An intimate photograph of a father cradling his sick child in the shower has become the subject of a legal battle with the Arizona Department of Child Safety. If the DCS succeeds, photographer Heather Whitten, the child’s mother, will be convicted of “neglect” for posting the photo.
The photograph, which was taken in November of 2014, first made headlines in May of 2016 after Facebook repeatedly removed the viral image. The photo shows Whitten’s husband Thomas cradling their then-one-year-old son Fox in a cold shower. Fox had salmonella poisoning, and was suffering from both a high fever and diarrhea.
In May, our story was about how Facebook had censored the controversial image, but someone who saw the photo actually filed a complaint with the local authorities. The police said straight away that they would not bring any charges against the Whittens; however, Heather claims an investigator from the DCS took a very strong and negative interest in their case despite not having any real substantial claims against them.
“The only claim she was able to suggest be substantiated against me [and me alone] was that I neglected to supervise our children by allowing their images to be online and so put them at an unreasonable risk of harm,” says Whitten. “This goes against Arizona’s very definition of neglect and encroaches on my right as an artist to share my work with the public.”
If the claim is substantiated, Whitten will be added to Arizona’s Central Registry for 25 years, marking the end of her ability to adopt, foster, or even work with children as a photographer.
There is currently a Change.org petition with over 16,000 signatures in support of Whitten, and her day in court is coming up. The next step in the legal process—namely: whether or not the case will be thrown out—will be determined at an administrative hearing on February 3rd.
To support Heather or find out more about her story, click here.
Image credits: Photograph by Heather Whitten and used with permission.