Commonsense Conservative For Ohio


National Review Online: No Breaks for Child-Porn Criminals

By Senator Rob Portman

May 01, 2014


Child pornography is a horrific crime that forever robs children of their innocence. Over the years, Congress has enacted laws both to criminally punish people who possess or trade in child pornography and to require criminals to fully compensate their victims for the damage they have caused. A Supreme Court decision last week, however, severely undermined these laws, making it more difficult — if not impossible — for victims to recover restitution from the convicted criminals who continue to harm them.

Restitution is critical for victims of child pornography, many of whom require expensive ongoing psychological treatment for emotional scars that never truly heal. One of those victims is a woman who goes by the pseudonym “Amy.” When Amy was four years old, her uncle began to sexually abuse her, and he photographed the abuse. This abuse continued for five years, until her uncle was finally arrested.

It’s hard to imagine the trauma Amy endured, but she fought back. After years of difficult therapy, she managed to lead a semblance of normal life, doing well in her new high school and becoming, to all outward appearances, an ordinary teenager. But then, when she was 17, photographs of Amy’s abuse taken by her uncle began to circulate among child-pornography rings via the Internet. Amy suffered a breakdown and fell into a deep depression. It is estimated that thousands of individuals around the world are now in possession of photographs of Amy’s abuse. As she testified in court, every day “it’s like I am being abused over and over again.”
But Amy fought back — again. Using a provision in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that requires mandatory restitution, Amy began to pursue restitution against those convicted of possessing images of her abuse. This provision made use of the longstanding principle of joint and several liability. According to this doctrine, when a group of people harms someone, each member of the group is responsible for the full restitution owed to the victim. If one of the abusers feels he has paid too much, he can take it up in court in a lawsuit against his fellow abusers. Our main concern is taking care of the victim’s needs.

That was the intent of the restitution clause passed by Congress. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that Congress had not spoken clearly enough and held that these criminals are not individually responsible for fully compensating their victims. As the dissenting justices recognized, this could mean that Amy “will be stuck litigating for years to come” if she is ever to fully recover from those who have harmed her.

There will be some debate over whether the Court correctly interpreted VAWA. But for Amy and thousands of others who have suffered because of child pornography, that debate doesn’t really matter. They want to know if Congress can fix this. Fortunately, we can.

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