Senator Hatch Introduces the Amy and Vicky Child Pornography Victim Restitution Improvement Act of 2015 – S. 295
Sexually exploiting a child distorts her life and leaves scars that last long after the abuse itself ends and the abuser has been prosecuted. For this reason, the Violence Against Women Act includes a provision requiring that in such cases a defendant must pay restitution to cover all of the victim’s losses. Those losses can include future lost income as well as medical care, mental health counseling, and therapy.
Child pornography isn’t merely the record of a child’s sexual abuse. It is itself an instance of abuse. The ongoing trafficking in those images piles harm upon harm. As a result, it becomes even more difficult for a victim to put together a life that was shattered before it had barely begun. As the Supreme Court has recognized, “every viewing of child pornography is a repetition of the victim’s abuse.”
The current restitution statute was enacted in 1994, before the Internet became prime real estate for trafficking of child pornography. It puts victims in an impossible bind. In a case decided last spring, the Supreme Court said that the current restitution statute requires a victim to prove how much of her losses were specifically caused by a single defendant’s possession of her images. With a burden like that, it’s no wonder that under this statute victims receive no restitution at all in more than three-quarters of child pornography cases.
The cruel irony today is that the more individuals who participate in harming a victim, the less any of them is financially responsible, and the less timely help the victim will receive. Perpetrators are easily lost in a crowd.
The bill I introduce today will amend the restitution statute so that it works for child pornography victims. It is named for Amy and Vicky, brave women who are the victims in two of the most widely viewed child pornography series in the world. Amy’s case went before the Supreme Court last year and my staff worked with the legal team for these women in developing this bill.
I want to mention in particular James Marsh, whose legal practice in New York focuses exclusively on helping victims; Professor Paul Cassell at the University of Utah, who argued Amy’s case before the Supreme Court; and Carol Hepburn, who practices law in Seattle on behalf of Vicky and many other victims.
This bill changes the current restitution statute in three important ways so that it works for child pornography victims. First, it gives judges options for determining a victim’s losses and calculating restitution. Second, it gives judges the ability to impose restitution on defendants in different kinds of cases to ensure that victims actually receive meaningful restitution. Third, it shifts the burden of chasing defendants all over the country from victims to defendants who can share the restitution costs with other defendants.
Both Amy and Vicky personally support this bill. I am also pleased that many national victim advocacy groups support this bill including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the National Organization for Victim Assistance, the National Crime Victim Law Institute, the National Center for Victims of Crime, and the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women. Last October I received a letter endorsing this bill signed by the attorneys general of 43 states, 22 Republicans and 21 Democrats.
I want to share with my colleagues the story of a young man, a Utah resident who uses the name Andy. He was sexually abused by a trusted adult and family friend between the ages of seven and twelve. Dr. David Corwin, the University of Utah child psychologist who examined him said, based on 30 years of experience with child sexual abuse victims, that the images and videos of Andy’s abuse were the most disturbing he had ever seen.
According to the FBI, the images and videos created from Andy’s abuse are one of the most widely distributed boy series in the country. The FBI says that, as of last month, Andy is a named victim in 726 cases. He has been granted restitution in 24 of the 101 cases in which he requested it and has collected anything at all in only two cases.
Andy wrote to support the bill that I am introducing today. He addressed his letter to members of the United States Congress, which means that he is writing to each member of this body. Andy says that this legislation will prevent him from having to spend decades trying to recover minuscule amounts of restitution from hundreds, if not thousands, of defendants all over the country.
I want my colleagues to hear his words: “My images may never be taken off the Internet and may always be circulating around the country. At least with this congressional change, I can start to heal, learn how to handle my circumstances, and re-build my life.”
There are many more Amys, Vickys, and Andys than any of us want to admit and they need our help. In our system of government, we have the responsibility to pass or change legislation to address issues and problems that Americans face. All the courts could do was confirm that the current restitution statue is no longer suited to help child pornography victims. It is now up to us to do our duty and enact a statute that will.
Amy, Vicky, and Andy are counting on us and we must not let them down.