Jul 19, 2006

Clashing with the bureaucracy

For the second time in two years, I've been summoned to jury duty by the New Jersey county that I moved away from two and a half years ago. Obviously, I just have to fill in the stupid form, again, and tell them, again, that I don't live there anymore. But it's a pain.

The US Post Office said they'd only be forwarding mail from my old address for a year, so it's surprising that I'm still getting mail addressed to me there here. Not surprising that it's a jury duty summons and not a check.

Speaking of checks, I finally prevailed upon the state of Maryland to refund the money it stole from me. Apparently, the state comptroller enjoyed the exercise so much that he did it twice, sending one check for about a month ago and another a couple weeks after that.

Still, I don't suppose I can complain too much, seeing as how this fellow had to hire a lawyer--and endure weeks of agony--before getting out from under a complaint lodged by a drugstore employee about photos he took of his kids on a camping trip.

Unfortunately, this kind of story seems on its way to becoming a hardy perennial now that drugstore clerks are encouraged to turn people in as a matter of policy and local cops are unable to act on their own discretion and close these cases before child welfare agencies--and ambitious prosecutors--get a hold of them.
In Georgia, state law defines sexual exploitation of a minor, which includes pornography, as "knowingly to employ, use, persuade, induce, entice, or coerce any minor to engage in ... any sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing any visual medium depicting such conduct." Yes, no charges were filed against us. But that somebody could interpret our camping photos as knowingly pornographic, and cause the state to investigate us for intending to exploit our children, was what was so agonizing.

Dr. Douglas Besharov, a child abuse expert at the Maryland School of Public Affairs, and the first director of the U.S. National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, estimates that out of the nearly 3 million child abuse reports made every year, seven in 10 of them are without merit. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 60 percent of child abuse or neglect reports are "unsubstantiated." While there are no separate statistics concerning child pornography, there have been dozens of cases similar to ours documented in recent years.

For instance, in Dallas in 2003, as the result of a complaint by an Eckerd drugstore employee, a 33-year-old woman was charged with "sexual performance of a child," a second-degree felony punishable by 20 years in prison, based on a picture of her breast-feeding her 1-year-old son. Although the district attorney dropped the charges in the case, the parents had to fight for weeks to get their two children back from the Dallas County Child Protective Services.

Via Alex Knapp.

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