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Poetry, musings, observations, commentary, rants, confessions...and who knows what else!

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Teacher, writer, poet, grandmother, lover, wine-drinker, chocolate eater, beach comber, hiker, traveler, Giants fan, San Franciscan. All work on this blog is copyrighted material.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Who Is Exploiting Justin Berry?

Tuesday morning I briefly caught part of Justin Berry’s testimony to the House, testimony in which this young man related his experiences with pornography. Between the ages of 13 and 18, Berry (now 19) was involved in a pornographic webcam production. He received gifts and attention from pedophiles and met with them in person. Needless to say, as a youngster, Berry was manipulated and betrayed by adults.

Watching Berry’s testimony, I was struck by what an intelligent, articulate, and good-looking young man he is. But although I felt he was brave for sharing his story, I was troubled as well by his open testimony. Later, I caught Berry on Larry King, and I was again struck by how intelligent and well-spoken this attractive young man is. And I was further troubled by the ideas that were coming up in my head.

What troubles me about Berry’s testimony and his Larry King interview? The overwhelming sensation that this young man is still being manipulated and exploited and that he is aware of and complicit with it as well. It seems to me he is still on display, not just on the Internet, but also in print and on television. Berry’s story was first told over a year ago by Kurt Eichewald of the New York Times (and the NYTimes has made the story premium content, so you must be a paying subscriber to access the story from the NY Times website), and he has also appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Who knows where the next stop is for this young man on the publicity trail. I concede that perhaps sharing his story is cathartic for him, a means of therapy, perhaps eventually of closure. But something’s not right with this picture.

I have no doubt Berry was a victim, plain and simple. Even though he “consented” to strip and masturbate in front of a web camera, he was seduced and manipulated into the situation as a child. Yet I can’t help but wonder, as things progressed – did he not know, even as a child and then as an older teen, that his behavior was inappropriate? Berry spoke to that in his testimony, acknowledging his own lack of morals in some ways, yet making it clear that as a troubled young boy, he was easy prey. As I listened to his testimony and the King interview, I began to wonder how the adults in his life could have failed him so miserably. What was his mother doing, thinking – and why, when his activities became known at school, didn’t social services step in?

I wonder as well how this young man can ever possibly have positive and healthy sexual relationships – not only because of his porn activities and how that must surely have warped his understanding of sex, love, and trust, but also after his face has been plastered not only on the Internet as a “porn star,” but throughout the media as a victim and apparently, given his testimony, as the poster boy for a more rigorous and aggressive stance against child pornography.

Berry presents himself in many ways as rehabilitated (from drugs and porn). But I wonder if he is totally rehabilitated. I wonder if he has exchanged the fame and attention he received for stripping and masturbating on the Internet for the fame and attention he is now receiving for what in many ways (metaphorically speaking) is stripping and masturbating once again in the public view. Yet certainly, his testimony is important to hear, and perhaps his story will strike a cautionary note for teens and adults as well. But somehow, Berry’s recent public appearances feel manipulative and exploitive. And I am not entirely sure who is doing the exploiting and manipulating. The press? The House Panel? Berry’s lawyers? Berry (who no doubt has learned the art of exploitation and maniulation quite well)? Perhaps everyone.

A transcript of Berry’s testimony to the House panel is available in PDF format at http://energycommerce.house.gov/108/Hearings/04042006hearing1820/hearing.htm).

13 Comments:

Blogger Bird said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/19/national/19kids.ready.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5070&en=8a1599bd91cce42d&ex=1144382400

above is the link to the NYTimes article. as i read it, i realized that much of Berry's statement to the House Panel echoes the story as it appears in the NYT.

I am not quite sure what to think. As I mentioned in the post, Berry was seduced,was a victim, but his actions also illustrate his willingness to cash in on the exploitation, and later, as an 18 year-old, become a perpetrator himself.

April 05, 2006 6:56 PM  
Blogger Jack K. said...

bird, you raise some very interesting questions. Manipulator vs. manipulatee? I wonder. You might want to read these comments about responsibility for outcomes to get my take on it.

The young man does present himself in a very pleasing and articlate manner. But, we should all take pause to consider the background and ramifications of his testimony and life. I think I heard somewhere that, according to Justin, his mother had done all that she could to protect him while on the internet. Did she really? Is he trying to protect her? Where was his father?

It is sad to think what his future will be like if he doesn't get his past experiences into some kind of order. Your questioning of that experience's effect on future loving/sexual relations was right on for me.

Thanks for making comments about this.

April 06, 2006 6:09 AM  
Blogger Bird said...

Jack,
According to Berry's testimony and the NYTimes article, his parents were divorced and dad was no prize. After a school mate found Berry's first website and shared it with classmates, Berry went to Mexico to live with his dad - and his dad encouraged him to take his porn webcam business up a notch - podcasting Berry's exploits with women over the Internet.

Berry's mother apparently felt it was a good idea to let Berry escape his troubles by seeking refuge with his father in Mexico. I suspect that she was weary and at a loss of what to do (as any parent might be) and gave in out of lack of will and gumption, and not knowing what to do. I would imagine that fatigue and despair played a huge role in her decision.

It's not clear to me if the school was aware of harrassment Berry experienced as a result of his school mate revealing the website. If they did - why the heck didn't they call in social services? Seems like all the adults in this kid's life either turned a blind eye to his problems, or actively manipulated and exploited him.

April 06, 2006 7:58 AM  
Blogger K9 said...

/bark bark bark

we've reached an incredible low in the culture where any kind of depraved behavior can be parlayed into some degree of celebrity. if you start out as a victim is that a green light toward exploitation?

Look at people who get on TV to air out the most personal and ugly aspects of their life. the new currency is voyueristic exhibition. makes me want to

/howwwwwwwwwwwwwwwl

bird, how you is? are you seeing and loving any blooms now that the rain has finally stopped? did you refill the pots in an act of defiance toward content and joy? i hope so.

/grrrrrrrrrrrr

April 06, 2006 8:16 AM  
Blogger K9 said...

/bark bark bark

forgot to ask you: what did you protest? and if there was a positive outcome to the cause what was it?

/grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

April 06, 2006 9:44 AM  
Blogger Bird said...

K9,
I've responded to your question above at your new blogsite.

April 06, 2006 9:59 AM  
Blogger ffff said...

Saw this young man on Oprah. I don't know what the school has to do with it. I am thinking maybe if fortunate young people can afford a computer that the machine is situated in the living area of the house instead of their bedroom s so parent(s) can keep a watch on happenings. After a certain age and gaining of trust maybe then they can have it in their bedrooms. Maybe a bother but it would be safer, surely... and why was a webcam necessary? So many questions.
I know this is off the point a bit but how is it that so many people who appear on US TV shows like this have no fathers? What is happening in the great consevative land that insists on marriage, no sex education, no condoms, pro-virginity, pro Christian, 'just say no' and all the rest when the fathers drop out of sight so readily?
I am just asking.

April 06, 2006 6:54 PM  
Blogger Bird said...

Good question, Alison. Where are the dads? (Though I'd like to know -where was the mom on this? I try to be generous in my attitude toward parents - what a tough job we have and it is so hard to do just a competent job of it, let alone a stellar one...but Mom seemed to turn a blind eye.)

Some conservatives will tell you that women who choose to have children without partners are responsible for the lack of fathering their kids experience. And of course, kids without fathers can't possibly be ok. So it comes back to mom again (who apparently when faced with bearing and raising a child on her own didn't choose abortion - but still isn't getting credit for that, nor support from the righteous compassionate-conservatives for that choice,but instead receives blame for not providing a dad for her child. the bushies have invested now in a marraige encouragement program for women onwelfare - because having any man is better than having no man (according to the bushies).

yes, yes, i am making a sweeping generlization here.

of course, some studies have shown in single-parent families it is not necessarily the lack of a father figure that wreaks havoc; rather it is the stress of economic insecurity in the home and lack of support services for the family (dads don't always provide that you know).

also, even though it may seem that kids on tv revealing their troubles are fatherless, i'll bet that there are just as many kids with dads in the home that experience trouble.

My thoughts on the school - from what I understand, Berry was harrassed at school about his webcam performances. No authority at the school became aware of this? If they did, they should have reported it to social services.

April 06, 2006 7:50 PM  
Blogger Aunty Belle said...

Ali,
the real dads are hammered by feminazi's and ridiculed by "modern" pro-choice women. This here, honey chile' ain't no conservative nation--it is a nation that may have a few vocal proponents of conservative values--the MSM makes shur they voice ain't heard lessen it is accompanied by ridicule. NO ush, this here is the nation of Brokeback Hill and
Sex in the City--this ain't influencing kids?

But sure---the computer in the family room is a good hedge agaisnt kids as victims--but kids see mama goin' to immoral movies and kids ain't so stoopid he doan know that she won;t have nothin' ter say 'bout his activiities when her own ain't so upstandin'....

you know, it's the ole' fella who visits a cat house in a city 100 miles from home only to find that the entertainiment of the evening is his daughter..."I won't tell mama if you won't" the kid tells her pa...

I was fightin' revulsion wathcing Berry--he was smirking and suppressin' a smile jes' a little too much for mah comfort...somthin' ain't kosher 'bout this thang.

April 07, 2006 6:35 PM  
Blogger Bird said...

Aunty Belle,
This may not be a conservative nation, but it sure as heck seems as though the conserva-nazis have control these days.

But you and I have some common ground here regarding Justin Berry. You have articulated what I was circling around, - yes indeedy, there’s something that just ain’t kosher ‘bout this thang with Berry.

I fear for this young man. As a child and teen, I believe he was morally bankrupt – but I can’t hold him accountable for that – that’s on his parents and the other adults in his life. But he is now complicit in his own exploitation – for he is techincally an adult (even though he isn’t really) and he needs to, even though it’s difficult, step up to the plate and “fix” what his parents did wrong. That is, in my view, one of the responsibilities of adulthood. You need to step back, take a look, and assess what was lacking in your upbringing and try to correct those things and move forward. It’s a hard task, and even the most loving and concerned parent screws up, leaving the adult child with the task of making reparations in their own moral, emotional, and intellectual education. Just my point of view here – others are free to see it differently and I will take no offense.

But Aunty Belle, I do take your comment regarding how “modern, pro-choice women put down “real dads” offensively and I ask you to reconsider such a sweeping generalty.

I am a “modern, pro-choice” woman. And I can tell you, I completely honor and respect “real dads” and I know a lot of them (and I know some no-good-for-nuthin’ lousy dads too).

My daughter’s father is a “real dad” – in that, though he and I sometimes (ok, often) disagree on the right approach to guide our now 19 year-old daughter, he is nonetheless a caring, actively involved father. He and I may not always agree on the same approach, and we argue about this in private, nonetheless,though he is deeply flawed as a parent and makes numerous mistakes (as do I), he is there. He tries hard. He pays attention. I make it very clear to my daughter that I respect her father and trust him completely and I NEVER allow her to disrespect him in my presence.

Though her father and I are no longer together (separated three years, divorce about to be signed off), we are a family unit. And I do my danmedest to support and back up the decisions my daughter’s father makes in her regard. Her father is and should be an important part of her life – and this “modern, pro-choice” woman recognizes and supports that.

I don’t’ believe I am unrepresentative of “modern, pro-choice” women. I believe I am a pretty universal and common representation of that label.

Now,about that brokeback mountain reference. I am not sure what you intended with that, but let me say this:

For 12+ years, my children had the benefit and love and attention of their Uncle Bruce and Uncle John. Year after year, we shared Easters, and Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day BBQs, as well as Thanksgivings and Christmases. When my former husband and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversay in a hotel room, Uncle Bruce and Uncle John stayed overnight with our kids. Uncle Bruce and Uncle John were present at birthday celebrations and various graduations (from kindergarten, elementary school, and middle school). But alas, Uncle Bruce and Uncle John divorced (not unlike many heterosexual couples). I was devestated at this – if such a devoted and wonderful couple could break up – what hope was there for anyone?

But eventually, Bruce found love again in a wonderful and stable relationship (10+ years now) and Bruce and his spouse, Tom, are an important part of my life and my children’s lives. IN fact, they are traveling hundreds of miles to be present at my graduation this May (I have earned a Masters degree). They will be present at my grad party because it is important to me and it is a family event – and they are family. And I and my children are better people for their friendship and kinship.

Aunty Belle, I am so glad you came by and weighed in. Though we often disagree, your voice adds to the discussion and I respect your wit and intellect greatly.

April 07, 2006 9:06 PM  
Blogger Aunty Belle said...

Sweet Bird (of paradise?) thanky for this insightful example of how in certain individual cases families accommodate different paradigms (Lawdy! Ain't Aunty using them high-falutin' words!).

I'se thinkin' on it some....and meant to make plain that by modern pro-choice women I doan mean a sweeping statement about the specific women in that description, but that the description is a category of cultural failure--in Aunty's rearview mirror!---a sort of twisted meme that was loost on this heah nation.

I'se all for what I might jes' call "equality feminism" , meaning that ladies have right to vote and work and equal pay and equal education opprtunities, etc...all in favor of that!

But this heah is my sorrow:

Aunty is the mama of grown chillen of both sexes. I seen them and they friends wrassle wif the change in he-ing and she-ing and they are better off than most, but they ain't too happy wif thangs as it is.

It's like this: "Hi I'am Patty, you're Jason right? Yeah? Mandy's brother?"

After a few drinks they have a genital handshake. It does nothin' for em' but scratch an itch. She is proud that she is "equal" and has "no guilt" but in 10 years she is a driftin' in a loney pool of self doubt and ain't a tad interested in any guy as a man--oh, sure, as a stud service, as a free meal, even as a "sperm donor." But she is mildly hostile to a fella as a man--a creature like her, but (awsomely!) different in critical ways,

For his part, he is jaded by women who have rebuffed attemtps at treating her wif deference, maybe even suffered ridicule at the hands of a "modern" woman....now the variables change from person to person...but the overall thang is that these young'uns doan really experience romance in the sweet mysterious way of the human heart--cause the jump the gun, take sex as a badge of "equality" or "liberation" and the hostilty between the sexes is now a given--

Lot's of college profs confirm this--kids today arrive on campus jaded, cynical and with dang little expectation--jes' think of how successful the online dating bidnesses are! Why --ask yerself--why do these "liberated" folks find it necessary to seek "love" online!!! SOMEthang is bad bad outta kilter.

Add to that the dismissal of the male being--yep...you may have a "choice" to kill your baby--but it's his baby too--and he doan have no say? THis ain't right and now courts is giivin' guys they own "choices"--cause if she can refuse his desire to keep the kid, then she cain't have it both ways, and now he can refuse to support baby even iffin'the DNA proves it's his'n. Why? Cause he did not "choose" to have the baby. She done it to him.

So now we got us a template of men and women at odds over the very place where they should be at one. Add to this mixture the abberation of a homosexual mimic of marriage and you further erode the meaning and nature os sex and human relationships and the babies they create.

Now along comes a Jason Berry--why mah goodness, that poor thang ain't nuthin' but an icon of what modern male/female/anyale formation has brought us--let's think a minute:

How can one abberation (homosexuality) say to another aberration (pornography, pedohilia, bestiality) that it doan have a "right" to be recognized? Well, it cain't.

So the whole porn thang is a joke to kids raised in the polluted swamp that serves as modern culture. And I doan know how Berry will look at his situation as an adult and simply decide to do the hard work of cleaning up is own act--though I do agree that he made these choices and knew they were wrong--what he doesn't get is that the choices he made are intriniscally evil and degrading...this is why he's smirkin' I think. He thinks he needs to pretend it's wrong, but he doan really beleive that.

He knows that the whole edifice is a house of cards. That he is going through the motions--making the rounds of talk show programs and even the senate--all the more for name recognition--what'cha bet the price of his porn shots is way up??

He is playing to the conservative shock and horror, but I'll wager this poor pawn will sink right back into pornographic debauchery.

Aunty is hard-nosed, Bird beauty, tough minded on women. Women have the job of settling the male down--and he is happy for that--think he wants to roam the competive dog eat dog world indefinately? Nope. At some point he is happy with home and hearth--but if that option is degraded by women, what's he gonna do? Women doan want to be wifely no more--what's that about???

OK, OK,...shur honey,I'se knowin'that
some men-folks is SOBs...but ya saw mah post on another blog about men disciplining other men? THis idea of tolerating a jerk as part of the community is not manly--and men bear this burder of "fraternal correction" in they own way.

We must get back to the way that he-ing and she-ing works best for the most ppeople of all--that is simply marriage of man and woman, and sex stays inside marriage. Build heathy families, build healthy communities.
..it's a long road back, but we cain't get there by pretending that the wrecks we've made of our lives are also a good model for families--they ain't. (I grant taht some lives are wrecks through no fault of they own, or at least lesser fault.)

As for the Uncles--glad you have them as part of the family--but ain't glad if they's hooked- up. THis is not jes' morally wrong, but society suffers, as well as the Uncles who are at high risk for domestic violence and diseases. Homosexuality is not a loving way to live any more than drug addiction or prostitution is. It is dangerous. (None of us would advocate that prostitution was a valid "lifestyle choice and if we did we'd be consigning misguided and hurt young women to lives of utter hell)

This is not to indicate any disrespect of homosexuals as persons--they are due complete respect as a total person--but their sexual choices are the result of a developmental misstep that must be addressed.

Now...I done eat up too much o' yore space and I be's really sorry for that. I'm gonna haf to address this on the Porch--when I figger out iffin it is front or back porch fare. An' I hope yer up for a visit and jawbonin' on these points cause' I also value your input and treasure the fact that we can get on together even iffin' we are on 'tother sides of the discussion.

Ya knows I love the Bird, Jewel of the Air.

April 08, 2006 9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just a couple of points here that should be raised.

1. CNN are doing a special investigation into Justin's story because his dates don't add up and there are many inconsistancies in his story

2. all of his websites had the standard "all models over the age of 18 years" on them, so anyone signing up thought they were seeing legal age models

3. justin was also a male escort and had numerous ads placed on escorting websites saying he was willing to travel.

4. at the age of 16 Justin bought an expensive car for cash and his mother still didn't think anything was untoward with her son.

while I absolutely agree that child pornography needs to be stamped out, it must also be said that in this case Justin Berry was an opportunist and manipulator. Any teenager you speak to who has a webcam would never get indecent with strangers and if they are asked to would quite simply block them. Just because Justin Berry is young does not mean he is innocent.

April 14, 2006 11:29 PM  
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