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Senate Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Child Pornography Restitution

On March 19, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigation held a hearing, “Child Exploitation Restitution Following the Paroline v. United States Decision.” The hearing focused on better understanding how to compensate victims of child exploitation and rework the system of child pornography restitution. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation to address such restitution on February 11 (see The Source, 2/13/15).

Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) explained that the hearing was held in response to the Supreme Court case, Paroline v. United States, which held that victims may seek restitution from a perpetrator only to the extent that the perpetrator is the proximate cause of the victim’s harm. Rep Goodlatte continued, “In that case, a young woman, who goes by the name ‘Amy,’ was raped by her uncle when she was a very young child. Like so many other victims, she was horrified to discover, years later, that pictures of her most painful memories were favorites of sick online communities.” He added, “It is estimated that because of her initial abuse and constant revictimization through the trafficking in her images, the cost of Amy’s lost wages and other damages will be more than $3 million dollars over the course of her lifetime. Using 18 U.S.C. Section 2259 [the Mandatory Restitution for Victims of Sex Crimes Act], Amy has sought restitution from hundreds of sex offenders caught with her images on their computers.”

Jill Steinberg, national coordinator for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, Department of Justice, explained that “Every day, individuals around the world advertise, distribute, transport, receive, possess, and access child pornography. These images of child sexual abuse are moved from computer to smart phone to tablet to cloud storage and back, seamlessly and instantly crisscrossing international borders without detection. When sexually explicit images of children become actively traded, those victims necessarily will be implicated in hundreds of otherwise unrelated cases all over the country and across time. In this way, victims of the trade and circulation of child pornography are unique among crime victims. Because of the mechanics of the crime committed against them, they continually suffer harm caused by countless individuals all over the country and the world.”

In suggesting an alternative means to compensate victims, Ms. Steinberg stated, “The department urges Congress to create an alternative system to allow victims of the distribution and collection of child pornography to obtain some measure of compensation without having to endure litigation. Under this system, child pornography defendants would be ordered to pay a special assessment in addition to any restitution they may owe. The special assessment would go into a fund. Victims of these types of child pornography offenses could then choose whether to present their full restitution claims in court, as is currently done, or to obtain a onetime payment of administrative compensation.”

The following witnesses also testified:

  • Paul G. Cassell, professor of Criminal Law, University of Utah College of Law;
  • Jonathan Turley, professor, George Washington University Law School; and
  • Grier Weeks, executive director, National Association to Protect Children.
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