- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2014

The Supreme Court will delve into the sordid world of child pornography this week with a case that could break legal ground in the fight to curb juvenile porn — whether victims can seek full damages not only from their abusers but also from the people who produce, distribute and possess the illegal images.

The case, which the high court will hear Wednesday, has the potential to rock the secretive world of child pornography. Few people’s fortunes could withstand rulings that require multimillion-dollar payouts to dozens, even hundreds, of victims.


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Forcing offenders to pay full restitution to a victim “does nothing but good,” said Donna Rice Hughes, president of Enough is Enough, one of the anti-pornography advocates closely watching the case. It is well-known, she said, that every time child pornography is viewed, “the victim is re-victimized.”

But most federal courts have ruled that a defendant can be held responsible only for specific harms caused by his or her specific conduct, greatly limiting the liability of many of those who must pay damages.


The case centers on “Amy Unknown,” an unidentified woman who is seeking $3.36 million in lifetime restitution from Doyle R. Paroline, a Texas man who was caught with two of Amy’s images in his child pornography collection.

In 1997, when she was 8, Amy was repeatedly abused sexually by her uncle, Eugene Zebroski.

He photographed her, and soon “extremely graphic” pictures of Amy’s molestation and rape were being widely shared on the Internet. Some 35,000 images of her have been found in 3,200 child pornography cases, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Amy has sought damages in dozens of criminal cases involving these images and won awards of various, often small, amounts. She estimates that the damage to her over her lifetime is worth $3.36 million because she is unable to hold a job as a result of anxieties over the widespread viewing of her photos.

“Every day of my life, I live in constant fear that someone will see my pictures and recognize me and that I will be humiliated all over again,” she said in a 2008 victim impact statement.

The 1994 Violence Against Women Act contained a provision for mandatory restitution for the “full amount” of losses of sexual abuse victims. The issue before the Supreme Court is what relationship the government must establish between the victim and a defendant in order to recover restitution. At its most far-reaching, Amy could seek the full damage amount from every Internet user who downloaded her image.

Amy’s case

In 2009, Paroline pleaded guilty — and was sentenced to prison for 24 months — for possessing some 300 images of child pornography on a computer. Two of the images were of Amy, but a court ordered him to pay the full amount of the losses Amy claimed.

But when Amy sought to collect, a federal judge said Paroline owed her nothing because she couldn’t prove that his viewing of her photos directly caused her suffering. In October 2012, by a 10-5 vote, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision and, citing the Violence Against Women Act, said Paroline must pay Amy’s full restitution amount, which was based on an estimate of damages by a psychologist hired by Amy’s legal team.

Paroline, represented by Houston lawyer Stanley G. Schneider and colleagues, appealed to the Supreme Court.

They argued that Paroline is constitutionally protected from an unreasonably large restitution payment — especially in a case like his, in which the criminal and the victim are unknown to each other. There has been no evidence that “any of Amy’s losses” are “traceable to Paroline’s conduct,” Mr. Schneider said in a brief.

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