Charge Stirs Vigorous Alumni Support
mother's photographs lead to child pornography charges and a fight
for freedom of expression.
Stewart with one of her daughters.
broad cross-section of the Oberlin community, including alumni
and individuals from the township and College, are supporting
Cynthia Stewart '73 as she faces felony obscenity charges for
photographs she took of her 8-year-old daughter in the bathtub.
Cindy, a long-time Oberlin resident and amateur photographer,
took ten rolls of film to the local Discount Drug Mart to be processed
last September; only nine were returned.
She was later arrested and charged with "use of a minor in sexually-oriented
material" and "pandering,"--charges that threaten up to 16 years
in prison and the potential loss of custody of her child. Cindy
has been placed on "voluntary suspension" without pay from her
job as a school bus driver. Supporters who have seen the photographs
say that the pictures, intended only for family albums, show the
girl playing in a bathtub, rinsing herself with a showerhead.
They are among approximately 40,000 photos that Cindy has taken
of her daughter to chronicle her life.
artwork is protected under the Constitution as freedom of expression,
police and prosecutors tend to have a narrow definition of what's
considered art, says Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the
New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union.
Tappan Square rock carries a message of support.
approximately 300 individuals gathered in February for a candlelight
vigil on Tappan Square, marching silently and painting messages
of support on "the rocks." Lynn Powell, one of the organizers
of the Cynthia Stewart Legal Defense Fund, said at the vigil,
"Those of us who know Cynthia and her partner, David Perrotta,
know them to be exemplary parents who have created an exceptionally
nurturing and happy home for their child." Addressing the moral
controversy at the heart of this case, Powell noted that "every
family is different. Every parent makes countless judgement calls
in raising a child that the neighbors next door might question.
In fact, there is a wide divergence of opinions among good, loving
parents on most issues of childraising."
letter to the Oberlin News Tribune, professors Wendy Kozol
'80 and Steven Wojtal expressed concern that private family snapshots
have become the center of a public controversy. "The danger for
the community arises as people begin to censor themselves. With
this prosecution we are all more vulnerable, not only to outside
regulation but to the equally pernicious regulations we begin
to impose on ourselves."
Blecher, professor of politics, said "I think Cynthia...and those
of us supporting her, are concerned not only about her getting
caught in the jaws of the legal system, but also of the implications
of this for other parents who've taken photographs of their kids."
Nancy Roth '58 said at the Tappan Square event, "The word vigil
comes from a Latin word which can be translated as 'watching'
or 'being awake'. We are watching in two ways--that justice may
be done, to let our public officials know that we support
Cynthia Stewart. In another sense, we are trying to watch over
Cynthia and her family, to assure them that this community cares
about them--a sign of our absolute belief in Cynthia's integrity
trial was recently postponed from March until May, and negotiations
are still underway between her lawyers and the Lorain County Prosecutor.
article by Katha Pollitt in The Nation, a report on NPR's "All
Things Considered," a USA TODAY feature, and other media
coverage have spurred national attention and support. A longtime
friend of Cindy's in New Haven sent money for her legal defense
as soon as he learned of the charges, as did people in 37 other
states and Greece and England.
Note: As this issue of OAM went to press, Cynthia was in
negotiations with the Lorain County Prosecutor's office to try
to avert going to trial. The result was a diversion agreement.
Although her family will avoid further criminal prosecution,
Cynthia had to agree that the prosecutor could destroy two of
her photographs. She had to state publicly that these two photographs
could be interpreted as "sexually oriented" and agree to participate
in six months of counseling.
"I had no
joy in the resolution to this case; it came at too great a cost,"
she says in a Letter to the Editor which will run in the Summer
issue of OAM.