Kids For Sale: Child Pornography?

Why would a 14-year-old participate in a pornographic video?

Patti is 14, a high school freshman and an aspiring artist. Michael is 17, a senior at the same school, and already a published, award-winning poet. He hopes, one day, to make it in the music business. Both live in upscale Palm Beach County, Florida.

At a local recreation center in December, 2001, these two teenagers, along with three schoolmates, got together to make a porn video. Patti, which is not her real name, had sexual intercourse with two of the boys, after being promised the chance to make $2,000.

It left their parents shocked, and the kids in court. Bill Lagattuta reports.

"They were producing child pornography. And according to their statements, to be distributed on the Internet," says prosecutor Lanna Belohlavek.

How could kids this young be involved in something like this? That's the question people in the community were asking. No one wanted answers more than Michael and Patti's parents.

"She's artistic, a real smart girl," says Bob, Patti's father. "She's always had good grades until she got sidetracked. Physically, she was well developed. I would describe her as a young 14-year-old.

"She falls to peer pressure a lot," says her mother, Marla.

Patti had the All-American upbringing: Brownies, girl scouts, soccer on Sunday, cheerleading, choir, and Hebrew school. Her father says that before the controversy, they had a fairly typical family life.

Michael, Frank and Susanne's son, was the answer to a prayer. After numerous failed pregnancies, they adopted. "He couldn't have had two more loving parents," says his father, Frank.

At age four, he started learning karate. He now has a room full of trophies from karate and other sports.

"They've been the best parents that I could ask for," Michael says.

Though they barely knew each other, Michael approached Patti one day and offered her the chance to earn $2,000 if she would make a pornographic video. She says she did it willingly. She thought it was "normal."

For proof of how normal it is, they say, just turn on the TV any night: "Cable television because, you know, as soon as it gets, like, 11 o'clock, they all put adult shows on the air," says Michael.

"Playboy gets paid like millions and millions of dollars just to get like one video out. And everybody knows about it. And they don't get into trouble for it," says Patti.

But the kids did get into trouble: A security guard at the recreation center found out about it and called police.

A few days later police showed up at Patti's house. His father thought at first she was the victim.

Her mother's reaction was different. "My main concern was how she disgraced the family," says Marla. "She was really hurting. But I was so angry and so upset with her that I couldn't get things out fast enough."

The next day, Patti ran away. They found her a couple days later in a bowling alley. But there was no running away from the impact on her life. She lost her friends and her afterschool job. Her parents didn't let her out of the house by herself. School became a struggle and Patti withdrew from classes.

In February 2002, prosecutors filed felony charges against the four boys: lewd and lascivious battery and promoting the sexual performance of a child. Three of boys were charged as juveniles, and took plea bargains. Michael was charged as an adult, and faced a possible 45-year prison term. .

But, Patti was also charged. Says Belohlavek: "The girl herself says. And she indicates clearly that it was consensual on her part. And in fact, done for specific reasons, that being money."

Michael was suspended from school, and did not graduate. Michael spent the summer hanging out, until he finally landed a job as an apprentice plumber.

In September, in a plea agreement, Michael dodged a jail sentence and was given three years probation. For Michael's parents, the whole incident was the last straw. They're getting a divorce.

Patti's parents say she is a victim not a participant. They refuse to accept any plea bargain. They're fighting the case in court. A trial is expected later this month.

Despite all the trouble it has caused, Patti still believes it was no big deal. "We're kids," she says, "we make mistakes."


  • David Kohn

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