Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a ruling in a case called Paroline v. United States. In this case, Paroline was convicted in federal court of child pornography offenses involving a child named Amy (not her real name), who was sexually assaulted by a relative in 1999. (This relative captured the images of Amy’s sexual assault and sent them to others via the Internet. He was convicted.) Paroline was found with some of the images of Amy’s sexual abuse, which began surfacing on the Internet some years after the original offender was convicted. In the law describing the offense and the available punishment for those who traffick in the images of the sexual abuse of children is a provision allowing the victims depicted in these images to receive restitution from the offenders. Restitution, which is ordered in many kinds of criminal cases, is designed to provide reimbursement for things like past or future psychological counseling and lost wages that resulted from the victim’s suffering from this crime.
The issue of restitution in child pornography cases is complicated by a statute written by Congress that many judges, including some on the Supreme Court, find confusing and difficult to comply with. This is compounded by the circumstances that arise almost uniquely in child pornography cases: hundreds or even thousands of offenders unrelated and unknown to each other, and even separated by years between their individual offenses, and who commit crimes in every State in the country, all commit a similar crime against the same victim. In order to receive restitution in any of these cases, victims must appear in the court where the offender is being prosecuted and provide proof of these losses. For six years, Amy and a few other victims have been doing exactly that. Amy has provided information on her need for psychological counseling and other harms in literally hundreds of cases across the US. Her images, however, have been seen in more than 3,200 federal and state cases since 2006.
It is simply impossible for Amy or anyone else to appear in every case where every offender has victimized her. But that, essentially, is what the Supreme Court held yesterday. (When they denied the lower court’s order that Paroline pay Amy the full amount of her claims.) They decided that no single offender should have to pay Amy for her total losses. Rather, Amy must pursue, and prove, her restitution claim in every case her images appear in order to fairly apportion, or divide, her losses among the total pool of offenders. This means that the burden is upon Amy, the victim, to appear in hundreds or even thousands of cases from now until, presumably, the end of time in order to gain compensation for the harm done to her. I’d like to know how on earth any Judge will decide what is a fair apportionment for any given defendant, considering there might be hundreds or thousands of defendants in similar situations in the future. Is this justice for Amy? Not even remotely.
I hope Congress acts quickly to correct this monstrous injustice to victims of child pornography. They are victimized when they are sexually assaulted and again every single time some nasty offender collects, trades, or distributes the images of that sexual abuse. Now, it seems, they will continue to be victimized by being forced into multiple courts, facing multiple offenders, and likely for many years, before they are able to recover for their losses. Every single offender owes Amy full restitution. (And, the law is clear, once she receives the full amount, she is entitled to no more.) The Court, however, has essentially said that each offender will benefit from the deviant marketplace they themselves have helped create and will only owe Amy and others like her some small, and certainly incomplete, portion of her losses. She will be forced to repeatedly pursue her claims. Once again, pedophile offenders escape responsibility and victims are denied justice. Why is justice only swift and sure for those hurting kids? http://bit.ly/1mJjy8Z