(5 of 5)
Most Americans are savvy when it comes to making distinctions between a kid being abused and one coming of age in a healthy way. Lots of viewers laughed five years ago when Friends explored the relationship between Phoebe's high-school-age brother and his teacher. ("If that doesn't keep kids in school, what will?" Chandler wondered.) On Six Feet Under last season, Claire, a sexually active character in high school, made out with an older photographer, and viewers hardly seemed to notice the age difference. Americans buy plenty of garments from Calvin Klein and Abercrombie & Fitch, which showcase all-but-hairless flesh--often that of teen models--in their arty ads.
Ultimately, Friends and Six Feet Under stay on the air because the teen-sex story lines find the right side of a standard that makes sense to most people: if an individual is harmed, then it's abuse. Last week the U.S. Supreme Court adopted that standard in a 6-to-3 decision on child pornography. The court rejected a 1996 congressional ban on "virtual" child porn--pictures that use young-looking adults or computer-generated images to simulate children. "These images do not involve, let alone harm, any children in the production process," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy.
With the church scandal still roiling, it wasn't a propitious moment to strike a blow in favor of kiddie porn, and many lashed out at the court. But those who have studied pedophilia say society never seems quite ready to explore the delicate issues surrounding sex and kids. "People want to see a monster when they say 'pedophile,'" says Berlin. "But the best public-safety approach on pedophilia is to provide these people with treatment. That will prevent future victimization." In other words, asking questions about pedophilia may make us squirm, but it may also be the first step toward ending it.
--With reporting by Amanda Bower, Sora Song and Deirdre van Dyk/New York