House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee Hearing on the AVA: Child Exploitation Restitution Following the Paroline v. United States Decision
2141 Rayburn House Office Building
By Direction of the Chairman
Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations
Ms. Jill E. Steinberg
National Coordinator for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction
U.S. Department of Justice
The Honorable Paul G. Cassell
Professor of Criminal Law
University of Utah College of Law
Mr. Jonathan Turley
George Washington University Law School
Mr. Grier Weeks
National Association to Protect Children
The Honorable Bob Goodlatte
The harms that result from the sexual abuse of children are horrible, and too lengthy to list. These harms last long after the abuse ends. Importantly for our hearing today, they can also be incredibly expensive. The cost of finding a new home, on-going therapy, and other care quickly adds up for the victims of child exploitation. Over the victim’s lifetime, this sum can range into the millions of dollars. Our laws rightly allow victims to seek financial restitution from their abusers, but this is not the end of the story.
Having endured horrific abuse, these children are often confronted with the fact that photos and videos of that abuse are being traded and collected by hundreds of thousands of pedophiles on the Internet. Even children victimized before digital cameras became widespread are now faced with the knowledge that in the Internet Age, a detailed visual record of the darkest moments of their lives exists, is in wide distribution online, and is hungrily sought by pedophiles around the world.
To better compensate victims of child exploitation, Congress expanded restitution liability to those who produce and traffic in the pornographic images stemming from that exploitation. Unfortunately, to date, these efforts have done little to get sex offenders’ money into the hands of their victims.
In the nearly twenty years since the child exploitation restitution statute, 18 U.S.C. Section 2259, was enacted, only fifteen victims of child exploitation trafficking, out of more than 8,600 known victims, have actually sought restitution from those defendants trading their images.
The Supreme Court case we are here to consider today, Paroline v. United States, arose only because of the few brave victims who have sought the restitution they are due. In that case, a young woman, who goes by the name “Amy,” was raped by her uncle when she was a very young child. Like so many other victims, she was horrified to discover, years later, that pictures of her most painful memories were favorites of sick online communities.
It is estimated that because of her initial abuse and constant revictimization through the trafficking in her images, the cost of Amy’s lost wages and other damages will be more than three million dollars over the course of her lifetime. Using 18 U.S.C. Section 2259, Amy has sought restitution from hundreds of sex offenders caught with her images on their computers.
In Paroline, the Supreme Court decided that one defendant with only two of Amy’s images could not be held liable for the full restitution from the actions of thousands of offenders. They also rejected the notion that, at least under the existing statute, the first sued offender could simply sue subsequent offenders for contribution.
We are here today to discuss what comes next. Clearly, even before the Paroline ruling, the system of child pornography restitution needed to be reworked. As I mentioned earlier, only 15 victims, out of the thousands we know of whose images are on the Internet, have sought restitution. That is proof that something is broken. Congress has a responsibility to ensure that those who harm children in this vile way are held accountable for the suffering of their victims.
A well-functioning system must encourage and enable more victims of child exploitation to come forward. It must ensure that they can secure adequate restitution from those who continue their victimization by trading in their images. And, finally, any solution must be appropriately crafted within our Constitutional boundaries.
I look forward to hearing from our panel and hope we can use what we learn today to address the Paroline decision in a thoughtful, responsible manner. As a father and soon-to-be grandfather, I am committed to doing all we can to protect our children and ensuring child victims receive the care they deserve.
I thank our distinguished witnesses.