Nude family photos vs. child porn: Where is the line? - KMSP-TV

Nude family photos vs. child porn: Where is the line?

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One day after Mankato State University head football coach Todd Hoffner was charged with using minors in child porn, many people are asking if he really crossed the line after learning the details of the case.

After speaking with prosecutors, defense attorneys and psychologists, it's clear that there is plenty of room for discussion, but a general rule is to avoid taking videos or photographs of anything you might question.

Many parents take pictures of their children naked, so when does it cross the line?

"If you have a child that's nine years old and you are taking a picture of that child naked, if that child is posing in some way, I think that's a very high risk for being seen as intentionally and sexually exploiting a child," explained Mindy Mitnick, a child psychologist who has spent more than 30 years working with children who are sexually exploited.

Mitnick read the charges against Hoffner, which involve three family members between the ages of five and nine. Now, the question is whether the videos found on his university-issued cell phone are creepy or criminal.

"There's a difference between those cute photographs and taking something where a child is explicitly doing something that looks sexual," she said.

Defense Attorney Paul Engh has worked on a lot of pornography cases, and he says the case against Hoffner is unique because there are only three videos. Usually, child pornographers hoard multiple images.

"The difference is: With pornography, there is sexualization of the child," he explained. "There's usually a point of view from the image focused on the genitals rather than the face."

Still, Engh urged parents to be cautious when taking nude photos of their children, saying he wouldn't do it.

"Why put yourself in harm's way? After all, a child is just as cute clothed as they are naked," he said.

Another thing to consider is that, whether the intent is innocent or not, kids feelings about certain photos or videos could change as they get older.

"It can mentally hurt them for life because there's this constant sense of vulnerability, of, 'Will someone someday see that? Will they know it's me?'," explained Mitnick.

Mitnick said every child is different, but most will give clues that they are uncomfortable with adults seeing them naked. Signs include preferring to dress alone or bathe in private. She said that change usually occurs when kids turn seven -- and she said parents need to respect it.

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