Friday, February 27, 2009

Breastfeeding as sexual deviancy?

Jane of What About Mom sent me this 2003 report from the Dallas News, 1-hour Arrest, about a couple who were arrested on felony charges for supposed child pornography. The evidence of their crime? A photo of the mother breastfeeding her infant son that she had sent to a photo developing lab. The couple's two boys were removed and placed into foster care. Several months later, the state of Texas finally dropped the case, and the 1-year-old son was finally returned to his parents.

Cultural attitudes towards breastfeeding, especially breastfeeding in public, aren't just a trivial matter of "covering up" and "being discreet" versus "letting it all hang out." They can cause real harm when, as in the Mercado case, a family's private photo of a mother nursing her son can be interpreted as child pornography.

From the article:
The service was fast, the judgments even hastier. Never did Jacqueline Mercado imagine that four rolls of film dropped off at an Eckerd Drugs one-hour photo lab near her home would turn her life inside out, threaten to send her to jail and prompt the state to take away her kids.

For Mercado and her family, last fall was a happy time, one they wanted to record and save in the venerable tradition of the family photo. Johnny Fernandez, Mercado's boyfriend, had just emigrated from Lima, Peru, ending a yearlong separation, and on top of that, it was their son's first birthday...

In one--the photo that would threaten to send Mercado and her boyfriend to prison--the infant Rodrigo is suckling her left breast.

After Mercado dropped off the film for processing, a technician viewed the images and decided they were "suspicious," according to a police report. As required under Texas law, he immediately contacted local police. Mercado says that when she went to pick up her pictures, the clerk told her there would be a delay, and then only returned three of the four sets of prints.

To Richardson police, who arrived at the store that afternoon and apparently made up their minds from the content of the pictures alone, this was nothing short of a felony case of child pornography. "We thought they contained sexuality," says Sergeant Danny Martin, a Richardson police spokesman, explaining why two Richardson police detectives began pursuing a criminal case. "If you saw the photos, you'd know what I mean."

With nothing else to support their contention that the photos were related to sex or sexual gratification, the police and the Dallas County District Attorney's Office presented the photos to a grand jury in January and came away with indictments against Mercado and Fernandez for "sexual performance of a child," a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The charges centered on a single photo, the breast-feeding shot. Fernandez and Mercado say they took it--although the child had ceased breast-feeding--to memorialize that stage of their baby's development.

Read the rest of the article here.


  1. Selective prosecution sickens me. I am positive that I would have stood a far better chance at arguing my way out of this as a white citizen.

    I feel so sad after reading that. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. I think my head just exploded.

  3. What on earth is wrong with Texas?

  4. ::headdesk::::headdesk::::headdesk::

    I'm sad for that family. I can't imagine having my newborn taken away from me and not being able to breastfeed him.

  5. This is shocking. Yes I agree, we need to make an impact on the cultural opinion of breastfeeding.

    If anything, we're doing more harm by covering up in public, as though it were something to be ashamed of. The only time those police officers had seen a boob was probably in a dirty mag or questionable website. If that's the only context we ever show breasts in, we're never going to come to embrace their main function, to nourish our children.

    I'm deeply troubled by this article. I feel for that family, and I grieve for how corrupt our culture has become.

  6. EVERYONE knows that breasts are for the sole purpose of satisfying sexual gratification...what nerve to actually feed your child! ~rolls eyes~

    It reminds me of when I was bf'ing my six WEEK old daughter and my mother's husband asked when we'd 'finally be done' with that.

    I ache for this poor family, what a wonderful introduction to American culture and law system.

  7. I should say that I got the link from The Natural Mommy:

    While this story thoroughly horrified me, I can't help cutting the police (and grand jury) a *little* slack initially because there were photos in that same roll of film of the couple in bed together, naked, and of the woman topless around her sons while NOT breastfeeding.

    (the photos of her naked with 4 yo son while bathing seem fine, but why be topless when not breastfeeding and not bathing? Is this really the norm in Peru? And even if it's not the "norm," I get that that doesn't make it "bad," but I mean as far as being surprised when the clerk developing photos is alarmed -- I don't send my nude photos to get developed by strangers: that seems to be common ("American"?) sense.)

    One last thing -- from the grainy photo in the newspaper, it looks like pretty awkward "breastfeeding," probably because the child wasn't really breastfeeding, because he was actually, in fact, already weaned.

    So this particular case is a little more complicated than just the "right to breastfeed however/whenever/wherever you want," isn't it?

  8. Jane - very interesting thought! I will have to look into that one for sure. I would hate to be defending something and after all is said and done it be something completely different.

  9. I've heard this story before, but never the additional details that Jane just gave us. Hmmm. Interesting.

    It still irks me, though, because this is just one ripple in the wave of "OMG PR0N" that surges whenever BFing is displayed. Myspace and Facebook to name a few. This is why I don't cover up in public (although I don't "let it all hang out" either). It's just a boob. It's not sexual. Breastfeeding is not sex. So I'm not going to cover it up. The end.

  10. This sickens me. I remember a story about 15 years ago where a very very young new mom called her doctor to ask if her nipples should become erect while breastfeeding (she really didn't know), and her doc reported it as sexual abuse. It took her nearly a year to get that baby back.

    Ignorance ticks me off. Just blatant, plain and simple ignorant people.

  11. I love the state of Texas, but our CPS system is a disgrace on all accounts (including personal experience with extended family members). This poor family!

  12. Yeah, blood-boiling, freakishly frightening power some provincially-minded agency workers can have.

    But, you gotta love the closing remarks from the Dallas Observer story that announced the children had been returned to the parents:

    "Buzz asked Lafuente if anyone in officialdom had apologized to the family.


    "Now that's indecent. Damned jack-booted thugs. Why can't someone with CPS send a letter, a note, a friggin' Hallmark card saying, "We made a mistake. We apologize." Just try it, CPS. Really, it's not hard to say "We're sorry." A child could do it."

    :) With coverage like that, there's hope for the future! Even in Texas! lol (my parents are from Texas, so I can poke)

  13. I think what she was trying to portray with the awkward BF shot was something beautiful. In Peru, according to the article, it is not uncommon to commemorate the breastfeeding milestone with a photograph of the child nursing. The father of the child had been absent the entire year that he had nursed. When he was finally able to come to the States, they took their "milestone" picture. So, yes, it was after the child had weaned, but I can understand the rationale.

    As for random topless pictures, I don't remember reading about them. I remember the shots where the mother was bathing with the children, and also the nude-but-covered-in-bed shot. (How can they tell they're nude if they're covered?)

    The picture that received the most attention through the trial (according to the article) was the nursing picture because it was "forcing the child to perform sexual acts" or something of that nature.

    So, yes, not something we'd do in our culture, but not wrong. We're just too caught up in the sexuality of breasts to see anything but deviancy in pictures where they are involved.

  14. One thing that bothers me with this case seems to be unspoken class and race bias as Jill brought up. It is much easier to choose "alternatives" to mainstream culture - like extended breastfeeding, homebirth etc - if you are in a place of privilege. It doesn't mean you won't get people's negative reactions but it's much less likely that you'll be brought to court for it.

  15. I have to agree with Omelay here. *sigh*

  16. i don't even know what to say... except i'm absolutely livid.

  17. Hi, I just stumbled across your beautiful site.
    All I can say to this article is wow. I sat here and read it to my husband and we both were dumbfounded! I could not imagine my kids being removed from my care for something so innocent! I, for one, have some of those very same photos! I am a photographer and have taken photos of other mothers nursing thier children. I gave the one of myself to my friend/lactation specialist for a display she was putting together for the hospital. Are people really truly still so ignorant?! SAD!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...