A bold gambit to reduce demand for child porn
Federal prosecutors and a New York lawyer are persuading courts to order anyone caught with illicit images to pay financial restitution to child victims.
Federal prosecutors are embracing an aggressive approach to fight the spread of child pornography on the Internet, urging judges across the country to order full restitution to identified child victims in cases where the defendant possessed the images but played no role in their creation.Skip to next paragraph
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Last month, a federal judge in Pensacola ordered a Florida man to pay $3.2 million to one of the children depicted in photos he downloaded to his computer. The judge ordered the payments – for lost income and treatment sessions – though the man had never met or had any contact with the girl.
"Each and every individual who possesses and downloads these images victimizes these children," Senior US District Judge Lacey Collier said.
Generally, restitution is awarded in cases where a defendant's direct actions caused the injuries suffered by the victim. In a child pornography case, the person most responsible for injuring the child is the pedophile who abused the child, recorded images of the abuse, and then traded or sold those images to others.
But child-victim advocates say that is not the only harm. Those who download child pornography help set the stage for future abuse by fostering an active market for such images.
At the urging of child advocates, federal prosecutors are working to convince judges in child pornography possession cases to order full restitution to any child who can be identified among seized images. The approach radically expands personal liability for child pornography beyond those who created and spread the illegal images to anyone who downloads or views the resulting depictions.
This novel – and controversial – strategy is the brainchild of New York lawyer James Marsh. He represents a 20-year-old woman who was raped and sexually abused at age 8 or 9 by an uncle who recorded the abuse and sent the images to a pedophile who requested them. The resulting still photographs have been actively traded on the Internet since 1998.
The woman is identified in court papers as "Amy," and photos of her form the basis of the $3.2 million restitution order in Florida. Her pictures have been among seized materials in more than 700 child pornography cases.
Mr. Marsh has filed restitution claims on Amy's behalf in 200 cases pending in federal court. "For the first time, victims are coming forward to seek restitution under a federal statute which by and large has never been utilized," he says.
At the moment, only two child victims are seeking restitution in ongoing child pornography possession cases. The other victim, who is not represented by Marsh, is a 19-year-old from Washington State who was sexually assaulted by her father when she was 10 and 11. He photographed the abuse and distributed the images on the Internet, where they continue to be downloaded and viewed.
Marsh says he is not seeking restitution for the original crime of sexual assault of a child. His claims on Amy's behalf are based on the idea that those who possess images of his client's abuse are guilty of a current violation of her privacy rights.