Bill would address Supreme Court ruling on porn victims

Effort seeks ‘full restitution’ from porn viewers

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Reacting to a recent Supreme Court decision, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that, in certain cases, would force people convicted of possessing child pornography to pay at least $25,000 in restitution to the victim.

The measure would rewrite a section of the Violence Against Women Act and make it easier for victims of child pornography to be granted “full restitution” from felons who have made, distributed or viewed images of their sexual abuse online.

The push follows an April 23 Supreme Court ruling in Paroline v. United States that, in essence, told federal courts to figure out how to assign a nontrivial amount of restitution to child-pornography victims. Currently, with little guidance from the law, courts have set awards ranging from zero to millions of dollars in restitution for victims of child pornography from those who collect and pass along their images.

Child pornography “is one of the most vicious crimes, one of the most evil crimes, in our society,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, said on the Senate floor Wednesday to introduce the Amy and Vicky Child Pornography Victim Restitution Improvement Act of 2014.

“Victims of child pornography suffer a unique kind of harm and deserve a unique restitution process,” said Mr. Hatch, who sponsored the legislation with Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and six other colleagues.

Under the bill, the law and its penalties are clarified, including minimum payments of $250,000 for production of child pornography, $150,000 for distribution of child pornography and $25,000 for possession of child pornography.

“The tragic effect of the Supreme Court’s decision in Paroline was this: The more widely viewed the pornographic image of a victim, and the more offenders there are, the more difficult it is for the victim to recover for her anguish and her damages,” said Mr. Schumer. There “should not be safety in numbers,” he added.

The restitution bill would require a court to consider the “total harm” to the victim, including harm from individuals who have not been identified; mandates “real and timely” restitution; and allows defendants to “spread the restitution costs” among themselves, Mr. Hatch and Mr. Schumer said.

“It is the intent of Congress that victims of child pornography be fully compensated for all the harms resulting from each and every perpetrator who contributes to their anguish,” the bill says. Victims’ losses include health care, therapy, physical and occupational rehabilitation, housing and child care expenses, lifetime lost income and attorneys’ fees.

James Marsh, a longtime advocate for restitution for child-pornography victims, said the 5-4 April Paroline ruling forces “victims to forever chase defendants and recover next to nothing.” The new bill, however, “creates a practical process” that ensures timely restitution for victims and “puts the burden on defendants, where it belongs,” he wrote on the Marsh Law Firm’s ChildLaw blog.

The Texas man at the center of the Supreme Court case — Doyle R. Paroline — admitted to having nearly 300 child pornography images, including two of “Amy Unknown” and was originally ordered to pay all of the $3.4 million award the victim had been awarded for all the viewers who had downloaded her image. He was defended by court-appointed attorney Stanley Schneider of Houston. Mr. Schneider has said he will fight efforts to assign restitution to his client.

A spokesman for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers was not immediately available to comment on the bill. The District-based group is holding a conference later this year in Nevada on “Zealous Advocacy in Sexual Assault & Child Victims Cases.” Topics include how to handle accusations of file-sharing in child pornography cases.

Sen. Ed Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, and Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John McCain of Arizona, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Rob Portman of Ohio are also co-sponsors of the bill.

The “Amy” in the bill’s title refers to “Amy Unknown,” a woman whose pictures of rape and abuse by her uncle when she was around 9 years old have been widely circulated. “Vicky” is the pseudonym of another victim whose father began raping her at age 10; he took “orders” from men to make videos of her being bound and sodomized. Vicky and “Andy,” a victim who was raped by a male volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah, filed a brief in support of full restitution in the Paroline case.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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