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Pedophiles Enrich and Molest A Boy (Thanks to his Webcam)
December 18, 2005 10:51 PM   Subscribe

Through his Webcam, A Boy Joins A Sordid Online World Justin Berry got a webcam when he was 13. Within an hour of his setting it up, a pedophile found him. More followed. They paid him, and he performed. He earned hundreds of thousands of dollars and lots of gifts, including webcams with better resolution which his new "friends" ordered him from his (presumably now abandoned) Amazon wish list and an apartment from which he could perform and not be bothered by Mom. He soon was persuaded by his "fans" to make lucrative in-person appearances so they could molest him, and he also started his own personal subscription service. More inside...
posted by spira (152 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
It gets even more bizarre. He starts aggressively trying to eliminate his competitors by threatening exposure. His somewhat estranged father actually starts helping him with the "business." Of course, he eventually turns 18 and magically changes from victim to perp.

Now, blaming the technology is, of course, pointless. No matter how smart the kid is, his mother should have figured out that something was going on. But I can't think of a decent reason to let a young kid use a webcam at all.

Meanwhile, no parent should think "this couldn't happen to my kid."
posted by spira at 10:57 PM on December 18, 2005


Now, blaming the technology is, of course, pointless. No matter how smart the kid is, his mother should have figured out that something was going on.

So you're blaming the mom for not having demigod like omniscience? That's just idiotic.
posted by delmoi at 11:01 PM on December 18, 2005


(clicks 'wish list' link) ...

man, logictek hasn't updated their quickcam physical design in like a decade.
posted by delmoi at 11:04 PM on December 18, 2005


Jesus, this is disgusting. At fist I wanted to get all pissed off, as in, y'know, 'who cares, he was profiting' etc... but the further you read, the more you realize this kid was just too young and unprotected by anybody. I dunno if this is a good reason for hysteria though, since it seems to me that if there was anyone who gave a shit about this kid, they probably could have taken measures against this. Fucking sad...
posted by Football Bat at 11:04 PM on December 18, 2005


If I had a kid making tons of money online in the late 1990's I'd just assume they were ripping off Alladvantage or something.
posted by delmoi at 11:15 PM on December 18, 2005


yes, because it requires fucking omniscience to notice that your kid spends all his time at the computer, just got his own apartment, owns things you didn't get him when he has no job, and is clearly leading an entire fucking life that the mom couldn't be bothered to notice.
posted by shmegegge at 11:18 PM on December 18, 2005


and alladvantage paid a maximum of $20/month, last I heard of it.
posted by shmegegge at 11:18 PM on December 18, 2005


By the way, me and some friends made a ton of money online in the late 90's doing some rather shady things. Just think "affiliate program". I made $3k in a couple months. My mom found one of the checks, and she didn't do anything. By your definition, she's a horrible parent. I think otherwise.
posted by delmoi at 11:20 PM on December 18, 2005


and alladvantage paid a maximum of $20/month, last I heard of it.

Not if you hacked their original protocol and/or created a bunch of fake subsidiary accounts. I remember seeing a friend's check for several thousand dollars from AA. They might only pay $20/month now though, if they even still exist.

Seriously though, you're not remembering the dot com boom correctly, money flowed like wine. And how old was he when he got an apartment?
posted by delmoi at 11:25 PM on December 18, 2005


Also see "Candy from Strangers."
posted by brownpau at 11:26 PM on December 18, 2005


Yeah, bat, he may have been profiting monetarily, but I think if you read the whole way through, it will be almost impossible not to realize how much he was in over his head. He may have felt like he was in control because of his ability to set prices, but he wasn't in control of the situation in any meanigful way.

The Times has a lot of other material on this story, including a long video interview with this kid, a piece by the reporter on how he dealt with this story, and a piece on the money trail of his customers.
posted by spira at 11:26 PM on December 18, 2005


I also had a friend that made a lot more money online in the late 90s as a teenager. He was totally crooked though, but not a boy-whore.

maybe I was just hanging out with the wrong crowed.
posted by delmoi at 11:27 PM on December 18, 2005


At what point does a young victim become a not so young perpetrator?

Seems most pedos got started by others, so where is the line where one is the innocent and one is the demon?

15 would likely be charged as an adult for most other crimes.
posted by HTuttle at 11:27 PM on December 18, 2005


So you're blaming the mom for not having demigod like omniscience? That's just idiotic.

I know I shouldn't judge when I wasn't in the situation, but it seems like any questioning that went slightly beyond the superficial would have found some holes in his story. For example, as he was claiming that his web design business was generating his funds, one might have asked to see some of the websites he was claiming to have designed. One might have asked how much he gets paid per site. One might have looked up the prices of some of things he was acquiring. Maybe ask him which friends he was claiming to go visit when he was making his trips to the apartment. And from the story makes it sound like he went to visit Tunno in the Vegas hotel room when he was about 15! I never could have gotten to another state like that at that age.

It seems like even if you weren't suspicious if you collected enough data by continuing to ask innocently motivated questions you would eventually even hit on some inconsistency by chance.

When I was growing up I never felt like I could get anything by my parents. Maybe this was a good thing.

Again, I wasn't there. Maybe he was one hell of liar.
posted by epugachev at 11:28 PM on December 18, 2005


"I didn't want anyone else to live the life I lived."

sure. now that he got HIS cash already.
posted by HTuttle at 11:28 PM on December 18, 2005


Within an hour of his setting it up, a pedophile found him.

Weeks before, Justin had hooked up a Web camera to his computer

An hour is weeks long?

In a series of meetings, The Times persuaded Justin to abandon his business and, to protect other children at risk, assisted him in contacting the Justice Department.

That's quite an astonishing buried lead.

In June, Justin began communicating online with someone who had never messaged him before.... They met in Los Angeles, and Justin learned that the man was this reporter, who wanted to discuss the world of Webcam pornography with him.

This seems inspired by Kristof's buying two prostitutes in Thailand out of the life, using NYT money. It's sure to be the basis of many j-school ethics discussions.

In any event, it's shameful that the FBI, faced with rampant criminal exploitation of kids (not to mention, oh, terrorism), is concentrating efforts on fighting adult pornography.
posted by dhartung at 11:31 PM on December 18, 2005


They might only pay $20/month now though, if they even still exist.

Those guys are long gone. I remember a mournful email from their owner about how "times have changed" and "our business isn't as profitable as it used to be" arriving in my inbox in around 2000.

My first year of college it seemed like about half the floor was getting checks from them, and most of them were exploiting holes in the system.

posted by epugachev at 11:32 PM on December 18, 2005


And from the story makes it sound like he went to visit Tunno in the Vegas hotel room when he was about 15! I never could have gotten to another state like that at that age.

Seriously? I flew from Iowa to Texas when I was less then 10. My parents got the tickets, but I'm sure if I'd had the cash I could have done it on my own at 15. Hell, I already knew how to drive at that age. How hard is it to make plane reservations and pay cab fair?

And he wasn't doing it "on his own" but with the help of one of his "clients".
posted by delmoi at 11:33 PM on December 18, 2005


"This guy is really a pervert," Justin said. "He kind of scares me."

Wake up kid. YOU scare a lot of other people yourself. Does a perv ever see himself as a perv?
posted by HTuttle at 11:35 PM on December 18, 2005


delmoi, money didn't flow like wine into teenage hands nearly as often as you're supposing. and certainly not without parents being aware of it.

now, I'm not going for you "either you insult my mom or I'm right" debate tactics, but what one person's mom did in one situation is never the yardstick by which we judge all parents. this one wasn't keeping a close enough eye on her kid. she's not the sole bearer of blame, but she's certainly one of them.
posted by shmegegge at 11:35 PM on December 18, 2005


In a series of meetings, The Times persuaded Justin to abandon his business and, to protect other children at risk, assisted him in contacting the Justice Department.

I love how reporters describe themselves as "the times" or "Newsweek" or whatever in articles where they play a part.

This seems inspired by Kristof's buying two prostitutes in Thailand out of the life, using NYT money.

How much you want to bet Kristof banged those two chicks?
posted by delmoi at 11:36 PM on December 18, 2005


I bet AOL is really, really happy about their prominent placement in that photo. I hope the PR lackeys include it in their "weekly press hits" logs :D
posted by scarabic at 11:38 PM on December 18, 2005


delmoi, money didn't flow like wine into teenage hands nearly as often as you're supposing. and certainly not without parents being aware of it.

Sounds like sour grapes to me :P. But seriously, my nerd friends were raking it in. That's the only data point I have.
posted by delmoi at 11:39 PM on December 18, 2005


How hard is it to make plane reservations and pay cab fair?

Well yeah, I could have handled the logistics just fine. I was trying to say that I don't think I could have convinced my parents to let me go to Vegas on my own in a manner that wouldn't have led them to probe the details quite a bit, and that wouldn't have led them to discover that I was going there to meet a creepy dude I met on the internet.

I mean yes, I had legs and wasn't tied down and thus could have just left if I really wanted to, but then I would have to either find a new place to live or come back home and try to explain my absence. And maybe I'm a shitty liar, but I don't think there's any way I could have explained my absence away.
posted by epugachev at 11:40 PM on December 18, 2005


I suspect this is even more widespread than the NYT suggests. I had two friends in high school who did the same thing as this fellow. One girl and one guy. Don't know what ever happened to the guy, but the girl kinda fell apart our senior year. I remember her writing all about it in her LJ. She even took it a step further and sold her used underwear (which I guess would be a step back from the whole meeting her followers thing). This was basically the non-technical way for teenagers to take advantage of all the cash floating around on the internet. Like delmoi, I stuck to ripping off affiliate programs. It's sad, but it's also not that hard to believe. Teenagers like easy money. Teenagers can justify fucked up things. Teenagers are easily taken advantage of.
posted by panoptican at 11:45 PM on December 18, 2005


epugachev: Well, there's a big difference then, I'd be willing to bed that at 15 I could have come up with some excuse that my mom would have bought. "mom, I need to go to this web design conference in Vegas!". I don't think that means my Mom was a terrible parent.

I also never would have been a homosexual boy-whore either.
posted by delmoi at 11:47 PM on December 18, 2005


dhartung - You shouldn't correct people when they're not wrong. Read what I wrote and the story again, and you'll see that my statement is accurate. The proposal was not the first contact.

delmoi, I hardly think your situation has anything in common with his. Were you getting huge numbers of packages with gifts and flying around the country for no apparent reason? And he was 15 when he got his secret apartment.

HTuttle - That's an interesting question, and one of the ones I was thinking about when I posted the article. It's ridiculous, of course, that there's a magic day when a kid suddentnly becomes 100% responsible for his actions, particularly in a case like this which is an ongoing situation. But I don't have an answer, and I'm not sure there is a decent answer.
posted by spira at 11:47 PM on December 18, 2005


delmoi, I hardly think your situation has anything in common with his. Were you getting huge numbers of packages with gifts and flying around the country for no apparent reason? And he was 15 when he got his secret apartment.

Well, who knows what excuses he cooked up, either way I don't think you can blanket say that the parents were terrible people, especially if they was being actively deceived.

Not saying what happened isn't fucked up, just that you can't blame the parents for being crappy parents.
posted by delmoi at 11:53 PM on December 18, 2005


I don't think his mom is a terrible person. I just think she's either quite irresponsible or extremely dim. But I wouldn't say she's the villain.

His dad, on the other hand - I feel comfortable saying that he is a terrible person. His behavior is despicable.
posted by spira at 12:02 AM on December 19, 2005


Perhaps his mom is one of the millions of women with no computer skills, and no computer. She would have no way to understand what he said he was doing, much less what he actually was doing.
posted by Cranberry at 12:02 AM on December 19, 2005


That sound you hear is parents all across America shitting their pants. What a shocking, complex story.
posted by mediareport at 12:06 AM on December 19, 2005


I also was hoping not to come across as someone who thinks the mom is a terrible person. Certainly she's been through enough already and doesn't need to be judged by a bunch of half-informed Monday morning quarterbacks. But yeah, the dad's fucked up.
posted by epugachev at 12:07 AM on December 19, 2005


He was totally crooked though, but not a boy-whore.

You think he'd have told you if he was?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:28 AM on December 19, 2005


delmoi you seem awfully defensive for no apparent reason... just saying...
posted by tweak at 12:29 AM on December 19, 2005


I also never would have been a homosexual boy-whore either.

Would you really tell us all if you were? :-)
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:32 AM on December 19, 2005


A terrible story, but well-told. Kudos to the Times.
posted by Brian James at 12:36 AM on December 19, 2005


i'm with delmoi on this one, to some degree. not that it was easy, but that making money was often talent-independent, so it's unsurprising.
posted by spiderwire at 12:36 AM on December 19, 2005


How much you want to bet Kristof banged those two chicks?

Um. Wha?
posted by Saucy Intruder at 12:38 AM on December 19, 2005


Sidenote: this blog post makes an excellent intro to this story...
posted by tweak at 1:03 AM on December 19, 2005


A terrible story, but well-told. Kudos to the Times.

Are you kidding? It was practically an intervention. How bad do you think this kid really felt until the Times told convinced him to be ashamed? I'm not saying it's okay to exploit teenagers, but this is really shameful journalism.
posted by londonmark at 1:23 AM on December 19, 2005


naw, this is kick ass investigative journalism, actually! All journalists intervene in their stories. Those reporters in Iraq or Afghanistan intervene all the time. Any story focusing on a particular individual changes the life of that individual, especially a high-profile story.
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:36 AM on December 19, 2005


Oh yeah baby. You want it, "NYT_d00d"? I got yer Pulitzer right here. Tell me how bad you want it. Sorry, you'll have to sign-in first...
posted by hal9k at 2:26 AM on December 19, 2005


What Saucy Intruder uttered. That seems to be an outrageous extrapolation, delmoi.

As far as the parents go, I could buy the mom misinterpreting the money, or him being gone down the street (at least at an older age), but the unsupervised trips to Michigan and Vegas? Mom! Wake the fuck up!

Besides, he got into this because of the emotional desert his parents left him in (not just his dad). I don't feel at all wrong holding them responsible for him being exploited throughout his entire adolescence.
posted by dhartung at 2:34 AM on December 19, 2005


His mother was absolutey clueless and that makes her a failure as a parent. She obviously had no interest in what her child was doing. The father's behavior is abhorrent.

No 13 year old kid should have a computer in their bedroom, by the way. At that age, computers should be in an area where the child using it can be supervised. Hell, even my 16 year old doesn't have a computer in her room.

I trust my kids. I don't trust anyone else on the internet. This story is why.
posted by grey_flap at 3:29 AM on December 19, 2005


I have to agree that a parent who is unable to spot this many danger signs is not doing a good job of parenting. Does that make them a bad person? Perhaps. It definitely makes them an incompetent parent. Not understanding computers is one thing, not understanding expensive unexplained "gifts" arriving by mail for your 13 year old son seems strange.


delmoi you seem awfully defensive for no apparent reason... just saying...
posted by tweak at 12:29 AM PST on December 19 [!]


I find that odd as well.
posted by sic at 3:33 AM on December 19, 2005


No 13 year old kid should have a computer in their bedroom, by the way. At that age, computers should be in an area where the child using it can be supervised. Hell, even my 16 year old doesn't have a computer in her room.

I've got to disagree with that. If I hadn't had a home computer at that age, I wouldn't be doing what I am now. If you actually meant "internet-connected PC with IM, email and webcam", then I'm happy enough with a whitelist-and-logs approach. General web browsing/IM/multiplayer gaming happens in a shared area, though.
posted by Leon at 4:14 AM on December 19, 2005


In June, Justin began communicating online with someone who had never messaged him before. The conversations involved many questions, and Justin feared his new contact might be an F.B.I. agent. Still, when a meeting was suggested, Justin agreed. He says part of him hoped he would be arrested, putting an end to the life he was leading.

They met in Los Angeles, and Justin learned that the man was this reporter,
maybe Pete Townshend was writing a story for the New York Times, too
posted by matteo at 4:28 AM on December 19, 2005


The father's behavior is abhorrent.

no shit. he basically pimped out his teenage son, if the NYT story is correct.
posted by matteo at 4:29 AM on December 19, 2005


"In its investigation, The Times obtained the names and credit card information for the 1,500 people who paid Justin to perform on camera, and analyzed the backgrounds of 300 of them nationwide. A majority of the sample consisted of doctors and lawyers, businessmen and teachers, many of whom work with children on a daily basis."

For what it's worth, I agree with Delmoi. Kristof's interest in the asian girls is suspicious. On with the witchhunting!
posted by bukvich at 4:34 AM on December 19, 2005


delmoi: .... My mom found one of the checks, and she didn't do anything. By your definition, she's a horrible parent. I think otherwise.
Naturally you do. You might change your mind when you have teenage kids of your own, though.
posted by lodurr at 4:49 AM on December 19, 2005


The parent screwed up.

Those of you that want to say that a parent shouldn't be more aware of what a 13 to 15 year old kid is doing should NOT have your own kids!
posted by HuronBob at 5:09 AM on December 19, 2005


I am totally outraged by this. When I was that age, I was lucky to get ten lousy bucks, and I had to hang out in an ugly part of the city to do that.
posted by Goofyy at 5:12 AM on December 19, 2005 [1 favorite]


Why does the New York Times think "Webcam" is a proper noun? It's so distracting. It's like Webcam is a person who went out and did all these things itself.
posted by sohcahtoa at 5:17 AM on December 19, 2005


i like the photo with the caption -
Justin and his father, Knute Berry, right, in Mexico. Justin says he told his father of his business and shared the proceeds.

i guess dad liked rollin' in the jack to much to say something to his own kid. real nice.
posted by nola at 5:21 AM on December 19, 2005


Oh that poor bunny. My heart aches.
posted by Hildegarde at 5:28 AM on December 19, 2005


Meanwhile, no parent should think "this couldn't happen to my kid."

This couldn't happen to my kid. She doesn't get an internet connected computer in her room, she sure as hell won't be getting a webcam and she definitely will NOT be getting her own apartment, paid for with her own money, before she's 18.

It's called parenting and those who do it even half assed would have stopped this real quick. This wasn't some random or kidnapping or some abusive uncle. This was complete strangers gaining acess to your child and paying him money for sex FOR YEARS.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:28 AM on December 19, 2005


I'm with grey_flap. Kids should have access to a computer but they should be supervised. A computer without an outside connection might be OK in the kid's room but it's not that hard to bring home hardcore pr0n CDs/DVDs/ETCs.

Unfortunately parenting is a very active 24/7 job that takes a lot of work to do to a decent standard. It is possible to get away with bad parenting but I'm not sure how people would want to take that risk.

[FWIW, I'm not a believer in overprotection either & the hardest thing is trying to find the balance.]
posted by i_cola at 5:34 AM on December 19, 2005


{add for example after CDs/DVDs/ETCs.}
posted by i_cola at 5:38 AM on December 19, 2005


grey_flap wrote: "No 13 year old kid should have a computer in their bedroom, by the way. At that age, computers should be in an area where the child using it can be supervised. Hell, even my 16 year old doesn't have a computer in her room."

Our computer was in a common area. Of course this was the dark ages, the computer was an Apple IIe and there was no such animal as a home internet connection - we didn't get that until college. Probably a big part of why none of my friends or I ever got rich pulling online scams in the 90s.

Now however the computer isn't a sacred chunk of hardware, it's a common bit of furniture like a TV. How many of you 30-somethings had a TV in your room growing up? How many of your parents knew you were up late watching fuzzy soft porn on Skinemax? Does this make them bad parents?

Who the hell knows. However this kid got away with fooling his mom, it's a sad story.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:16 AM on December 19, 2005


it's not that hard to bring home hardcore pr0n CDs/DVDs/ETCs.

I think in this thread we're more worried about kids becoming porn rather than seeing it. If the mother in this story only had to worry about her son surfing for pics of scantily clad women she'd have been lucky.

The part about his dad is what really breaks my heart. What a sociopath.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:18 AM on December 19, 2005


delmoi writes "just that you can't blame the parents for being crappy parents."

Who the fuck else should we blame? The parents are absolutely crappy parents. The father obviously, and the mother as well.

The ends don't always justify the means, but sometimes the ends highlight the means and change how we view them. A parent who acts in exactly the same way may not end up being a crappy parent if nothing horrible happens with/to the kid. If everything comes out alright the parent may be described as a "lucky parent." When lack of oversight leads to a prostituted child, well, that means the parent is a crappy parent. Lesser ends might soften what we say about the means, for instance, when delmoi's mother's lack of oversight leads to a thievery, we might not choose to call her crappy.
posted by OmieWise at 6:31 AM on December 19, 2005


When lack of oversight leads to a prostituted child, well, that means the parent is a crappy parent.

I have to agree with OmieWise- at some point, when the neglect gets that bad, you have to call a spade a spade.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:41 AM on December 19, 2005 [1 favorite]


Dude, I got away with all sorts of illegal shit on an Apple IIe (and an IBM). Doesn't anyone remember WarGames?
posted by fungible at 6:44 AM on December 19, 2005


When I was growing up, my mother knew exactly what shows we were watching; books we were reading; places we played; friends we had; the names of our teachers and what they taught; and had the phone numbers to any house we had ever stepped foot in. She could tell you where we were and what we were doing at all times. Now that's what being a parent is about. She did all that, and was a single mom before Murphy Brown made it cool, working two jobs and going to night class. She was tired. She wore last year's fashions. We ate mac and cheese like it was going out of style. But my mom knew that having a child is a responsibility, and that you gave up things in order to have a family.

This would have never happened to me, and it could never happen to my son because even if I'm just a tenth of the parent my own mother was, I will be a thousand times better than the parents in this article.

I'm really tired of some from my generation giving pass to people who are flat out bad parents. In this case the father was a monster for using his child, and the mother was for being so apathetic as to be stupid about who her child was.

By saying this mother wasn't accountable for what happened, you're pushing back the line on what is the standard for parenting. This woman should be charged with years of neglect.
posted by FunkyHelix at 6:54 AM on December 19, 2005




"Recently, Justin has sought counseling, stayed off drugs and renewed his faith, including being rebaptized."

here comes the can of worms...
posted by Hands of Manos at 7:11 AM on December 19, 2005


I'm really tired of some from my generation giving pass to people who are flat out bad parents. In this case the father was a monster for using his child, and the mother was for being so apathetic as to be stupid about who her child was.

I totally agree, FunkyHelix. The level of apathy on the mother's part must have been astounding. There is no way a good, attentive parent will have a child who gets involved in something like this without the parent noticing.

There's a thin space between protection and over protection; a good parent will find that space and live in it. A bad parent will go overboard either way. This boy's mother under-protected him.
posted by grey_flap at 7:22 AM on December 19, 2005


And not just by not knowing what he was doing on his computer- according to the according, by the time the NY Times got involved, he was ill from malnutrition and a venereal disease, not to mention addicted to drugs.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:26 AM on December 19, 2005 [1 favorite]


according to the *article*
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:26 AM on December 19, 2005 [1 favorite]


including being rebaptized."

here comes the can of worms...


ask Rufus Wainwright.
posted by matteo at 7:31 AM on December 19, 2005


The Times missed a side story here in the billions of 'teen' sites run by parents - really shitty, sleazy, overbearing, cash-hungry parents. See wired's excellent coverage on a few of said sites.
posted by bhance at 7:38 AM on December 19, 2005


ThePinkSuperhero: ...according to the [story], by the time the NY Times got involved, he was ill from malnutrition and a venereal disease, not to mention addicted to drugs.
... which is kind of what you expect to happen when you give a teenager a big income and no restraints.
posted by lodurr at 7:39 AM on December 19, 2005


Oh man, that poor thing, I really feel just sick about the whole story. It reaffirms my desire to be a foster parent. Bleh.
posted by Hildegarde at 7:45 AM on December 19, 2005


As far as child/teenager control methods go, each article like this one always shows parents quickly running to the control-freak side of the equation.

Well, just to keep the standard opening, it would never happen to my 14yo son. But he has his own computer in his room connected to our main home network. How can I be certain he is not involved in such activities, asks the concerned mother, her fingers already searching for social services number? Mainly TALKING to him, being a part of his life, knowing his interests, his friends and his ideas.

Also, being his main tech support guy (I am mostly responsible for back-ups, upgrades and such for all our three home computers) gives me unlimited (remote and physical) access to his computer - a power I have never felt the need to use for figuring out what is going on. It is strange how years and years of mutual trust can do wonders in a relationship.
posted by nkyad at 7:47 AM on December 19, 2005


here comes the can of worms...

Surely not. What has the church got to do with child abuse?
posted by londonmark at 7:51 AM on December 19, 2005


nkyad, I understand what you're saying (and agree with it) and I didn't mean to imply that anyone who lets their child have a computer in their room is a bad parent. Every parent knows their children's limits.

I do have an open, trusting relationship with my kids, but my 12 year old has a naive trust of humanity that precludes me from letting him have an internet connection in his room.
posted by grey_flap at 7:55 AM on December 19, 2005


He "plans to attend college beginning in January."

This is going to be hard for him. There was a former child actor at my college and it seemed people were always talking about him behind his back. Now, there's a long, detailed article about this kid and I'm sure wherever he goes to school, people will know he's the "webcam boy" or something.
posted by pithy comment at 7:56 AM on December 19, 2005


We did some shady things back in the day with our commodore 64 and a modem but didn't think to try and make *money*. Doh!
posted by mecran01 at 7:57 AM on December 19, 2005


This is obviously creepy, freaky, perverted, illegal, and weird—BUT IT'S NOT NEWS.

The Times writes, The scale of Webcam child pornography is unknown, because it is new and extremely secretive.

Only the scale is unknown. Anyone who's been on the Internet for more than a few years knows that the scale of cam-sex with minors is huge, it's been going on practically since webcams first appeared (Usenet posts looking for "camgirls" go back as far as 1997, though they do not specify teens; Salon ran a story about cam girls--one was 15 and another 17--in 2001), and while its participants try to be secretive, any search engine will turn up a crapload of camgirl and camboy sites.

Next in a series: OH MY GOD THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO WILL STEAL AN AUTOMOBILE!!!
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:59 AM on December 19, 2005


I think it's awfully damn condescending to say that Justin was a pitiful victim being taken advantage of who had no idea what he was doing. Surely by the time he's accepting money to whack off for somebody he's got some idea what it's all about. I wasn't that stupid when I was a teenager, nor was the crowd I ran with.

And anyway, I bet the whole point of this "child-saving crusade" is to further limit American's freedoms and increase domestic spying. "Only Big Brother can save your offspring from evil online perverts!" And first thing you know the Government's new power will be used in ways that have nothing to do with webcam porno, because how exactly do teenaged entrepreneurs threaten the established capitalist order? By the time Kissinger was raving about Linda Lovelace pr0n had ceased to be "revolutionary."
posted by davy at 8:03 AM on December 19, 2005


I thought this was a great piece of journalism and a very disturbing story. It is a bit odd that the reporter plays such a central role, but what could you expect in a situation like this? Journalistic detachment has limits.
posted by Nelson at 8:03 AM on December 19, 2005


I want to know who'll pay to look at webcam shots of a balding pot-belled middle-aged "intellectual" like me.
posted by davy at 8:11 AM on December 19, 2005


delmoi you seem awfully defensive for no apparent reason... just saying...

LOL, okay.

Seriously though, I just like people attacking this mother, who was apparently oblivious the whole time. They don't know her, they don't know the kid. Those of you who say that "a few questions would have found holes in his story" are seriously over-rating your interrogation ability. How are you supposed to audit your kids "web design" business if you don't even know how to use a computer? You start telling one lie after the next and as long as the lies are consistent with each other and what little ability the mother might have to actually check on things.

I told my mom the truth about how I was making money online (although I told her I was sure it was legal, rather then telling her it was 'probably' legal, which is what we thought.) but if I had told her it was royalty checks from some web design work I did she would have had absolutely no way to verify that it was true.

Teenagers can be sneaky, and they're good at fooling their parents. How many of you smoked pot or drank or screwed behind your parents back when you were teens? From what I remember, most kids thought of their parents as chumps in highschool, then suddenly they become parents and they're the all seeing-all knowing masters of their domain.

Another thing is that I just hate authoritarianism in general, including in the home with teenagers (it's OK with small children, obviously).

If I had teenage children my biggest worry would be them getting killed in a drunk driving accident, followed by them getting an STD or pregnant or something.

Worrying becoming a jet set child escort would be pretty far down the list. I mean I have the ability to Google things up and use a computer, so I would be able to figure this kind of thing out, however, if I didn't have that ability I don't know what I would have done. What would you have done, assuming that the kid could lie about it and easily print up receipts, invitations to conferences, etc?

And with the father involved, (were they divorced, or still married) it seems like it would be even harder for the mom to find out the truth.

--

Who the fuck else should we blame? The parents are absolutely crappy parents. The father obviously, and the mother as well.

Um, what about all the perverts who hired this kid? Seems obvious enough to me.
posted by delmoi at 8:16 AM on December 19, 2005 [1 favorite]


Ok, so he had to wait for immunity? Immunity from what? Child pornography charges?

Whatever, they should just charge him, and all the other kids. Lock them up with the clients. Then charge for access to a cellcam. Keeping people in prisons doesn't pay for itself, unless you get creative.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 8:16 AM on December 19, 2005


I want to know who'll pay to look at webcam shots of a balding pot-belled middle-aged "intellectual" like me.

No. No, you don't.
posted by delmoi at 8:18 AM on December 19, 2005


There is no way a good, attentive parent will have a child who gets involved in something like this without the parent noticing.

I don't agree with this at all. The article doesn't go into the mother enough to make any such claim about her. When I was a kid (from 2 - 14), my mother worked multiple jobs to raise 3 kids (single mom). She wasn't home much. That said, when she was around, she was attentive and instilled values and manners in me. I was a good kid. However, if I wanted to be, I could have been a bad kid and she would have been none the wiser. My sister, raised by the same mom, was a terrible kid--total troublemaker.

All you people sayin' "Not my kid"... I think you're deluded. I'm not saying all your kids are camwhores but if you think you're aware of every activity your child participates in, I think you live in a fantasy world.

Were this article about some non-Justin kid and were his mom to be a member of MeFi and were she to read the article, she'd be in here saying the same things you are: "Never could happen to my kid. He's got a computer in his room but he uses it for a business. He's making okay money for a kid his age and learning about computers, which will help him in his future. He's not a straight A student as he does get some Bs, but hey, that's far better than his dad or I ever got so..." etc etc.

Please, Wake Up. The point of the article is that the world is changing MUCH faster than we could know and there are things going on that we could never expect. Y'all saying "never my kid" need to open your eyes. It's exactly that attitude that will blind you to potential dangers. What, you think there's a stereotypical kid that fits the WebCamWhore profile? Yeah, sure there is. Just like the stereotypical pedophile in the article. You know, teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc.

And before someone harps on me, I'm not trying to say no kid should be left unattended or that computers are bad, mmkay? Nor am I suggesting that being afraid of everything is the best solution. However, "never my kid" just makes me laugh. I'm sure your kids work hard to instill this belief.
posted by dobbs at 8:20 AM on December 19, 2005



posted by phaedon at 8:25 AM on December 19, 2005


Hey delmoi, I know all about "gay bears." What I want to know is who'll pay money to look a "bear" through a webcam when it's so easy to meet one in the flesh in an appropriately-themed bar like the one up the street. I mean chubby balding middle-aged men ain't such a rare commodity in today's America, y'know.
posted by davy at 8:26 AM on December 19, 2005


"Teen Webcam Boy-Whore" would be a great sockpuppet account.
posted by fandango_matt at 8:32 AM on December 19, 2005


delmoi writes "Um, what about all the perverts who hired this kid? Seems obvious enough to me."

Well that seemed so obvious that it didn't need stating, but given your general laissez-faire excusive attitude about adult responsibility, I'm glad to see that you think those guys should be blamed.
posted by OmieWise at 8:39 AM on December 19, 2005


Technology is changing faster than the culture can keep up. A responsible parent should require that a child only have computer access where it can be monitored. But many kids are home alone after school with computer access. Many parents have no idea how to check history and cookies to find where their child has been. Most kids know how to get a yahoo or hotmail account that their parents can't see. And instant messaging generally isn't logged. I think this Mom was clueless, and should have been much more aware and wary, but this story is likely to be replicated over and over.
posted by theora55 at 8:49 AM on December 19, 2005


dhartung, for all your journalistic sleuthing above, you made a glaring error in your own post:

This seems inspired by Kristof's buying two prostitutes in Thailand out of the life, using NYT money. It's sure to be the basis of many j-school ethics discussions.

The large bold headline at the top of the page you linked to reads, quite clearly, "in Cambodia". Cambodia, if you're not aware, is not Thailand.
posted by soiled cowboy at 8:51 AM on December 19, 2005


Now however the computer isn't a sacred chunk of hardware, it's a common bit of furniture like a TV. How many of you 30-somethings had a TV in your room growing up? How many of your parents knew you were up late watching fuzzy soft porn on Skinemax? Does this make them bad parents?

If I had kids, they wouldn't have a computer in their room, nor would they have a tv in their room.

That said, I agree that the mom probably didn't know enough to know what she didn't know.
posted by duck at 8:57 AM on December 19, 2005


delmoi, you are probably right that a kid can scam a parent. I could have.

It does not follow that the parent has no obligation to act.

In any case, we're talking about five years of activity, "hundreds of thousands" of dollars (which could be $105K, of course), the kid getting a separate apartment (which means he's spending a lot of time away from home).... I think the prima facie case here is for lax parenting. She wouldn't be the first: A woman very close to me started sleeping at the home of her 18 year old boyfriend when she was 14. It wasn't that her mother didn't approve; it's that her mother didn't care. We're not talking trailer-trash, here; the mother is a perfectly nice woman, very upright, very moral in her own life, but in the circumstances of the time, her daughter was essentially left to the wolves.

I'd wager it happens much more often than we know.

As for your own mother, she let you off far too easily. Any kid of mine makes that kind of cash, I'm checkign up on it.
posted by lodurr at 9:02 AM on December 19, 2005


Davy, thanks for saying what I'm sure many of us were thinking. I'm sure I was savvy enough at 13, or 15, to know what was a bit pervy and wrong. I might still have done it behind my parents' back if I thought I'd get cash for it. That's my problem, isn't it? Oh, and poassibly this ruthless, all-consuming society that teaches us to worship money.
posted by londonmark at 9:04 AM on December 19, 2005


Anyone else read this with a Clare Quilty voice behind the molesters? Anyway, I'm surprised by the amount of money people will pay for porn.
posted by geoff. at 9:06 AM on December 19, 2005


dobbs - I thought about the possibility of the mother working 20 hours a day just to make ends meet, but the impression I got was that this wasn't the situation here. For one thing, we know she came into Justin's room at night somewhat frequently. For another thing, it appears that she knew that Justin was making a reasonably significant amount of money, so even if she was working 20 hours a day before, there was clearly no reason for her to continue doing that. I could be wrong, but I'm 99% sure I'm not.

But I do agree with you that no matter how well you parent your child, no matter how good a relationship you have with him/her, no matter how smart you child appears to be, you can never be 100% sure that he/she won't fall into something similar unless you keep them locked in a room 24 hours a day, which I don't recommend. You have to find the right balance, but there is no perfect point of balance that assures the safety and well-being of any kid. While I do think better parenting would have prevented something this extensive and long-lasting from happening, "good" kids with the most conscientious parents in the world can still get into some real bad situations.
posted by spira at 9:11 AM on December 19, 2005


In its investigation, The Times obtained the names and credit card information for the 1,500 people who paid Justin to perform on camera, and analyzed the backgrounds of 300 of them nationwide. A majority of the sample consisted of doctors and lawyers, businessmen and teachers, many of whom work with children on a daily basis.

One of the most chilling details buried in the article. Hope these folks will be prosecuted and there will be a follow-up look at the perps.
posted by availablelight at 9:23 AM on December 19, 2005


With all the legal/financial problems this probably family had stemming from the ex-dad's hijinx, I find it strange that Justin did not try and help out with his thousands of dollars or that there's even a mention of him buying a gift or two for his family.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:42 AM on December 19, 2005


davy: Given the number of people who are deeply in the closet and scared stiff of being seen walking on the same side of the street of "that bar," the market for bear webcams is probably quite strong.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:43 AM on December 19, 2005


I blame the kid. He had a choice in everything he participated in, IM'ed "instructions" do not have the adult gravitas that would actually have turned him into a victim had the Dr/Lawyer/Data Wrnagler actually been in the room.
posted by hatchetjack at 9:52 AM on December 19, 2005


whoops, thats "Data Wrangler"
posted by hatchetjack at 9:53 AM on December 19, 2005


I was generally willing to give the Mom a pass on this; this whole scenario seems so far-fetched that, as delmoi pointed out, it probably would not have shown up on her radar. But, there were a lot of missed warnings here. The trips out of town, the cash and gifts, and a poor attendance record at school. While it seems like you can come up with excuses for any of the individual events (which Justin did: his trip to Michigan, for example, was to attend a "computer camp"), at some point a parent needs to be aware of and act on the totality of their child's activities.

I'm also a bit curious about how Justin handled the cash that he made from his activities. I have to assume that Justin was hiding most of the cash from his mother. Perhaps he was leaving it in a paypal account. Until his dad got involved you have to believe he wasn't stashing it away in a bank, because I don't think he could open an account on his own. To be honest, I wish sites like paypal and amazon did some kind of age verification check before they let people open accounts. It would be a lot more difficult to be casual about progressing through the steps of camwhoring if you had to start a merchant account and handle credit card transactions or whatever on your own.
posted by HiddenInput at 9:55 AM on December 19, 2005


Yeah, I don't think that all teens engaging in this trade are doe-eyed crying victims. It's not always the case that the teen in question is being strong-armed into something he just doesn't want to do. Doesn't mean that I don't find the adult actions involved to be creepy as heck. Just because the teen is offering does not mean that the adult should accept.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:56 AM on December 19, 2005


To be honest, I wish sites like paypal and amazon did some kind of age verification check before they let people open accounts.

To be honest, I don't. I started buying stuff on eBay when I was 14- had my own Paypal account and everything. And most sites say something about having to be 18 to purchase stuff- ha, yea, broke those rules, too. But I never got scammed and I never scammed anyone, so I never got caught and it wasn't a problem. I don't think age verification would help stop any of the crimes like read about in this article- someone would just find a new way to get around it. Meanwhile, good consumers who are underage would be SOL.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:08 AM on December 19, 2005 [1 favorite]


hatchetjack: I blame the kid. He had a choice in everything he participated in,...
... and, of course, children are clearly just miniature adults with adult sense of judgement and ability to understand consequences. It's not as though they go through phases of development or anything like that. It's not as though they have to learn to do things lik make critical judgements and plan for the future -- that stuff just comes naturally to all of us when we get spit out of the womb...
posted by lodurr at 10:09 AM on December 19, 2005


Holy smokes! You mean someone actually *made* money during the dotcom boom?
posted by stenseng at 10:13 AM on December 19, 2005


Thanks, lodurr. I really don't have the energy to tackle the Justin-haters in this thread, but someone's got to do it. My heart completely breaks for him.
posted by Hildegarde at 10:18 AM on December 19, 2005


Yeah, I’m going to have to point the finger at the parents. Not (only) for missing all the big red flags like going out of town and the kid having his own apartment, but also for not laying the foundation of self-worth and morality that should have prevented him from considering himself a salable commodity.

It is hard to fight to constant consumer go go go messages on t.v. and elsewhere for short term pleasures and easy money, but I figure you teach a kid how to think, give them a sense of themselves, a sense of self-worth, and from there no matter what situation they’re in, they’re not going to destroy themselves like this one did.

That’s the failure.
Hell, I had a mohawk when I was a kid, but there was no way I was coming in past 11 o’clock at night without getting handed some serious shit. Expression is superficial, character is essential.

It’s going to be a hard road for this kid to learn that. Can’t say I think the religion bit is going to help.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:40 AM on December 19, 2005


I must have not been paying attention in my youth. Because I don't recall that "phase of development" where stroking my hawt teen pole for someone who set up and donated $50 to my Paypal account would seem benign.
posted by hatchetjack at 10:48 AM on December 19, 2005


The scale of Webcam child pornography is unknown, because it is new and extremely secretive.

Are they fucking kidding? Yah, it's so new that it's been rampant since the mid 90's. From my perspective this kid's mom really dropped the ball & it's no excuse that she may not have been as computer/internet savvy as other parents or as much as her child was. When your kids get into a new activity you should learn all about it and be involved in some peripheral, if not direct, way. Growing up in my god mother's house, I never had an internet connection in my bedroom, the only connection was and is in the living room & every site I spent time at was thoroughly investigated by her, plus I had all kinds of rules to follow, such as not disclosing my age to anyone online. (Even mefi turned out to not be the safest place. I signed up here when I was 14 and when it was mentioned how old I was at one point, I received several inappropriate emails from fellow members.) The main reason why my god mom was able to have a great deal of control over my internet habits without me feeling spied on, or whatever, was because she had an internet life herself & was savvy long before I was online. There was no opportunity for me to think "omg mom, you're so uncool, you have no idea" and then do stupid naive shit behind her back. Any parent whose kid is using the internet can get online themselves and become somewhat of an authority on it, it's just sheer stupidity or laziness not to.

Teenagers can be sneaky, and they're good at fooling their parents.

If you know this, and I know this, how come Justin's mom managed to not know this?

"never my kid" just makes me laugh.

I used to help my god mom run her webrings, and we spent a lot of time weeding out the 100's of teen-run camwhore sites that would apply for membership every week. There are just so many more kids doing this than people want to admit. Yet the evidence is right there in your face, you don't have to look far to find it.

but also for not laying the foundation of self-worth

*nods in agreement* Justin was just looking for some attention and validation, which is a common trait amongst the camwhore kids.
posted by zarah at 10:48 AM on December 19, 2005


This happened to a friend of mine, though it was pre-internet. He got a job at 16, his employer made strange requests and he wasn't bright enough to realize how odd the requests were. Stupid things like needing to measure his dick for the company overalls (they're tight fitting!). Eventually he's filming himself wanking and selling the videos to his employer. By the time that happened he was so warped that he had no clue that it was inappropriate or even uncommon.
posted by substrate at 11:17 AM on December 19, 2005


zarah : "I used to help my god mom run her webrings"

The Virgin Mary herself has webring to run?
posted by nkyad at 11:22 AM on December 19, 2005


Erm, ok. I used to help my "parentally & legally appointed guardian that took over when my biological parents were no longer able to care for me, familial type person who is, for all intents and purposes, my authentic parental unit" run her webrings. Silly nkyad, hehe.
posted by zarah at 11:47 AM on December 19, 2005


Allright, I was being difficult, but your explanation was in order - I thought you meant to say "I used to help my good mother..." (after a whole thread about a mother being good/bad, I think this reading was quite possible).
posted by nkyad at 12:02 PM on December 19, 2005


> In its investigation, The Times obtained
> the names and credit card information

One hopes they made sure no typos, nor stolen cards, led them to anyone not actually guilty.

I wonder if they got the card numbers of people who clicked on the Amazon wishlist link published at the top of the thread.
posted by hank at 12:04 PM on December 19, 2005


...by the time the NY Times got involved, he was ill from malnutrition and a venereal disease, not to mention addicted to drugs.

... which is kind of what you expect to happen when you give a teenager a big income and no restraints.


Someone may wish to alert the NBA.
posted by dhartung at 12:11 PM on December 19, 2005


Yeh, well, they just substitute assault for malnutrition.
posted by lodurr at 12:14 PM on December 19, 2005


There is shared culpability here. I think we've beaten that horse. I only want to point out to the "this can't happen to my kid" folks....it can, it does.

I ran a BBS out of my bedroom with a dedicated line when I was a teenager - this was in the 80's - and as I picked up users and traffic I picked up an interesting collection of...uploads. To a teenage computer geek in the 80's, real, digitized porn was great - remember GRASP/RT files?

But things started getting weird...that was how I would have described it. In my 30s now, weird should read "very scary" with my users at the end. I announced that I was shutting the board down and moving to another city...which I did.

Looking back at the friends I made then, I made some good ones. But, with the wisdom of adulthood here, I have seen over the years that I dodged a bunch of predators. And I never would have seen them coming, not really. "Weird" is subjective to a teenager. Justin may have known it was wrong or weird in the beginning, but the scope and depth wasn't clear to him until he was supporting his coke habit. I cannot imagine how hopeless and desperate he must have felt. I pity he and his mother.

His father should be hung by his testicles in the town square....
posted by TeamBilly at 12:14 PM on December 19, 2005


"We've been aware of the use of the Webcam and its potential use by exploiters," said Ernest E. Allen, chief executive of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a private group. "But this is a variation on a theme that we haven't seen. It's unbelievable."

Oh, please. Just like 9-11 was unbelievable, even though people had written about the exact scenario. People need to exercise their imaginations a bit more.

How bad do you think this kid really felt until the Times told convinced him to be ashamed?

A former classmate found pornographic videos on the Internet from Justin's Web site, made copies and handed them out around town, including to students at his school. Justin was taunted and beaten.

Excellent question. It seems like the stigma against what he did might be worse than what he actually did (if there's a difference.) Aside from his father filming him having sex with Mexican prostitutes at age 16, of course...

I made $3k in a couple months. My mom found one of the checks, and she didn't do anything. By your definition, she's a horrible parent. I think otherwise.

I don't think anyone would say "horrible," but you're leaving out a lot of details. How much was the check? Who was the payer, etc.? Where did she find it?

If she found it rooting through your bag or private journal, I'd say that was her first mistake. If she found one of your $1K checks out in the open, then didn't even ask you about it, I'd say that's a mistake too. (I'm assuming you were a minor ...) Not horrible at all, of course, but mistakes, yes, imo. If she found it while snooping ... wait a minute ... how did you know she found it anyway, if she "didn't do anything"?

Fwiw, I really think neglect is the issue here. How lonely must this kid have felt to start the addictive spiral of whoring himself for cocaine?
posted by mrgrimm at 12:17 PM on December 19, 2005


soiled cowboy: Whatevs, peeps. I wrote the line, then searched for the link. I'm glad to know the child prostitution problem is confined solely to Cambodia.
posted by dhartung at 12:18 PM on December 19, 2005


I blame the kid. He had a choice in everything he participated in, IM'ed "instructions" do not have the adult gravitas that would actually have turned him into a victim had the Dr/Lawyer/Data Wrnagler actually been in the room.
posted by hatchetjack at 12:52 PM EST on December 19

Obedience to Authority
"The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study"

"Of the forty subjects in the first experiment, twenty-five obeyed the orders of the experimenter to the end, punishing the victim until they reached the most potent shock available on the generator."

"When the experiment was altered so that the experimenter gave his instructions by telephone instead of in person, only a third as many people were fully obedient through 450 volts."
posted by prak at 12:42 PM on December 19, 2005


Now, there's a long, detailed article about this kid and I'm sure wherever he goes to school, people will know he's the "webcam boy" or something.

That's exactly my main question about the whole thing: what good will this article do to him?

Why not do the story anonymously, no names, no pictures, no video interviews?

He's in witness protection, the article says he received threats, and then there's the obvious stigma of the whole thing, and he's still only 18. So why was privacy not a concern? How can be so sure he'll never regret having his story out in public? And how can the author be so sure he did the good thing by convincing him to expose his story?

I first thought londonmark was too harsh in calling this shameful journalism, but there's something I also find rather questionable about that approach. I don't know. It just makes me wonder.
posted by funambulist at 1:56 PM on December 19, 2005


funambulist - I don't think he's in anything that would technically be called "witness protection." And I don't think this article adds any danger to him from the people who are threatening him, since they all know quite well who he is and what he looks like.

But I strongly question his willingness to go public. Everything in this story could have been written without giving his full name. I think he'll regret doing this. And I have no idea why he's doing it. I don't buy the "He's coming out in public to prevent others from going through what he went through" bit; it seems completely at odds with every other detail we're told about his life. Yes, he wanted to get caught, but did he need to become nationally famous for his activities? This is going to follow him for the rest of his life.

As for the reporter, I don't know what he should have done. He's already been criticized for interfering in his story by getting the kid to stop his activities and turn himself in. If Justin really wanted to go this public, as I assume is the case (and remember that Justin has legal representation), should the reporter refuse to let him? I think that's a stretch.
posted by spira at 2:14 PM on December 19, 2005


I just watched the accompanying video interviews with Justin -- and have to say they added much to the story for me. Check them out.
posted by ericb at 2:31 PM on December 19, 2005


dhartung: If you're going to mock a journalist for shoddy reporting, it's probably best to do so without shoddy linking. And while Cambodia and Thailand may be interchangable to you, they are certainly not to the people who live here. Peeps.

posted by soiled cowboy at 2:35 PM on December 19, 2005


Please forgive in advance along block quote from the NYT article:

"Justin contacted Steven M. Ryan, a former federal prosecutor and partner with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips in Washington. Mr. Ryan had learned of Justin's story during an interview with The Times about a related legal question, and offered to represent him.

On July 14, Mr. Ryan contacted the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Justice Department, informing prosecutors that he had a client with evidence that could implicate potentially hundreds of people. By then, Mr. Ryan had learned that some of Justin's old associates, disturbed by his disappearance, were hunting for him and had begun removing records from the Internet. Mr. Ryan informed prosecutors of the dangers to Justin and the potential destruction of evidence. Two weeks passed with little response.

Finally, in late July, Justin met in Washington with the F.B.I. and prosecutors. He identified children who he believed were in the hands of adult predators. He listed the marketers, credit card processors and others who supported Webcam child pornography. He also described the voluminous documentary evidence he had retained on his hard drives: financial information, conversation transcripts with his members, and other records. But that evidence would not be turned over, Mr. Ryan said, until Justin received immunity.

The meeting ended, followed by weeks of silence. Word came back that prosecutors were wrestling with Justin's dual role as a victim and a perpetrator. Justin told associates that he was willing to plead guilty if the government would save the children he had identified; Mr. Ryan dissuaded him.

By September, almost 50 days had passed since the first contact with the government, with no visible progress. Frustrated, Mr. Ryan informed prosecutors that he would have to go elsewhere, and contacted the California attorney general.

That proved unnecessary. Prodded by the F.B.I. and others in the Justice Department, on Sept. 7, prosecutors informed Mr. Ryan that his client would be granted immunity. A little more than four weeks after his 19th birthday, Justin became a federal witness."


This is one point y'all seem to keep missing: regardless of how you feel about "pedophilia" and "kiddy porn", the fact is that this guy Justin cut a deal to go free in exchange for snitch ing on his co-criminals. That is, one of the "adult perpetrators" could have felt remorse (and/or sensed the Feds closing in) and hired a high-powered lawyer to get immunity for him to tell all he knew, and the same kind of thing could have happened in a case involving cocaine, insider trading or construction-contract kickbacks.

This is another example of what I mean by "ad hominem": people letting their feelings about taboo sexual transactions color their reasoning about a pretty straightforward "criminal-justice experience": in exchange for immunity, Justin snitched out his buddies. And because of the kind of criminal racket it was Justin gets the added bonus of playing the Pathetic Victim, unlike Joe Valachi.

And the sad thing is that a lot of y'all who cry for Poor Justin -- and insist that Somebody Must Do Something To Stop This Evil -- are American citizens who are allowed to vote. This is why "Friendly Fascism" is such a success in the U.S.A.: nobody has to stage a coup, the American people insist on it themselves. "Take our rights and freedoms, please! We LIKE being so weak and stupid that we need Big Brother watching over us!" In fact the cynic in me thinks it's too bad for the Nazis that they didn't identify Pedophiles and Perverts as The Enemy instead of Commies and Jews, Americans would all still be happily sieg-heiling.
posted by davy at 4:08 PM on December 19, 2005


That's exactly my main question about the whole thing: what good will this article do to him?

Why not do the story anonymously, no names, no pictures, no video interviews?


"Cause then he can't write the 'now I'm redeemed' book.
posted by fixedgear at 5:02 PM on December 19, 2005



Hoax.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:35 PM on December 19, 2005


Do you guys recall that post about two weeks ago where a caller id'ed himself as a policeman to a manger at Mcdonalds? He then proceeded to instruct the manager to strip msearch an employee and make her get nude and give the managers husband a blowjob? I would hypertext it but I'm lazy. Anyway.... the similarities and disimilarities are interesting to me. The thing that gets me thinking is that it didn't seem as though folks took nearly as much pitty on that girl as they do this kid. If you don't read the article and just the comments it would seem she came out as being pitty worthy but not a victim while this kid is a victim. In my mind the opposite is true, that girl was more or less being held against her will and made to do nude jumping jacks while this kid strokes for money. ??? Dunno, maybey I am crazy.
posted by hatchetjack at 5:38 PM on December 19, 2005


davy - You seem to be missing a key part of the story. Yes, Justin was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony. But Justin was the person who brought them the case in the first place, and he also provided most of the evidence. He did not cut a deal so he could go free, because he would have gone free anyway - there was no case before he went to the FBI, and even then there was no case without the evidence that he could provide. If the FBI wasn't willing to cooperate with him, he was willing to go to the California authorities instead and bring them the case. It's a totally different situation than when someone is arrested and then gets a deal for immunity. A "pretty straightforward criminal-justice experience" does not generally include a participant going to the FBI to announce that there were crimes going on and that he had participated in them and wants to supply them with tons of evidence.

And we haven't even mentioned his willingness to go public with this story, which could be, if it is possible, even more unusual.

You seem to be trying to make some general point about the unfairness of the criminal justice system, or maybe you're trying to comment on the way society demonizes pedophiles, or maybe you are trying to say something aboout how Americans are willingly giving up their liberties. I honestly can't tell exactly what it is you are trying to argue. But whatever it is, pretending that this is just a typical criminal justice situation in which a cornered perp blabs in exchange for a deal that will save him from an otherwise inevitable jail sentence is not going to work.
posted by spira at 5:41 PM on December 19, 2005


"there was no case before he went to the FBI"

That's his story and he's sticking to it. I personally have seen far more examples of people cutting deals when they feel the hot breath of John Law on their necks.

If I were an FBI agent I'd start by watching the camwhore and then track the customers: he's the weak link in the chain, the one whose face and weenie were publicly displayed. If I were an FBI agent who'd taken a psychology course or two -- or watched Dr. Phil or read the New York Times -- I'd say "We know you're the victim of all these evil predators, help us catch those meanieheads who forced you to do this awful stuff. Then you'll be a Hero too, just think of all those helpless boys you'll be saving!"

And if I were a criminal perp with the FBI whispering in my ear, a few hundred thousand extra bucks and a New York Times reporter out to make his career by anointing me with virtual myrrh, I'd get myself a nice lawyer -- and start thinking about who'll play me in the movie.

And one thing I'd insist on is that I be presented as Redeemed, as a Good Guy Deep Down who Did the Right Thing. I certainly would not want people calling me "the Joe Valachi of the kiddy-porn world", no siree. That would compromise the movie.
posted by davy at 5:59 PM on December 19, 2005


Or maybe it wasn't the FBI: maybe it was a certain New York Times reporter who knows how to write a screenplay. Like John Waters said to Divine, "Just eat dog shit once and you'll make us all rich."
posted by davy at 6:08 PM on December 19, 2005


Or maybe both: maybe he felt the breath of the Law and the reporter told him how to get out of it -- in exchange for a Big Exclusive etc.

As for the "I been saved! I have turned from my evil ways!" stuff, hell no, I'm not impressed.
posted by davy at 6:17 PM on December 19, 2005


Or maybe your tinfoil hat is on a little too snugly?
posted by Sinner at 6:47 PM on December 19, 2005


Sinner, aren't you a bit naive for someone in the 7th grade?

Besides that my own teenage years involved some knowledge of the kinds of things under discussion in this thread and the Times article that inspired it, I've known a few lawyers well enough to have some idea of how they'd tend to think.
posted by davy at 7:23 PM on December 19, 2005


davy, that's your criterion for awarding credibility -- you're impressed? Who gives a shit about what does or does not impress you?

And what's the deal with your hostility? Seems like your biggest problem is that no one from the FBI is whispering in your ear, with a few thousand extra bucks and a NYT reporter out to make his career by anointing you with whatever you want to be anointed with.
posted by vetiver at 7:39 PM on December 19, 2005


Yes, he wanted to get caught, but did he need to become nationally famous for his activities? This is going to follow him for the rest of his life.

It's going to follow him for the rest of his life anyway. He has to live with it. He has to explain it to everyone he gets close to. I suspect he's not really in a position to make good decisions for himself, and clearly he doesn't have a parent who can help him in that department.

I don't frankly care why he's telling the world. Who cares if he's doing it for the attention? Clearly this is a kid who had done a lot of shit to get attention. What, he has to be a perfect, shining example of a well-adjusted human being in order to deserve our sympathy and compassion? If he admits to victimhood (all before the age of 18), it can only be true if he's 100% selfless and doesn't hope for some kind of (however public) redemption?

I hope he gets a book deal. I hope the book gets optioned. I hope good things happen for him. This story is horrifying, as many stories of child abuse are.
posted by Hildegarde at 8:31 PM on December 19, 2005


Vetiver, I've known enough people who were actually abused as kids -- I mean beaten and raped and prostituted against their will -- that I find it hard to give a camwhore a blank check just because of a tear-jerking Times article.

Among other indications that Justin was no passive helpless dummy are that he managed to make As and Bs in school even though he seldom showed up, and that he proved such adept apprentice in those criminal enterprises that he set up a couple of his own -- even suborning his father into furthering his felonies.

Justin's mistake was continuing in The Life after he turned 18, including seducing and recruiting younger boys into these criminal enterprises, in a public way that so many people with "questionable hobbies" knew all about. If he didn't snitch on them one of them might have been the judas; such is the nature of shared criminal enterprises. He happened to be the most visible public face for these enterprises, therefore he was the obvious port of entry for law enforcement. Maybe he wasn't, but from everything I understand of how the world works a more cynical interpretation of Justin's "redemption" makes the most sense. (For one thing, you don't get religion till AFTER the cops come around.)

His involvement was not as painful as it could have been (a lot of minors in the Trade don't survive more than a few months) and was considerably more profitable than most, and when the going got tough he took the easy way out. All he has to do to escape notoriety is change his name, his hairstyle and a few social habits and find a nice college, assuming he was smart enough not to snort up all his pr0n-made profits. Justin will survive, having had the kind of seedily glamorous teen life that movies are made of.

If that's Victimhood where do I sign up? I know I could learn to work a webcam too, really!
posted by davy at 8:38 PM on December 19, 2005


davy: Sinner, aren't you a bit naive for someone in the 7th grade?

But wouldn't someone in 7th grade be pretty nai...

...

OH, I get it! You're good, davy. Very good. Well-played, sir.
posted by Sinner at 11:05 PM on December 19, 2005


davy: Among other indications that Justin was no passive helpless dummy are that he managed to make As and Bs in school even though he seldom showed up, and that he proved such adept apprentice in those criminal enterprises that he set up a couple of his own -- even suborning his father into furthering his felonies.

Oh the humanity! He's right, ladies and gents: Clearly Justin isn't the victim here. The victim is ... his father?
posted by Sinner at 11:12 PM on December 19, 2005


I'd like to say 'Thanks, Davy, for being a voice of sanity".

I'm sure many of you take great satisfaction out of feeling all smarmy for this 'poor, victimized child'. I do, however, you'd get your heads out of your asses and accept the simple fact that 13-year-olds are NOT children. But of course, if you think that way, you won't get your satisfaction.

You say that poor child just needed attention. Bullshit. If that were the case, he'd have gotten a sweet sugar daddy. He wanted power, and he accepted money as token of his power over his clients. The attention he needed was flattery, the green kind that folds.

I know all too damn well what it is to be a young teenager desperate for attention/affection. Selling sex is not a way to get that. I know from my fucking experience.

But most of you are too comfy giving in to the warm glow of self-righteous pity for this 'poor child'. Sure, this is because most of you can not process the notion of sexuality when it comes to young teens. That is understandable. So listen to the voices of experience!

This poor child whored himself for flattery and power, then turned to pimping other boys, and you all are just running over with sympathy for his terrible plight.

This isn't to say that what happened to this guy wasn't a bad thing. But if it hadn't been camwhoring it would have been something else, probably less involved.
posted by Goofyy at 12:37 AM on December 20, 2005


spira: the article does say he became a "federal witness", he got immunity as well as protection (or am I getting this wrong?).

I wasn't exactly thinking that making his story public in this article will necessarily add to the danger from people wanting revenge for having been snitched on, just that I can't reconcile the two things! It just sounds contradictory to me.

But I strongly question his willingness to go public. Everything in this story could have been written without giving his full name.

Yeah that's exactly what I mean.

Yes, he wanted to get caught, but did he need to become nationally famous for his activities?

Well you know I don't want to be as cynical as davy, but I have to admit it makes me wonder why he thought becoming nationally famous for his activities was better than remaining anonymous and starting from scratch.

And yes what he did will follow him for the rest of his life anyway, but if no one else knows, and if there's no New York Times writing about it, well that makes a big difference...

Why does he (and the reporter) want everyone to know? Public interest? As if no one knew this sort of thing was going on unless you have a name and a face to attach to it? Scaring parents into paranoia over their kids activities at the computer? A moral lesson on the dangers of the big unregulated internet?

That's always being done, even without putting so much personal information out there.

And that picture of him posing for the webcam, was that really necessary? It's nothing in itself, just a photo of a young teen, but in the *context* of the story you're reading, well... I don't know, I just question the choice of putting it there.

It just seems to me the whole approach is a little too tabloidish.

As for the reporter, I don't know what he should have done. He's already been criticized for interfering in his story by getting the kid to stop his activities and turn himself in. If Justin really wanted to go this public, as I assume is the case (and remember that Justin has legal representation), should the reporter refuse to let him? I think that's a stretch.

Actually here it's the reporter that solicited the story out of him, rather than him contacting the reporter. But in any case, ultimately it is all up to the reporter indeed, and the editors, to decide how to approach the story and present it to the public.
posted by funambulist at 12:53 AM on December 20, 2005


then turned to pimping other boys

Yeah that's one thing that gets brushed aside a little too easily in the story.

But that's a result of the ambivalence in granting immunity to witnesses.
posted by funambulist at 1:05 AM on December 20, 2005


funabulist - What I was trying to say is that while he is a federal witness and I'm sure he's getting some security help from the feds, it doesn't sound to me like he's in the witness protection program or anything. The only mention of witness protection in the article is by Justin's business partner when the cops are taping his conversation with Justin in order to bust him.

While of course the reporter and the newspaper have final say over the presentation, I just don't think it's likely that any newspaper would avoid printing the kid's name (especially given all the controvery about anonymous sources lately) unless the kid or his attorney insisted on his privacy. (If Justin was still under 18, this might have been approached differently)
posted by spira at 2:39 AM on December 20, 2005


davy (& goofyy): You're proposing a false dilemma. We can admit (as many have, in this thread) that Justin's situation was at least partly -- I'll stipulate "half" (whatever that would mean) -- of his own making. He did not have to make the decisions that he made. He probably made some decisions for mercenary reasons.

But we can also recognize that seventh graders aren't mature enough to make those decisions for themselves; and that when they take that kind of responsibility prematurely, strange things happen. There is a reason why we don't grant majority until the age of 18.* I am aware that teenargers by and large think they understand everything they'll ever need to know. I am also aware that most people don't give up that illusion before they have children of their own.

--
*(Yes, there is more of a reason than "we must control those politically dangerous youngsters." Not everything is a conspiracy by The Man to keep us down.)
posted by lodurr at 4:38 AM on December 20, 2005


lodurr writes "But we can also recognize that seventh graders aren't mature enough to make those decisions for themselves; and that when they take that kind of responsibility prematurely, strange things happen."

Yes!
posted by OmieWise at 5:49 AM on December 20, 2005


spira: thanks, you're right, I'd confused that "federal witness" in the investigation with "witness protection".

I guess you're right about the issue of privacy too, in the end it must have been his choice, of course, but since he was contacted by the NYT I guess the choice of full disclosure was influenced by that opportunity too, and by how the reporter decided to go about presenting the story.
posted by funambulist at 6:45 AM on December 20, 2005


For those still following, Slate's Jack Shafer criticizes the Times for aiding Justin, and the original reporter responds. Interesting stuff.
posted by spira at 9:27 AM on December 20, 2005


Good catch, spira. I found Kurt Eichenwald's response interesting as well.
posted by Todd Lokken at 9:45 AM on December 20, 2005


So according to reporter Eichenwald poor Justin set him up by putting him in an ethical hard place -- showing him "a gun pointed at a pregnant woman's head." That is, not only did poor Justin suborn his father into aiding his felonies, he got the New York Times to help him escape their consequences. He may have started out a seduced Victim, but he's since become a manipulative genius.

I especially like how Eichenwald says "Drugs were the things that were used by his abusers to keep him inside their world." Funny, when I was young I don't recall anybody having to trick me into smoking pot and snorting coke; in fact I had the notion that I sometimes exploited others to get high. It's really great to finally discover that instead of being a small-time hoodlum I was really a Pathetic Victim who deserved far more consideration and favors than I'd ever thought to ask for, and that I too could have been a Hero too if I'd turned in all my friends after soaking them for all I could get.
posted by davy at 11:47 AM on December 20, 2005


davy, you're still stuck on the false dichotomy of "pathetic victim" versus "manipulative genius." Let it go. He's probably both. It wouldn't be anything new.
posted by lodurr at 12:23 PM on December 20, 2005


The Family Research Council is sending a "Thank You" to the New York Times for running this article. From an FRC e-mail:

Thank You, New York Times!

Yes, you read that right. The New York Times yesterday ran a front page story about a teenager named Justin. Justin got involved with online pornography when he was just thirteen. The very long story in The Times detailed how Justin became both a victim and victimizer in a five-year downward spiral. He prostituted himself and other youngsters for money from online sexual predators. Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald details the sordid world of chat rooms and worse. Justin not only exposes himself for money, but he actually meets with one of his online "johns." Not surprisingly, he is molested by this adult chat room "friend."

The story of Justin's degradation is not easy reading. But there is a hopeful conclusion. There are strong indications that Justin has opened his heart to Christ's healing message. This compelling story also points out the vital role of a free press cooperating with law enforcement. It also points out the need for parents to monitor closely their children's Internet activity. We commend Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the U.S. Department of Justice for the higher priority they seem to be giving to prosecuting predators. In the spirit of Christmas, it's also nice to be able to give heartfelt thanks to The New York Times. This time, "the great, grey lady" got it right!

posted by Otis at 9:46 AM on December 21, 2005


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