Australia-- In the wake of the Bill Henson controversy laws regulating child nudity and art will be overhauled in New South Wales. If passed the new laws will prevent photographers and filmmakers from using “artistic purpose” as a legal defense for working with nude underage models. For those who don’t know, Bill Henson has been under media fire in Australia due to a controversial exhibit involving photographs of nude models as young as 12. The outrage was fueled further when it was revealed that a principal had given Henson an unauthorized tour of a school-- the artist visited the school in order to scout for potential models. Henson recently censored his own exhibit at a New York gallery in a step to keep the controversy from following him overseas.
The new legislation will include a new offence involving voyeurism and tougher laws that target teachers and other adults who abuse their position of authority over children. The legislation will also include a new offence to address the practice of meeting a child after exposing the child to indecent material for sexual purposes. That offense alone will carry a maximum sentence of ten years.
The swift change in rules regarding underage nude models and the breakdown of the “artistic purpose” defense was fueled due to public outcry over an exhibit of Henson’s work earlier this year. Law enforcement had been informed of the exhibit from upset individuals who received an invite by email from the gallery. The invite included a nude image of a 12 year old girl. Thirty-two images were seized from the gallery after police shut the exhibition down.
Bill Henson was not charged with any violations. In fact, the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, refused to prosecute the artist. The 32 seized images were declared non-pornographic. However, the ruling on Henson’s photographs opened the floodgates for the new laws and the termination of the “artistic purpose” defense due to concern that individuals with ill intentions would exploit the ruling in order to justify their otherwise illegal photographs and films. Under the proposed laws adults in a position of authority who are found guilty of indecent offences against children will be liable to a maximum sentence of 25 years in jail.
Links of Interest:
The Bill Henson Controversy: Art or Child Porn?
Art Critic Benjamin Genocchio Makes Poor Choices About Controversial Photographer
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