National Crime Victim Law Institute: Mixed Message From U.S. Supreme Court to Crime Victims

The United States Supreme Court issued its opinion today in a long continuing case that NCVLI has been involved with since 2009.  The decision, which involves the proper scope of financial recovery for a victim in a child-abuse image case (aka child pornography cases), is unfortunately one of mixed messages and new hurdles for victims across the country. 

In Paroline v. United States, Defendant was convicted of possessing two images of “Amy” being photographed as her uncle sexually abused her when she was a young girl (8 years old).  The district court awarded “Amy” nothing in restitution, despite her documented losses of approximately $3.4 million for harms including future counseling and lost income.  On appeal, the Appellate Court reversed and ordered defendant to pay “Amy’s” full losses in restitution.   The Supreme Court reversed and remanded. 

This reversal came despite the Court’s recognition that the victim’s costs “are direct and foreseeable results of child-pornography crimes, including possession”, that “every viewing of child pornography is a repetition of the victim’s abuse,” and that Congress’ clear intent was “that victims of child pornography be compensated by the perpetrators who contributed to their anguish”.  The Court cautioned that restitution awards should not “be a token or nominal amount”; in light of the varied amounts in restitution awards issued over the years this statement is paltry solace for these victims who have already endured too much. 

A full summary of the Court’s decision, together with a PDF of the decision itself is available as a New & Noteworthy case.

Perhaps no one can speak more eloquently regarding the impact of this decision on victims than “Amy” herself – the victim in this case.  Today she issued this statement:

“I am surprised and confused by the Court’s decision today. I really don’t understand where this leaves me and other victims who now have to live with trying to get restitution probably for the rest of our lives. The Supreme Court said we should keep going back to the district courts over and over again but that’s what I have been doing for almost six years now. It’s crazy that people keep committing this crime year after year and now victims like me have to keep reliving it year after year. I’m not sure how this decision helps anyone to really know if, when, and how restitution will ever be paid to kids and other victims of this endless crime. I see that the Court said I should get full restitution ‘someday,’ I just wonder when that day will be and how long I and Vicky and other victims will have to wait for justice.”

A timeline of NCVLI’s work on this and similar cases for years across the country can be found here. Today we applaud the Court’s recognition of the trauma these victims endure and the mandatory nature of their right to restitution yet we recommit to working with survivors and other victim groups to encourage Congress to affirm the country’s commitment to victims by drafting an even clearer statute to afford the right to full and timely restitution from each and every perpetrator.  The practical outcome of the Court’s decision – that individual victims must seek restitution case-by-case, year-by-year – should not stand.

To read NCVLI’s press release regarding this decision: click here.

To read NCVLI’s amicus curiae brief click here.

To read the amicus brief of a collection of Anti-Violence Against Women Groups and Professors, including Law Professor Meg Garvin click here