Courts Split on Levels of Restitution to Online Child Porn Victims

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“Amy” is a woman in her 20s whose uncle posted lewd photos of her online. Her lawyer is seeking financial restitution in the courts, not from the perpetrator but from the untold number of people who subsequently download the pornographic images, says the American Bar Association Journal. Under the Crime Victims' Rights Act, the government must notify Amy and other child porn victims anytime anyone is arrested by federal authorities for possessing their images. Her attorney, James Marsh of New York City, has received at least 1,500 required notices of federal prosecutions.

Almost any time Marsh receives a notice of prosecution on Amy's behalf, he files a request for more than $3 million to cover all of Amy's psychological treatment, lost income, and attorney fees. Marsh believes Amy is the first child pornography victim to use federal crime victim restitution laws in this way, and one of a very few nationwide. Federal courts have awarded restitution in less than the full amount requested. “I think it's an unsurprising reaction to a really hard set of questions,” says law Prof. Douglas Berman of Ohio State University. “Connecting the causation dots between the suffering of the victim and the nature of the offense is textured, to say the least.” Federal appeals courts are split on whether the victim's losses must be proximately caused by the possession.

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