It was a beautiful summer evening on Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, CO. I was strolling along enjoying the outdoor entertainment and looking at all the people enjoying a warm July night. Then I came upon the fountains on the mall where hordes of children laughed while playing in the water. Some of the kids were in bathing suits, some half-naked and some in diapers. Then I noticed a man standing alone at the fountain. He had a camera on a tripod propped up on a cement pillar. He was filming the children.
My body immediately tensed, and my reaction was swift. I knew in my gut that something was off. I approached the man and as calmly as I could said, “What are you doing? He said, “Filming the children and it’s none of your business.” I told him it was my business and asked if the kids he was filming were his own. He responded with great hostility, “No, and it’s not against the law to take pictures of kids.” I asked him why he would take pictures of other people’s children in a fountain. He told me it was none of my business.
I suspected that this man was filming children for the use of pornography. Even children half-clothed can be arousing to pedophiles. I also knew that I could not stop him from filming. I walked away and called the police who did come and speak to the man. I watched from a far. The officer asked for his license, did a background check, and told him to move on.
I stayed around and spoke with the officer who explained that photographing in public is not against the law and they could not stop him. I let the officer know that I was super concerned about the photos on this man’s camera being used for pornography and told him a little about my work in child sexual assault prevention. He said, “You keep to your field of work and I’ll keep to mine.”
When it comes to a child’s safety, I will always speak up, so I started speaking to some of the parents watching their children in the fountain. I said, “I just want to give you a heads up that there was a man taking photos of your child playing in the fountain. I reported him to the police. The man has moved on, but just wanted you to be aware.” The responses were mixed: Some thanked me and some turned away, but I left knowing I had spoken up on behalf of children.
I can’t control the outcome, but I can speak up when I know something is wrong. I left the fountains and walked on. A few minutes later I saw the man in another location where kids play in gravel pits and climb on toy structures. He was filming again. He knew I was watching and maybe, just maybe, that one brief interruption prevented him from taking one more photo that he would have potentially used for pornography.
Speaking up isn’t easy, but each of us have a responsibility to do so on behalf of all children.
From Feather: It’s best to keep your children’s clothes on in public. It’s also important to not post photos of your children naked or even partially unclothed. And speak up even if you are not heard or feel patronized. Always listen to your gut.
Feather Berkower, MSW, is Founder of Parenting Safe Children and a Child Sexual Assault Prevention Educator & Author