- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Adults whose images have been used for child pornography on the Internet will be allowed to sue for damages under bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate this week.

The bill, dubbed “Masha’s Law” for a Russian orphan who was sexually exploited by her American adoptive father, also would boost civil damages from $50,000 to $150,000.

“It’s really a sad statement that we have tougher penalties for downloading music than for downloading sick images of infants and children,” said the bill’s author, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat.

“What happened to Masha was a terrible tragedy that should never be repeated,” said bill co-sponsor Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican. “Unfortunately, reminders of her horrific ordeal remain posted on the Internet for all to see every day.”

Child pornography is a multibillion-dollar business, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Mr. Kerry was inspired to craft the legislation after learning about Masha, who was 5 years old when she was adopted from Russia in 1998 by Matthew Mancuso, a divorced engineer from the Pittsburgh area.

Mancuso started sexually abusing Masha soon after she arrived, and during the next five years he posted hundreds of explicit pictures of her on the Internet.

Law-enforcement officials eventually located Mancuso, and he has been convicted and imprisoned for child sexual abuse and for producing and possessing child pornography.

However, lewd pictures of Masha remain on the Internet.

Current law allows child-exploitation victims under age 18 to sue pornography purveyors for $50,000 in damages in federal court.

The Kerry-Isakson bill would change the law to allow child-exploitation victims to sue for damages that occur after they become adults.

The bill also would raise civil damages to $150,000 — the same amount allowed for infringement of federal copyright law.

“We felt that a strong civil penalty would carry equally as much weight as a strong criminal penalty, and at the same time provide some kind of justice and some kind of equity for the victims of these crimes,” said Maureen Flatley, a Boston-area adoption advocate who has been working on Masha’s legal case.

Masha, now 13 and adopted by a new family, has started to speak out to protect other children. CNN told her story anonymously in June. and earlier this month ABC newsmagazine “Primetime” interviewed her and told her story in greater detail.

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