Child pornography leaves in its wake a trail of tragedy and shattered life. While public policy may never eradicate this evil altogether, it can at least alleviate the suffering of its victims. That’s exactly what Senator Hatch has sought to do with a groundbreaking new proposal that will provide justice for victims of child pornography.
Few could name a more traumatic experience than being sexually abused during childhood. But photographs or video of that abuse circulating on the Internet can turn a victim’s life into a never-ending nightmare. The Supreme Court itself has acknowledged that “every viewing of child pornography is a repetition of the victim’s abuse.”
One recent study found that 70 percent of adults who are victims of child pornography worry about being recognized by someone who has seen their sexual abuse images. And their worries are not unfounded: an estimated 30 percent of victims have actually reported being recognized. Victims also worry about images and videos of their abuse being used to facilitate the sexual abuse of other children in the same way such images were used by their tormentors.
The growing menace of child pornography is perpetuated by everyone in the chain of its creation, distribution, and consumption. Each step in this cycle is driven by the other. And while we may never know the number and identity of all the people who contribute to this heinous practice, we do know that the harm caused to its victims never ends.
The ongoing nature of child pornography’s harm means that its victims can require lifelong treatment to address their chronic distress. The “ordinary” path of growing up can be challenging enough; for child pornography victims, it can be unbearable.
That’s why more than two decades ago, Congress sought to help victims of child sexual abuse by requiring that defendants pay restitution to cover “all a victim’s losses.” That worked reasonably well for crimes in which a particular defendant caused finite harm to an individual victim. That statute, however, was enacted before the Internet became the primary method of child pornography trafficking. And in a 2014 case argued by University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell, the Supreme Court made it clear that this statute cannot provide meaningful restitution for most child pornography victims.
In an effort to update our laws for the digital age, Senator Hatch has introduced the Amy, Vicky, and Andy Child Pornography Victim Assistance Act, named after the victims of some of the most widely circulated child pornography series in the world. “Amy” brought her case to the Supreme Court and “Andy,” who is aided by the tireless advocates at the Utah Crime Victims Legal Clinic, is a Utah resident.
Under this legislation-which already has nearly two dozen bipartisan co-sponsors-victims will be able to choose which form of assistance will help them most. For those seeking restitution from defendants, this bill revises the criteria and options for judges to calculate losses and impose restitution. Victims may, as an alternative, apply for a one-time payment from the existing Crime Victims Fund maintained by the Department of Justice.
Importantly, this commonsense proposal also gives victims the same access to evidence, such as images and videos, that defendants already have. Access to evidence can be important, for example, if a victim pursues a civil action in which the identity of the victim must be proved.
National and state organizations active in prosecuting criminals and helping victims have endorsed this innovative legislation. Such groups include the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, National Center for Victims of Crime, National District Attorneys Association, National Crime Victim Bar Association, National Organization for Victim Assistance, and National Crime Victims Law Institute. The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children-one of the leading organizations in the fight against child pornography-has also voiced its strong support for this bill.
This legislation is the right prescription because it is based on the right understanding of the unique ways in which child pornography hurts its victims. These young men and women desperately need our help, which is why we call on Congress to pass this bill without delay.