Parents Talk: When are Naked Photos of Children OK?

The child pornography charges against football coach Todd Hoffner have many parents asking what types of photos are appropriate.

Child pornography is usually pretty clear-cut.

That’s what former Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner told Minnesota Public Radio on Thursday. The cases she handled were typically “pretty hardcore stuff” that were easily identifiable as child pornography.

But that’s not so clear in the case of Todd Hoffner, the Minnesota State University—Mankato football coach charged with making pornographic videos of his children.

On Wednesday, Hoffner’s attorney told a court the videos found on Hoffner’s work phone were of innocent family moments with his children—who were between the ages of 4 and 9 years old.

Photos of naked children are hardly unknown to parents. Mothers and fathers lovingly capture moments of toddlers bathing in sinks or innocently playing in their birthday suits.

But the Hoffner case raises the question of where those innocent moments end and more-harmful ones begin. Investigators who testified at Wednesday’s hearing called the videos "disturbing"—but added that they were unclear whether they were legally child pornography.

According to the Mankato Free Press, a sex therapist reviewing the videos saw:

  • A 92-second video in which three naked children are playing and happy. In the video Hoffner’s son grabs his penis, and the children “spread their buttocks and expose their anuses for the camera.” The sex therapist said there was no evidence what they were doing was designed to elicit a sexual response.
  • A 10-second video of two girls, in the middle of which a boy appears behind them wearing a football helmet.
  • A 118-second video of a sleeping “adolescent female” who was awakened and led to the bathroom. She was wearing “bed clothing.”

The sex therapist—who’s internationally renowned for his sex offender research and treatment methods—said he did not see anything lewd or obscene in the videos.

We won’t have an official decision Hoffner’s case until it’s over, but the charges have generated controversy over what types of photos are appropriate for parents to take.

Patch would like to know where you draw the line. How old is too old to photograph your son or daughter without clothes? How much of a child’s normal curiosity with their body do you capture? When do photos stop being heart-warming and start being—to use the investigators’ words—“disturbing?”

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

James Sanna (Editor) November 02, 2012 at 02:12 AM
To me, Hoffner's case sounds like a cautionary tale about putting photos of your kids in places where others can see them. I grew up in that little window where our family albums were shot on film, but much of the processing was automatic—the CVS guy put your roll in a machine, and the machine spit out cut-up prints—so stuff on there was less likely to be seen by others. How do folks handle family albums, now? Print 'em out at home? Gather around the computer?
michelle pensyl November 02, 2012 at 03:35 PM
I think once the children realize their sexuality, it's time to stop. My son was around 8 or 9 when this happened. I'd say 7 and under is appropriate, but I'm sure it varies by parent, depending on their own comfort level. I dont think I'd grab my sons penis on film- ever.
Emily B November 02, 2012 at 04:13 PM
James, from what I've heard, Mr. Hoffner did not post these videos anywhere, the IT folks at Mankato State found the videos on his work phone, but I understand what you're talking about, I've seen videos/pics of young kids playing in their birthday suit, posted on Facebook and whatnot and I always wonder how that is perceived by others. It seems like this is not pornography, but it was poor judgement, in my opinion, of Mr. Hoffner to use a work phone for something like that.
Maggie May November 02, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Michelle, Mr. Hoffman did not grab his sons penis, his son grabbed his own penis.
Terry Hassan November 02, 2012 at 05:55 PM
I don't believe this was child porn but it serves as a warning what can happen. I don't think it's ever a good idea to take naked pics, young or old. How are these kids going to feel when they get older? They deserve to have their private parts private until they are adults and can decide what they want with their own bodies.
Derrick Williams (Editor) November 02, 2012 at 07:18 PM
One of my favorite childhood photos is that of a 3-year-old me, naked, running through the house covered in birthday cake. Just saying.
Katarina Novak November 02, 2012 at 11:12 PM
If you take naked pictures of your kid, then keep them to yourself! Keep them off the net, keep them out of your work life and in the name of all that is decent, don't show them around to random strangers! Trust me when I tell you that we don't want to see them.
Dave Haas November 03, 2012 at 12:19 AM
Katarina - He was not "showing" the videos to anyone - he didn't even look at them himself (according to published accounts - the videos where shot and then never viewed until the IT guy at Mankato state viewed them). The only way these videos came to the attention of anyone is that the coach was having a problem with his phone, he took it to their IT Dept, IT Dept gave him a new phone, wanted to make sure that everything transferred okay and played one of the videos. The IT guy then did what he was required to do by university policy and reported it to his superiors - who unlike the Penn State boneheads, called the police right away. Again - He never showed them to anyone, much less watched them himself. Did he make a mistake by taking the video? Probably. 7-8-9 is too old for this in my opinion. But that doesn't make him a child molester, or danger to the community.
Alfreda McCray November 03, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Dave- In order for him to take the video he had to see the videos. The thing that is not clear is that he was wrong to take the pictures in the first place. Knowing that these videos would get around at some point from his phone. I know personally of a person that started doing this something with his three kids, and now he is in jail for molesting his own kids and a co-workers child.
Dave Haas November 04, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Alfreda - yes, he had to view them as he shot them. However, the point I was making is that he wasn't showing them or viewing them every minute of every day. He had not even watched them after he shot them. The explanation he provided seems to me to be reasonable. The daughters had a dance routine that they wanted to show him, the son came in and made some gestures and motions that were not appropriate. Daughter's wanted to do over - dad said no. The 2nd video of the girl going to the bathroom - I have 3 kids - I know that kids forget when to go and when they went at night. Did I ever video my kids getting up and going potty? No - but I have heard of this - in fact a doctor recommended it at one point so we could prove to our daughter that she was able to get up and go by herself. It would be much easier and clearer had he made 500 copies and distributed them, but he didn't. This falls into the much ado about nothing category in my book.
Daryl Fryxell November 06, 2012 at 06:39 PM
You people need to get control over your kids. Good grief.
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