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Getty Images Has Removed Photos of Sexually Exploited Children, but It Must Do More

Getty Images Has Removed Photos of Sexually Exploited Children, but It Must Do More

A girl, perhaps barely in her teens, stands alone in a dimly lit room, her hair obscuring her face. She’s naked from the waist up, the front of her torso is visible, and she wears little more than socks from the waist down. The caption labels her a child prostitute and lists her hometown. Until this week, this photo was available to purchase from Getty Images.

(Please note: this article does not even share an edited version of this photograph because the room in which the child stands could make her identifiable. I never want to see this image again.)

Over the past 10 days, Getty has removed a number of images — possibly in the hundreds or thousands, though the company will not confirm the figure — from its archives. Photographs of sexually exploited children were available to purchase, a small number of which were indecent. Many featured children that were identifiable, often with captions that included their full name, age, and location.

Getty Images 9 year old sexually exploited

The caption names the 9-year-old sexually exploited child and states her hometown. This image has since been removed.

The issue was raised with Getty last week, observing that UNICEF, an organization tasked by the United Nations to protect children, is unequivocal on whether this is acceptable. There is no journalistic justification for identifying a sexually exploited child. Names should be changed or omitted, faces should be obscured.

It’s also worth noting that U.K. law makes it clear that victims of sexual abuse or exploitation — adults and children alike — must be given anonymity for life from the moment that an allegation is made. How photographic agencies around the world have been able to ignore this as a guiding principle for so long is an appalling indictment of their ethics.

In the world of photojournalism, photographs of suffering, vulnerable, and exploited children from developing countries are almost a currency of their own. The intentions of the photojournalist — usually from the West — are typically noble, seeking to shine a light on people’s misfortune.

Getty 14 year old sexually exploited child

In the image above, the caption names the child, describes her as a "low-paid prostitute," and gives the part of the city where she works. "An inordinate desire for physical pleasure led her to choose this trade," it continues, "through which she can satisfy her insatiable craving for wild sex." The child is 14 years old.

In describing its corporate values, Getty says: "We strive to treat all people, with respect." The image has since been removed.

Critics frequently draw a comparison between the treatment of children in developed countries with that of the rest of the world. A child being sexually abused and exploited in the U.S. would never have their face, identity, and location shared and sold on the internet by a huge corporation, so why are children from Asia, Africa, and South America frequently treated differently?

Getty Images 13 year old prostitute

This image has been removed from Getty Images.

Robert Godden, director of human rights advocacy group Rights Exposure and former advisor to Amnesty International, argues that the justifications offered by photojournalists are sometimes misguided. While photography can be a tool for change, its impact can be exaggerated. Godden told me: “The truth is often that the issues are well known in the country where they are happening and that ‘exposure’ is not always the most effective intervention. When photographers and agencies justify an image through a generic claim of advocacy potential, we really need to interrogate that claim. This way, we stop it being used as a justification, and it allows us to understand when and where photography has most utility.” Selling an identifiable image of a child that has been subjected to sexual exploitation or abuse through a stock library strikes me as hard to justify.

'High Ethical Standards'

“We know that what we do matters in the world," says an archived version of the Getty website, "and that our images are trusted only so long as we hold ourselves to high ethical standards.” Anne Flanagan, Senior Director and Head of External Communications informed me of the following:

We reviewed our archive for compliance with our contemporary guidelines. As a result of this review, we removed a small number of images from the site and will be notifying impacted contributors and partners.

While it’s reassuring to see Getty taking action to address these images, it’s concerning that despite multiple requests, Flanagan was not able to provide me with the corporation’s policy on its licensing of images of children. “Be Trustworthy, Transparent and Open,” the archived version of the Getty website tells its staff. “Be authentic; insist on honesty and integrity. Raise the bar. Be bold; strive for excellence; don’t settle for less.”

Right now, the pages on Getty’s website detailing its values are broken: it’s a series of titles and no text. Hopefully, this is not a reflection of Getty's recent decision to remove the images, as the photographic industry and the people it serves needs more than bold statements and nothing to go with them.

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13 Comments

Marek Stefech's picture

i think that is just clickbait, nobody cant mean that seriously =)))

Michel Higuet's picture

"The intentions of the photojournalist — usually from the West — are typically noble" Of course not, the intentions are $$$$...Ethical value of the West? What a joke!

Jay Clulow's picture

This is disgusting but I have to ask. Whenever I've contributed to Stock Photography there is an incredibly hard process to upload approved work so how this slips in is beyond me!

Les Sucettes's picture

Now if this is true, then this time I agree, especially with the captions and credentials. What were they purchasable for?

Hans Spruijt's picture

Please read the open letter warning of the spread of “censoriousness” is leading to “an intolerance of opposing views” and “a vogue for public shaming and ostracism”. See more of this and the right to be wrong, to make a mistake in this letter signed by Salman Rushdie and many others: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jul/08/jk-rowling-rushdie-and-atw....

William Mac's picture

Objecting to the taking and sharing of illegal ("indecent") images of children, and having them removed is not "censorious". Its obeying child protection law.

This is not, as you seem to think, "an intolerance of opposing views" .

However I respect your freedom of speech on the matter, so please make your compelling case for permitting the making of such images to occur, and the sale of them to continue unchallenged, as a 'right' which you think is being restricted.

Over to you.....

Hans Spruijt's picture

I am a father of two daughters, I am not against the law (besides professional photographer I was also a diplomat), at least the law of the Netherlands in my case. Thinking for another person what you are doing is in the view of the philosopher Spinoza inadequate, and in this case, Spinoza was right again. I also wrote yesterday evening to F-stoppers in a separate mail, that journalism has to do with facts, news. But already giving an indictment and an execution of e.g. Magnum Photos by Andy Day is resulting in a hampered role of journalism, and a prospect of the role of journalism now seen in de USA under Trump and in the UK under Johnson. And that is exactly Salman Rushdie among others in his open letter are warning for, I am thinking of. So please read his letter.

Hans Spruijt

William Mac's picture

Preventing (this type of) child exploitation does not in any conceivable way hamper journalism.

This is from the Netherlands Govt website:

"Prohibition on access to child pornography'
The Netherlands has laws against the possession, distribution and production of child pornography (article 240b of the Criminal Code). Since 1 January 2010 ‘providing access to child pornography’ has also been prohibited in the Netherlands. It does not matter whether the viewer possesses the child pornography. Anyone providing internet access to child pornography, even without the viewer having to download it, faces a prison sentence of up to four years."

The definition of child pornography (in Holland) is: pictures (photos and videos) of sexual acts of someone that "seems" to be younger than 18 years. (It is the same in the UK and USA and other countries incl Germany etc etc).

The various codes of ethics for journalists in many countries further underline this protection with exhortations to them to not take advantage of "vulnerable people", and indeed in many jurisdictions a journalist may in fact be dealt with more harshly under law because of the abuse of trust placed in them by society.

Your argument about Trump etc is irrelevant here as it has nothing whatsoever to do with "the taking and sharing of indecent images of children".

I'm in favour of freedom of speech and responsible journalism, and in neither circumstance is there any space, nor need, for the taking and trading on the images of vulnerable people as is being discussed here.

Hans Spruijt's picture

Reading seems to difficult for you. I do not make any combination with child exploitation (I am very strongly against it, as a person, as a father, as a photographer, as a governmental official in the past), you're combining that, not me! What's hampering journalism is what Salman Rushdie et all discribed in his open letter and what I have seen om this website by the articles of Andy Day on Magnum Photos and now also Getty Images, not, not, not and again not because I am a person in favour of child-abuse et cetera, but for reasons of the role journalism has to play in society at large. That role is hampering by combining news and facts plus indictments and execution already. Look to Fox International or read The Daily Mirror. That is my only point. The indictment and the consequences of it belong to others than journalists. Mixing these things up is not, absolutely not, responsible journalism, it is in my view amateurism and the beginning of what could deteriorate to something completely wrong and is quite the opposite of freedom of speech et cetera.

William Mac's picture

I'll overlook your ad hominem rebuke - I have no difficulty reading. I can read well enough to see an element of confusion here.

You're making a very contradictory argument, on the one hand pointing readers of this blog to an article claiming that censorship is inhibiting journalistic practice & freedoms, yet on the other hand you are criticising this blog for exercising those freedoms and openly reporting information (in a journalistic way) - information thats already in the public domain and is (or should be) of interest to a photographically-inclined audience, as it is specifically about photographic images of alleged child abuse which are unlawful in many jurisdictions.

Reporting such news is one thing, but if your concern is actually with some 'witch-hunt' that is a consequence of that reporting then I would respectfully suggest your aim here is wrong.

Individuals (in our current digitally connected age) can act on the 'news' they consume or not. If some do choose to do so, shooting the messenger (Day) as seems to be happening here, is actually 'censorious' I would suggest.

Anyway, thanks for engaging, too many commentators (on here, and in other fora) are ill-informed on the very basics of child protection law (which is the main issue here) as it pertains to images, their production, sale and distribution.

Your secondary point that this 'rush to judgement' by the spectators will somehow ultimately inhibit journalistic freedom is one I obviously disagree with....but I respect your right to express that opinion.

Have a good weekend.

Hans Spruijt's picture

Thank you too, but... your reading is totally different than mine and your summing up of my argument is bent to your own ideas, not for the first time, are absolutely not my ideas... And please try to understand that I welcome news and facts also by Day inclusive the things wrong with Magnum Photos and Getty Images, but I totally disagreed with his approach beyond that journalistic duty, that journalistic task. Than that humble, necessary labour ends up in something Salman Rushdie et all are very, very rightly pointing to, and as a journalist and scholar (philosophy) I am aware of. Let's honour the Trias Politica of a state and the important and specific role an independent press has to play in that set of ideas, which could end up in the wellbeing of all people, especially the abused ones.

Have a nice weekend as well

Doug Bardwell's picture

I just wrote an email to Getty's CEO to express my disgust and to request better than "removed SOME images." We'll see how serious they are.

Doug Bardwell's picture

I did receive a reply from Getty - from their Sr. VP - that I questioned. Doing a quick search, it didn't seem like they've done enough. You can see our email thread here: https://dbhas.info/3kmYYM5