Azov’s Child Nudist Videos Labelled Pornography
September 14, 2012 § 7 Comments
The website of Azov Films, a long-time Ontario, Canada-headquartered seller of boy nudist videos and of mainstream cinematic films showing nude boys and girls, suddenly went dark on May 1, 2011 when law enforcement agents concurrently raided their distribution center in New York and their headquarters in Toronto. The case began seven months earlier, in October 2010, when the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and agents of the FBI and Ukrainian police started an investigation.
The U.S. and Canadian federal governments consider Azov Films to have produced and sold child pornography and began rifling through their customer database. The U.S. feds’ first reported target is a doctor in Massachusetts who worked with children as a pediatrician and had been a repeat customer of the company, racking up a total bill of $2,695 from 19 transactions. On September 13, 2012, this doctor was arrested and had his house searched. Brought into the federal court in Boston, he pled not guilty.
Most of the videos themselves were produced in Europe, especially in Ukraine. Some of the boys were past puberty while others were prepubescent. The prosecutors’ affidavit indicated that Azov’s videos show boys under 18 years of age who (among other things) undress on camera, wrestle in the nude, shower, and play nude Twister games [note 1].
According to Rachel Quigley’s article [note 2], one of the videos investigators accused of constituting child pornography was somewhat salaciously described on the Azov Films website as follows:
“We bring you action-packed discs of ooey-gooey slippery goodness. This two set disc features (name) and his buddies going commando in a very unique way.
They’re sweet enough but that didn’t stop them from breaking out sugary cupcakes and giving you a whole new perspective on nudist food fighting.”
Enthusiasts of Azov Films identified this as a video entitled Fun Fights.
The affidavit in the pediatrician’s case also lists other video titles like Boy Fights XX: Late Night Party that were made by Azov [note 2b].
When Azov’s site was operational, I saw many screenshots from their nudist videos and did not see any sexual conduct or patterns of eroticism. However, some boy-lovers saw moments in some of the videos where boys had erections:
“I read somewhere that an Azov film called ‘Winter Boys’ forgot to edit out the erection part one of the boys gets at the sauna for about a minute or so, the LB is covering it with his hand first but in the end he takes it off.” [note 3]
“Someone at BL Net forums claimed that one of the latest Azov ‘naturist’ films, which I better not name here, shows one of the young boys with an erected penis inside the sauna, he tries to cover it up a little from the other boys placing his hand on top but in the end just let’s it stay loose.” [note 4]
“So… I’ve heard, and, well, seen that in three movies, of the naturist movies, there are boners. ofc this is normal for boys,” [note 5]
“…Azov films and I have nocited from the previews and the profilios that somtimes the boys get hard-ons” [note 6]
A boy-lover also told of infrequent examples of a graphic focus on the genitals of boys:
“Just a word of warning: you might find the occasional closeup of genitals in the Baikal Film line.” [note 7]
The affidavit describes Fun Fights (unidentified by title, only by the store’s description of it, and the store is not named either) as follows:
“The video depicts minor boys seen naked in an apartment living room setting eating desserts and other food. There are several close-ups of the minors’ genitals and pubic area as they eat desserts and towards the end of the film several of the boys are seen sitting naked on the desserts and placing the remnants in their anuses.” [note 2b]
Another theme that made investigators believe Azov violated the law is spread legs. According to the affidavit, BF v2.0: Black Sea 2.0 has several such scenes:
“At this time the three minor males are naked on the bed and start to have a pillow fight and are playing. During this playing, the minor males have their legs apart exposing their genitals. [...] The movie then shows two minor males under the age of 18 years on a bed naked with their legs apart exposing their genitals.” [note 2b]
…as does BF v2.0: FKK On Tour:
“After a short time the three minor males are in various stages of undress in a bedroom. They proceed to become naked on the bed with their legs apart exposing their genitals.” [note 2b]
“The minor males are in the shower, playing Twister naked, sitting on the couch with their legs apart exposing their genitals.” [note 2b]
But under these criteria, people should also be arrested for selling and owning the more blatantly child pornographic works by Larry Clark (Teenage Lust), Will McBride (Show Me!), Melvin Van Peebles (Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song), and Edgard Navarro (Eu Me Lembro), and yet they aren’t, making this an example of selective prosecution.
I don’t know whether there are any genital closeups or erections in most of the other films involved in the doctor’s indictment, but the genital closeups and leg spreads are what prompted his arrest so they are not targeting simple non-sexual nudity.
But seriously, why should we care if a naked boy shows his erection or a naked girl opens her legs if they’re happy with the project they’re appearing in? The man is being accused of receiving child pornography but where are the statements and testimonies from the boys themselves that they want him arrested and that they never enjoyed what they did? This case looks like a waste of taxpayer money at a time when the U.S. government is already deep in debt, causing more harm to boys of the future than any nudist video ever could.
In its last days, Azov started branching out into photography productions, offering for sale a set of color photographs of a smiling Ukrainian adolescent boy fully nude from the front and back. They promised more boy photo sets someday and wanted to create nudist videos with boys and girls together.
Azov also sold erotic works of cinema with naked young people such as Maladolescenza, Little Lips, and The Tin Drum, and a sex education film called Sexuele Voorlichting that shows children masturbating and touching each others’ genitals, but I don’t see these particular films mentioned in the news articles or the affidavit, although less explicit films with minors’ nudity like Seven Freckles and Sommerjubel are listed in the affidavit.
Update added October 6, 2012:
In late September and early October 2012, four additional men in Massachusetts and Rhode Island were arrested for having purchased nudist videos produced by Azov Films and the affidavits for these cases have also been released.
Update added October 11, 2012:
Azov Films buyers have also been arrested outside of the northeastern U.S., with targets in Texas and Oklahoma.
Second update added October 11, 2012:
We have learned that the doctor in Massachusetts wasn’t the first buyer arrested in this case. A former teacher was arrested in Georgia on Thursday, July 26, 2012 [note 8].
Update added October 30, 2012:
In the criminal complaint against a maintenance worker in Georgia, U.S. Postal Service Inspector Jeff Adkins wrote, “At present, it is estimated that the website was selling over 600 movies. Members of the foreign law enforcement Child Exploitation Section have categorized 160 movies sold by the Website as containing child pornography. USPIS reviewed the movies categorized by foreign law enforcement Child Exploitation Section and concurred that movies for sale by the Foreign Company contained child pornography, as defined by US federal law.” The customer in Georgia had made a total of 39 purchase transactions from Azov Films. The complaint lists the following partial list of his orders: “Puberty: Sexual Education for Boys and Girls” (the English title of “Sexuele Voorlichting”), “Boy Fights XXII: Commando Knights”, “Vladik’s Spring Break”, “BF v2.0: FKK On Tour Portfolio”, “BF v2.0: Black Sea 2.0 Portfolio”, “Cutting Room Floor: Vlaviu”, and “Paul in Pictures”. Inspector Adkins personally reviewed four of the listed films but “Puberty” was not among those he watched. Here are some of the scenes Adkins watched and described:
“Vladik’s Spring Break depicts naked boys inside an apartment or in an indoor pool area. There is constant footage of the boys naked and interacting with one another, to include the boys bent over a tub with four boys’ naked anuses exposed in the air. Digital images from BF v 2.0 FKK on Tour depict three naked boys on a bed, sometimes with their penises erect, interacting with one another, to include covering themselves with body paint.” [note 9]
Update added October 31, 2012:
While some of Azov’s films do contain child pornography scenes under U.S. statutory definitions and case law, some of the defendants didn’t order any of these lascivious materials. Defendant Wilson’s two attorneys filed a “motion to suppress evidence” on October 5, 2012 in which they name Azov as the company from which Wilson ordered the films and indicate that “None of the DVDs ordered by Wilson and reviewed by Inspector Adkins are alleged to be of the 160 found to contain child porn by either the Toronto police or the USPIS.” [note 10] One of his attorneys wrote that there was no probable cause for a search of Wilson’s home. The search warrant affidavit was deficient because the films Wilson ordered don’t contain lascivious scenes, the films weren’t described in sufficient detail, and the magistrate judge wasn’t shown any lascivious images. This attorney cited several cases that confirmed that nudist films and magazines are legal [notes 11,12]. Furthermore, wrote the attorney, “art photography books of nude minors such as, Age of Innocence by David Hamilton, contain far more provocative images than anything described by USPI Adkins, are recognized to be legal, and are readily available in bookstores throughout the United States.”
Update added December 8, 2012:
Anti-Azov operations have expanded to continental Europe. So far, Spanish police have raided the homes of 38 Spanish customers of Azov and arrested 28 of them [note 13]. The police stated that their operation deals with the boy nudist videos produced in Romania, Ukraine, and Germany. They characterized them as abusive, a word I don’t feel makes sense to describe scenes of boys who aren’t engaging in sexual acts.
Update added January 28, 2013:
The authorities’ crackdown against Azov and its customers, which as a side effect revealed child pornography discoveries of other sorts, is known by the code name Operation Spade [note 14].
Update added April 4, 2013:
Azov customer Gary Byrd’s public defender filed a motion to dismiss the case on February 5, 2013 [note 15]. The motion argues that the statute Title 18 U.S.C. 2256′s language “lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area” is unconstitutionally vague. Images of children who are just displaying parts of their bodies don’t portray sexually explicit conduct in the everyday person’s understanding of the word conduct, unlike sexual intercourse or masturbation. American law assumes that children are innocent of sexuality, therefore prosecutors and judges who read supposedly nonexistent sexuality into a merely nude image of “a child frolicking about” or “nude photos of minors in a food fight, swimming in a pool, lying on a sofa or riding a fourwheeler” are contradicting themselves. The motion contends that the word explicit in common parlance means something that’s “distinctly expressed” and “leaving nothing for interpretation”, yet the current law’s vagueness leads to contending interpretations of images because it fails to provide a clear line between legal and illegal. It also argues that it’s overly broad because it creates a “chilling effect” against child nudity because many a person will “modify his behavior to avoid nude photos of minors” so as to avoid a possible court case under the vague law despite many such photos being ostensibly protected speech.
Update added June 5, 2013:
Denver Postal Inspector Robert C. Barnett viewed “Paul in Pictures”, a collection of 393 photos. Barnett’s description informs us that some of these photos broke the law in the same ways that some of the videos did: “In several of the photos the boys legs are spread and his genitalia is clearly exposed. There are some close-up shots of the genitalia. In some of the photos the boy’s anus is clearly exposed.” [note 16]
Update added October 11, 2013:
Some defendants, Keller for example, changed their pleas from “not guilty” to “guilty” before their trials could take place. Only a few cases have gone to trial, such as those of Byrd and Forrest, both of whom were found guilty by juries.
Update added November 14, 2013:
Multiple Swedish and Canadian customers were arrested in November 2013. Dozens of customer arrests were also announced in Australia and other countries. The owner of Azov Films, Brian Way, remains in jail in Canada pending a trial where he is facing 25 charges among which are selling child pornography, possessing child pornography, and instructing a criminal organization [note 17].
Update added December 5, 2013:
On October 30, 2013, defendant Gerald Silva’s attorney filed a “motion to dismiss” the indictment against him on the basis that the federal statute about “lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area” suffers from being “unconstitutionally vague” [note 18]. The motion compares the word “lascivious” with the word “indecent” that was key to the 1997 case Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union related to the vague Communications Decency Act of 1996. The defense argues that these terms along with “patently offensive” are “open-ended terms bereft of concrete definition.” The vagueness of the notion of lasciviousness causes the statute to be “in violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” The motion quotes model jury instructions that are given to federal jurors in several judicial circuits, then comments on problems with them: “The various model jury instructions reinforce the argument that the term ‘lascivious’ is unconstitutionally vague. They recite the Dost factors and then limit the import of those factors. They [sic] First Circuit instructions specifically talk about case-specific factors. There is simply no way the term ‘lascivious’ provides the defendant in this case with fair notice of what is prohibited. It does not tell him what may be viewed and what may not be viewed. It is also unconstitutionally vague because it fails to provide standards for law enforcement officers to protect against arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.” The motion admits that multiple other cases that included vagueness challenges (including United States v. Reedy, United States v. Wiegand, United States v. Freeman, United States v. Wolf) ended with the upholding of the lascivious exhibition portion of the federal child pornography law. And, indeed, as I reported on earlier, Azov defendant Gary Byrd lost his case despite having filed a similar motion to dismiss his charges on the basis of the vagueness of the statute.
Update added February 11, 2014:
Silva’s attorney’s motion to dismiss didn’t succeed and on February 10, 2014 a jury convicted Silva of both possessing and receiving child pornography [note 19].
Update added February 28, 2014:
Azov Films is now being seen in a new light, as something other than informed consent, in the wake of disturbing allegations by several Romanian boys who were shown naked in some of the films by videographer Markus Roth. The boys say that during the years they worked with Roth they had no idea that the films were being sold and that huge numbers of people all over the world were seeing them [notes 20,21]. Also, the boys claim that Markus instructed them never to tell their parents, or anybody else, about the films. Roth, for his part, denies he told them to keep the filming a secret from their parents, but admits that he didn’t inform the boys that their naked images could make their way to the Internet. Now one of the boys says “I feel very embarrassed” and some (but not all) of the others also feel distressed. The boys were paid money for their participation but were deceived about why the films were being made. At least some of them were told a lie by Markus that they were merely going to be privately viewed by Markus’s sister. Some of Roth’s films were among the ones Azov Films sold that violated child porn laws both in Romania and in foreign countries. An example given by a journalist: One of his commercially successful films, Winter Play, included a boy showing his erection [note 20].
1. “Pediatrician accused of receiving child porn charges” by Jonathan Phelps in The Eagle Tribune, September 14, 2012, http://www.eagletribune.com/latestnews/x2076995086/Pediatrician-accused-of-receiving-child-porn-charges
2. “Harvard pediatrics professor arrested after police found ‘up to 100 DVDs and 500 images of child porn at his home’” by Rachel Quigley in Daily Mail, September 13, 2012, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2202887/Harvard-pediatrics-director-Richard-Keller-arrested-police-100-DVDs-500-images-child-porn-home.html
8. “Ex-teacher faces child pornography charges” by Colton Campbell in Times-Georgian, July 31, 2012, http://www.times-georgian.com/view/full_story/19628084/article-Ex-teacher-faces-child-pornography-charges
9. Criminal complaint, United States of America v. Josh Ensley, United States District Court, Northern District of Georgia, Case Number: 1:12-MJ-1460, October 25, 2012, http://www.11alive.com/assetpool/documents/121026030425_EnsleyCriminalComplaint.pdf
10. “Defendant’s Particularized Motion to Suppress Evidence and Brief in Support”, United States of America vs. Joseph Monroe Wilson, filed October 5, 2012 in United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B9hyw3-Boc65MU1ZSWNwMmlva00
11. United States v. McKelvey (1st Circuit, 2000).
12. United States v. Various Articles of Merchandise (3rd Circuit, 2000).
13. “Detenidas 28 personas e imputadas otras diez en la operación contra la pornografía infantil” in La Vanguardia, December 8, 2012, http://www.lavanguardia.com/sucesos/20121208/54357131037/detenidos-imputados-operacion-contra-pornografia-infantil.html
14. “James Manring, former preschool teacher, pleads guilty to child pornography” in WJLA.com, January 28, 2013, http://www.wjla.com/articles/2013/01/james-manring-former-preschool-teacher-pleads-guilty-to-child-pornography-84565.html
15. “Memorandum in Support of the Motion to Dismiss”, United States of America vs. Gary J. Byrd, filed February 5, 2013 in United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B9hyw3-Boc65V1JSdzM5eFJJdDA
16. “Criminal Complaint”, United States of America v. Clifford Eric Perian, filed May 24, 2013 in United States District Court for the District of Colorado, https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B9hyw3-Boc65Z0xpRUNJQXAwekk
17. “Child porn bust: Anatomy of an international child pornography investigation” by Robert Cribb, Jennifer Quinn, and Julian Sher in Toronto Star, November 14, 2013, http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2013/11/14/child_porn_bust_anatomy_of_an_international_child_pornography_investigation.html
18. “Motion to Dismiss on the Ground that the Statutes the Defendant is Charged with Violating are Unconstitutionally Vague as Applied to Him in this Case”, United States of America vs. Gerald J. Silva, filed October 30, 2013 in United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island, https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B9hyw3-Boc65SjZwdWFKQUp4d2c
19. “RI probation officer convicted on federal child-pornography charges” by Mike McKinney in Providence Journal, February 11, 2014, http://www.providencejournal.com/breaking-news/content/20140211-ri-probation-officer-convicted-on-federal-child-pornography-charges.ece
20. “Child porn bust: How one man seduced an entire village” by Robert Cribb in Toronto Star, November 16, 2013, http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2013/11/16/the_man_who_seduced_a_romanian_village.html
21. “Child Pornography: Victims of Exploitation Struggle to Forget” by Maximilian Popp in Spiegel Online, February 26, 2014, http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/exploited-young-romanians-from-azov-films-videos-traumatized-a-955748.html