(Mothers of the World, Beware: TEEN SEX SELLS!) by John Farmer
Justin Berry is becoming something of a media darling. At last count,
he was the subject of a major expose in The New York Times in
December, he appeared on Oprah in February, was featured on The Today
Show, and he has testified before Congress. This kid gets anymore free
press, he's going to start thinking he's Paris Hilton. For those of
you who know the Berry story, that may seem like a bit of a cruel
thing to say. But I think that as a general rule, anytime The New York
Times and religious-right groups agree, there is something rotten in
the state of Denmark.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Justin Berry media blitz, I will
try to give an as condensed a summation as possible. The official
story is that Berry signed up for EarthLink web service in 2000, when
he was thirteen years old, so he could get a free webcam that was
offered as an incentive. In the NYT piece, he says that he wanted to
use the webcam because he didn't have many friends, and was hoping
to meet other kids his age. (This was my first red flag).
After signing on to a webcam service, Justin began receiving instant
messages from older men. This contact initially began as simple
messaging back and forth. However, after some time, one of the men
Berry regularly communicated with offered him $50 to chat on the
webcam shirtless. Berry reported that the man talked him through how
to set up a PayPal account, and once he did, the man made good on his
promise. Berry complied by chatting without his shirt on.
As time passed, Berry established an Amazon.com Wish List and would
offer to pose nude, and later to masturbate, on his webcam for men who
would purchase him items from his list. With the assistance of another
adult male online friend, Berry registered his own domain to host his
webcam performances. He later accepted an offer to meet a man in Las
Vegas for thousands of dollars. This same man would also assist Berry
in renting an apartment near his home where he would be allowed
greater privacy in operating his webcam business. He would also begin
to film himself having sex with a male friend and offering it for sale
Berry was around sixteen at this time, and used the bulk of his
profits to participate in a local street racing clique. However, video
of Berry fellating himself began to circulate around his hometown, and
he left to go live with his father in Mexico.
Berry was still sixteen years old when he moved in with his father,
and shortly thereafter he confessed to him what he had been doing. In
a shocking twist, his father actually colluded with him to not only
continue the webcam business, but to extend it, and increase profits.
The two procured female prostitutes for Berry to have sex with on his
webcam. Berry and his father supposedly made hundreds of thousands of
dollars from this operation. According to the article, Berry then
developed a serious marijuana and cocaine habit. When he was
seventeen, he decided to quit the business and replaced his webcam
sites with links to religiously-themed websites. However, after about
a year, he reentered the business, setting up more webcam sites for
other teenage boys.
During this time, Berry had been contacted by a NYT reporter. The
reporter moved Berry from California to Washington D.C., where he was
able to set him up with an apartment and get him access to medical
care, counseling services, and an attorney. The attorney later aided
Berry in turning over all the info on his approximately 1,500 clients
in exchange for immunity from any prosecution.
The story broke in the NYT on December 19th, and the ensuing media
coverage began, culminating in Berrys testimony before Congress on April
4th. The testimony is part of a series of Congressional hearings
regarding what the Federal government should do about the exploitation
of children on the internet. As I watched the testimony on C-Span, the
heading under Berry's face as he spoke was Sexual Predator Victim.
Though this story has been told and re-told on all types of media, the
angle is the same. Berry is portrayed as the hapless victim of adult
sexual predators. Let me offer a slightly askew interpretation.
Before we delve into the murky realm of childhood sexuality, let's
consider a few practical parenting points. Notice that Berry's mother
was not subpoenaed by Congress to answer for how her son ran an internet
porn site from her home for close to three years without her knowing.
You see, that's called "blaming the victim", and it's not allowed. What
you will get, however, is a bunch of excuses. She is a single mom who
has to work too much to properly supervise her son. She is from an older
generation and does not have the computer savvy to properly supervise
her son. The explanations go on and on.
You do not need a computer science degree to have the PC placed in a
common area of your home, like a living room or a den, as opposed to
your kid's bedroom. Or how's about restricting the hours it can be
used? No computer use after 8:00 pm, for instance. When eight o'clock
rolls around, you take the computer's power cord and put it away. And
none of this even begins to speak to how his mother never became
suspicious after her teenage son began receiving cash and merchandise
worth thousands of dollars.
This may simply be stacking deck chairs on the Titanic, as proponents of
increased internet regulation never hold parents liable for anything and
want government to prevent everything.
I think the deeper question here is: How much of a victim was Berry
really in all of this? The media apparently wants to paint Berry as a
lonely thirteen-year-old who wanted a webcam to make new
friends. Quotes of Berry always have him qualifying the statement with
the words 'my own age.' Is it not feasible, if not probably, that
Berry wanted to sign on to a webcam service in the hope of meeting
females willing to disrobe live on the internet? The media would never
pursue such a possibility, of course, because it would shatter their
portrait of Berry as an innocent cherub, untouched by all the icky
sexuality in the world.
A thirteen-year-old boy is quite capable of lascivious thoughts,
without the influence of anyone. Nature assures that. I have no doubt
that Berry was surprised by the fact that his webcam drew the
intention of adult men. I am also fairly certain that a teenager
growing up in a single-mother household likely enjoyed the attention
of older men. The point at which it went from idle chat to sexually-
charged propositioning is murky.
No doubt these men began conversations with Berry in the hopes that he
would deliver sexually on his webcam. But the extent of the manipulation
seems to be that the men offered him money and merchandise, and Berry
did as they asked. I do not think Berry performed out of sexual
manipulation, but rather, naive opportunism. The marketplace is
Darwinian, without concern for values. Berry realized he had a commodity
that certain people were willing to pay for, and he placed himself on
I do not think any thirteen-year-old has the emotional or intellectual
wherewithal to begin such an enterprise, but I also do not think Berry
was a hapless pawn in a sea of sexual predation. Like I said, he was
most certainly a very naive kid who entered into a business enterprise
he was nowhere near ready to handle. But that is no reason to canonize
this kid as the poster boy for internet pedophilia.
That the news media makes its money on this kind of salacious
sentimentality is nothing new. It is when people like Berry get placed
center stage in a Congressional hearing that I get worried. It is very
reminiscent of when Linda Lovelace, at the urging of feminist activists,
testified before Congress that all of her sex scenes in Deepthroat
essentially depicted her being raped as she was being threatened with a
gun off camera. The fact that the dozens of crew who worked on the film
refuted this story never made its way into the official transcript.
Here's what we can expect: First, the writer of the original article
for The New York Times is going to expand the story into a book,
which, as far as media outlets are concerned, will make him an expert
on internet child pornography. The story will also be fictionalized
into a made-for-TV movie titled Seduced: The Justin Berry Story, which
will originally air on Lifetime, with repeat airings on Oxygen. Moms
across the country will be convinced that their children are being
cyber-raped and will join some pro-family group in order to urge
Congress to tighten up on internet regulations. In the shuffle, the
word 'child' will be dropped from the phrase child pornography,
and the intent will be to get rid of all obscene material
online. Congress will respond by proposing the Webcam Sluts Prevention
Act. No politician or pundit will publicly oppose this legislation for
fear of being called a pedophile on national television. The law will
get passed and end up doing absolutely nothing to protect anyone
The government cannot protect kids online. Pro-regulation activists
argue that the Internet is an intrusive technology, and is so readily
accessible to children of all ages that legislators must step in and
help shield children's eyes from potentially offensive materials. Of
course, in years past, they've said much the same thing about
television, radio, cable TV, and even comic books, so in one sense,
their tune hasn't changed all that much.
But how intrusive is the Internet in reality? After all, parents must
first purchase a computer, obtain an Internet access provider, set the
system up, log on, and take a host of other steps before the Net is
available to their children. If parents have taken such steps to bring
this technology into the home, they should not then expect regulators
to assume the remainder of their parental obligations once the kids
In the name of 'protecting children', policymakers oftentimes end up
treating us all like juveniles. The groups and political leaders that
are encouraging this renewed censorship crusade need to start taking
their own first principles of personal responsibility and parental
decision-making more seriously.