Supreme Court to decide on child porn victim restitution

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

WASHINGTON -- A woman whose childhood rapes by her uncle were captured on camera and widely traded on the Internet wants the Supreme Court to make it easier for victims of child pornography to collect money from people who view the brutal images on their computers.

The case being argued Wednesday at the Supreme Court involves a Texas man who pleaded guilty to having images of children engaged in sex acts on his computer. Doyle Randall Paroline is appealing an order holding him responsible for the full amount of losses, nearly $3.4 million, suffered by the woman known as Amy. Of the several hundred incriminating images on Paroline's computer, just two were of Amy.

Advocates for child pornography victims say holding defendants liable for the entire amount of losses better reflects the ongoing harm victims suffer each time someone views the images online. The threat of a large financial judgment, coupled with a prison term, also might deter some people from looking at the images in the first place, advocates say.

"The threat that a person in the child pornography market may well bear the entire cost of the harm done to the victim, even if they are a 'minor player,' is likely to be a large deterrent, especially when the harm done typically runs into the millions for a victim's lifetime of care," said Yeshiva University law professor Marci Hamilton. Ms. Hamilton wrote a brief in the case on behalf of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. The money is intended to cover the cost of her psychological care, lost income and attorneys' fees.

Thirty-four states, dozens of victims' rights and child advocacy groups, local prosecutors and members of Congress are urging the court to uphold the ruling against Paroline by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

No one has intervened on Paroline's behalf. But his lawyer, Stanley Schneider of Houston, said in court papers that there is no link between the restitution ordered by the appeals court and Paroline's conduct. "An award of $3.4 million against an individual for possessing two images of child pornography is punitive and grossly disproportionate," he said.

The $3.4 million estimate on the damages to the victim was calculated by a psychologist working for James Marsh, an attorney for Amy.

The issue centers on the interpretation of the federal law granting restitution to victims of sex crimes, including child pornography. Regardless of the outcome of the court case, Congress could change the law. The U.S. Sentencing Commission recommended that lawmakers consider doing just that to eliminate confusion among federal judges about the right way to calculate restitution.

Amy's lawyers estimate that tens of thousands of people worldwide have collected and viewed Amy's images. Since 2005, there have been about 2,000 prosecutions in federal court that, like Paroline's, included images of the rapes, for which Amy's uncle spent about 10 years in prison and paid a few thousand dollars for counseling sessions for Amy.



Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here