“Iam a 19 year old girl and I am a victim of child sex abuse and child pornography. I am still discovering all the ways that the abuse and exploitation I suffer has hurt me … .”
So began the victim impact statement of a young woman who was 8 when she was raped but whose abuse has never ended because the uncle who assaulted her took pictures that have been widely trafficked on the Internet.
“It is hard to describe what it feels like to know that at any moment, anywhere, someone is looking at pictures of me as a little girl being abused by my uncle and is getting some kind of sick enjoyment from it,” she wrote.
The Supreme Court did not dispute her suffering nor her right to receive restitution from viewers who take pleasure in her abuse and create the sordid market demand for child pornography.
But the court set aside the $3.4 million awarded her. Now, Congress needs to fix the law.
The 5-to-4 ruling in Paroline v. United States is a double-edged sword for the advocates of child pornography victims.
It upholds part of the Violence Against Women Act, which calls for restitution to victims such as “Amy Unknown,” as the woman is identified in court papers, but it limits the amount of damages proximate to the harm caused by a specific offender — a standard that puts the burden on the victim and makes it difficult to collect damages.
Doyle Randall Paroline, who pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography that included images of Amy, was ordered by an appeals court to pay all of the $3.4 million owed to Amy for the psychological damage and lost income she suffered. The court’s majority, in an opinion written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, ruled Mr. Paroline should be assessed an amount that is not trivial but comports with “the defendant’s relative role in the causal process that underlies the victim’s general losses.”
Justice Kennedy acknowledged his approach “is not without difficulties.”
How should a court calculate the harm caused by one person’s possession of an image seen by thousands? Mathematically dividing the total amount by the number of estimated views produces an amount so small as to be insulting rather than therapeutic.
What, in short, is the right number between zero and $3.4 million?
The justices are correct in thinking Congress should revisit the issue.
Legislation that was set to be introduced Wednesday by Sens. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, seems to be a step in the right direction, with its outline of options for full victim recovery when multiple individuals are involved and giving multiple defendants who harmed the same victim the ability to sue each other to spread the cost of restitution.
The court was clear in its opinion “the victim should someday collect restitution for all her child pornography losses.”
Congress needs to provide the tools to turn that someday into reality.
— Washington Post
Rules for posting comments
Comments posted below are from readers. In no way do they represent the view of Oahu Publishing Inc. or this newspaper. This is a public forum.
Comments may be monitored for inappropriate content but the newspaper is under no obligation to do so. Comment posters are solely responsible under the Communications Decency Act for comments posted on this Web site. Oahu Publishing Inc. is not liable for messages from third parties.
IP and email addresses of persons who post are not treated as confidential records and will be disclosed in response to valid legal process.
Do not post:
- Potentially libelous statements or damaging innuendo.
- Obscene, explicit, or racist language.
- Copyrighted materials of any sort without the express permission of the copyright holder.
- Personal attacks, insults or threats.
- The use of another person's real name to disguise your identity.
- Comments unrelated to the story.
If you believe that a commenter has not followed these guidelines, please click the FLAG icon below the comment.