Tag Archives: child protection

Naturism and The Need to Keep Children Safe

17 Nov

These past few weeks have seen a number of news stories which have suggested a disturbing aspect to some individuals involvement in the naturist world, and have shown why we, as legitimate naturists, need to be vigilant and keen to defend our lifestyle not just from distorted media perceptions, but also from those who would corrupt and misuse naturism for their own horrible ends.

The big story recently has been that of Brian Martens, a Florida man charged with taking pornographic photographs of his three young daughters and sharing them with other men.  Martens and his family live at Sunsport Gardens, a gated naturist community and resort in Palm Beach, and the case against him appears complicated and far from black and white.

At first glance, it would appear to be an unjust persecution of an innocent naturist family man.  Many naturist parents have nude photos of their children, and/or photos of them nude with their children.  If you live or holiday in a place where nudity is normal, it is only natural that your children may be naked in some family pictures.  There is nothing pornographic about such images, and nothing criminal about them: yet in the past, some families have found themselves in trouble with the police because mainstream society has misconstrued possession of them as something sinister.

That may be the case with Martens.  Certainly, Martens is a naturist, as are his daughters: he would have every reason to legitimately own nude photographs of them.  And according to his attorney, the photos include scenes of the girls baking cookies naked; they sound entirely innocent.

Yet there are other elements of the case which don’t fit the “innocent family snaps misunderstood” theme.  For one, the photos came to police attention because they were found on the computer of a neighbour of Martens from Sunsport Gardens; Leslie Grey Vanaman.  Vanaman is currently serving 60 years in prison for possessing child pornography and has previous convictions for such: he was also a self-declared professional photographer who did family portraits of children in the naturist community, including Martens’.  Martens defence is that while there are some pornographic images of his children (no sexual abuse is depicted, but there are apparently some more explicitly-posed close-ups) in the collection of Vanaman, they were taken without his knowledge, by a man who was exploiting the trust of the community in which he lived to secretly hoard both naturist and child-porn images – however the prosecution has provided emails between Vanaman and Martens where the images are shared, and Martens talks about the “sensuality and sexuality” of Vanaman’s photography, as well as boasting that as a male in the naturist community, he can use his three naturist daughters “as a passport” which would “open doors” for him.  That talk doesn’t sound quite so innocent.

Ultimately, the court will decide whether Martens has been a deceived victim or an active participant in the exchange of nude images of children for the purposes of sexual gratification, and he is innocent until proven guilty.  But the case, and in particular the role of Vanaman, highlights a problem that the naturist world needs to be aware of: those who would exploit the innocent, family togetherness of naturism for sinister ends.  Vanaman lived in a family community, taking professional-quality pictures of naked children, while at the same time downloading child pornography and harbouring an earlier conviction for this, which I am assuming nobody was aware of.  He was not a naturist because he believed in the enjoyment of casual non-sexual and social nudity, but because it gave him access to little girls with no clothes on.

Vanaman is not the only invividual to use naturism as a disguise to hide a sexual interest in children.  Also reported this week is the culmination of investigations into a global child pornography ring which had at it’s centre a Toronto-based company called Azov Films.  Brian Way, the founder of Azov Films, was jailed in 2010 for 24 offences, including making and distributing child pornography.  Among the products distributed by Azov Films were DVDs described as “naturist films”, showing naked children from Russia and the Ukraine.

There are a lot of these types of films available on the internet (I’m not going to link them, but they are out there).  There is nothing illegal about them: all they appear to show is naked children and teenagers going about all sorts of activities.  The participants are members of naturist communities in former Soviet countries, where naturism is more culturally acceptable and rules about filming children naked and selling those films are apparently more lax.

However, the whole existence of these films is something which makes me uncomfortable.  These are DVDs which people can buy to watch at home for their own entertainment.  To my mind, there is only one type of person who would be entertained by watching a film of naked children, and that is someone with an unnatural interest in seeing kids with no clothes on.  No genuine naturist has any need to own films such as these; they are the equivalent of owning a stranger’s holiday photos or home movies, completely without merit as entertainment to anyone except those in the films and those who know them.  In my time as a naturist I have never met anyone who admits to owning such films – while it is perfectly legal to do so, nobody views them as a positive factor in the global naturist community.  The investigation around Azov Films indicates that our suspicions that people who would buy them are also buying actual child pornography, and that those who make them are exploiting the willingness of these young people to be naked and their families to allow them to be filmed, appear to be correct

There are other cases in recent years where people have exploited naturism to further indulge their own perversions towards children.  Documented is the case of a paedophile ring in Portsmouth, UK, where 5 people set up a supposedly “naturist” website in order to distribute indecent videos and photographs of children.  Anecdotally, I have heard about important members of naturist organisations who have quietly withdrawn, rumour has it, because of police investigations around their alleged sexual interests; meanwhile on social sites, some individuals present themselves as parents in order to deceive other naturist families into sharing photos of their own kids, or else just live out their own bizarre fantasies of houses full of naked children running about.

It can feel at times like our lifestyle itself is under attack by stories like these and it can be tempting, as naturists, to leap to the defence of all aspects of naturism when it receives a negative depiction in the media.  After all, we believe in the positive aspects of our lifestyle and it affects how we are seen by others when negative news stories about naturists becoming involved in child abuse or child porn come about.

But we cannot defend the indefensible.  Child abuse and child porn is a monstrous corruption of the innocent, positive values of the naturist community, and we should not be willing to forgive the actions of those who would exploit naturism to feed their sick perversions, nor should we turn a blind eye to the fact that such individuals can, and do, operate in our midst.  We need to be mindful at all times of the need to protect our children and the children who visit our clubs, events, and homes to be nude there.

The image of naturism is better protected by taking a pro-active approach to child protection than it ever can be by burying our heads in the sand and popping up to complain about unfair portrayals when naturism is mentioned in connection with paedophiles who do appear to have been operating in our community.