celebrity gawkers- that Willow Smith photo. Thirteen-year-old Willow Smith is seen in an artsy black and white photo with “Hannah Montana” actor Moises Arias who is 20. Willow is fully clothed lying in/on a bed while Moises is seen shirtless. It’s a great photo for media buzz.
The social media community has been somewhat reticent to support Los Angeles authorities who are investigating the photo and questioning Willow’s parents- celebrity darlings Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. Jada herself is a strong advocate of human trafficking legislation and has even gone so far as to speak up against the degradation of women (and men) through the use of pornography.
Initially when I saw the photo I thought how embarrassed Jada must feel, as a protector of young girls to have something like this happen under her own roof. I can only imagine the conversations I would have with my own teen daughter, the tears, and anger toward the man who knew better. I hurt for Jada until I read this:
“Willow’s mother Jada defended the picture shortly after it went viral, saying there was ‘nothing sexual about it.'” In fact both parents have stated the photo was “an expression of art” and “innocent fun.” (San Jose Mercury News)
I brought up the topic of the photo with a friend who said, “Well, she [Willow] got what she wanted…” What does she want exactly? Attention, perhaps. Willow is known for her unorthodox fashion sense and wild hair, but do we know if this 13-year-old child really wanted this? Isn’t that what is often said of sexual victims?
If Willow had not agreed to the photo being taken it would be considered sexual harassment. If anything sexual did occur it would be statutory rape. If money was exchanged it would be trafficking. If Willow had been the one to remove her shirt- this would have been child pornography. This is revolting, as it should be. In America it is illegal to own or distribute pornographic material featuring anyone younger than 18. Pornography featuring children is something that remains universally repulsive to our moral consciousness. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children a full 40% of those arrested for possession of child pornography have also physically victimized children. Once a child’s image is distributed online it can never be recaptured. The child will be endlessly violated through redistribution of the image.
We are now at a critical time to proactively prevent the exploitation of our youth. Teens distributing pornographic photos of themselves via phones (sexting) have caused some to question whether these underage images should be considered simply youthful indiscretion. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy indicates a full 20 percent of teens reported sending nude or semi-nude images. Sexting laws are decided on a state by state level and it is considered primarily a misdemeanor crime- even though it is distribution of child pornography.
Extreme editing of real images and creation of virtual pornographic images as blurred the lines of right and wrong. If a child’s image was created from an artist’s mind, the question comes to mind whether it is simply art appreciation or child pornography. Currently U.S. laws have made creation and distribution of virtual child pornography a crime.
Let’s look at our European counterparts. Currently, in Scandinavia, if you were to have pictures of a naked 13 year-old (like Willow) involved in a sexual act it would not be considered child pornography or illegal to own or distribute. In the Netherlands nude photos of a sexual demeanor can be distributed of 16 year-olds without legal consequences. If America follows the trends of the last thirty years, we could follow the lead of these nations in lowering the legal age.
So today in America we are at a crossroads. Can we cry out against sexual violation and slavery of children on one hand and brush off a photo of a 13-year-old in bed with an adult as just a ploy to get in TMZ? There must be love and protection of the sexuality of all children- even celebrity children. Today I find myself weeping for Willow and praying for her parents.