Australian photographer Bill Henson's troubles over his nude exhibits of pre-pubescent boys and girls seem to have blown over. The police have chosen not to press charges of indecency against him.
On the 22 May 2008, the opening night of his exhibition at the Sydney gallery Roslyn Oxley9 was cancelled after Hetty Johnston, a child protection campaigner, lodged a complaint with the police.
AdvertisementA number of exhibits were seized by police, who said they intended to charge him with "publishing an indecent article, under the Crimes Act." The seized images were also removed from the gallery website.
Henson presents "adolescents in their states of despair, intoxication and immature ribaldry," it has been claimed. He has said that these "moments of transition and metamorphoses are important in everyone's lives."
Such photographs could give people a taste for pedophilia, a clinical psychologist warned.
"People who would never cross the line in the past, they would never have sought out photos of naked children are now doing it because it's so accessible," psychologist Jo Lamble had told the Seven Network.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd too weighed into the debate, saying he thought the pictures were "revolting".
"Kids deserve to have the innocence of their childhood protected. I have a very deep view of this. For God's sake, let's just allow kids to be kids.
"Whatever the artistic view of the merits of that sort of stuff - frankly I don't think there are any - just allow kids to be kids," he told the Nine Network.
But Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery ruled that it did not believe a case could be made out against Henson under section 91G of the NSW Crimes Act, which prohibits the use of children for pornographic purposes.
Prosecutors also advised that charges against the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery under Section 91H for the "production, dissemination or possession of child pornography" would be difficult to prove.
The laws carry jail terms of up to 14 years.
NSW Police metropolitan assistant commissioner Catherine Burn said: "Matters involving the law and art are notoriously difficult, and that is why police sought legal advice.
"The advice given to us is that a successful prosecution was unlikely.
"The art works will be returned to the gallery."
Henson said: "It is reassuring to see existing laws, having been rigorously tested, still provide a framework in which debate and expression of ideas can occur."
Henson described as "profoundly humbling" the support he received throughout the three-week investigation, which sparked a global debate between the arts world and child protection advocates. He also conceded that this had more to do with the principles at stake than the artistic merits of his work.
"Of course I recognise that much of this support came from the desire of many people to voice their commitment to more general principles," Henson said.
Gallery owner Roslyn Oxley thanked the many people who had offered support to her gallery and Henson over the past two weeks.
Hugh Macken of the NSW Law Society argued, "Nudity is not obscenity. The law is very simple: if you display a child in a sexual context, it's child pornography. These photographs never did that."
But children's rights activist Hetty Johnston declared it was "a great day for pedophiles, a sad day for Australia".
She told The Weekend Australian last night she was one of the three people who issued a complaint to police about Henson's photographs, and she intended to continue her fight against state and federal laws that allowed images of naked underage girls to be taken and circulated as art.
"It's just incomprehensible to us that, as a nation, we don't have laws that protect our children from commercial sexual exploitation," she said. "We all understand artistic protection is important - we get that. But child protection is more important."
Ms Johnston plans to consult legal advisers to examine the legislation and lobby for change.
NSW Premier Morris Iemma thanked police for their investigative work.
"My personal opinion remains clear: these photographs crossed the line and were inappropriate," he said. "I can't understand how a parent could allow a child to be photographed in this way."