Providing restitution to victims of child pornography crimes has proven to be a challenge for courts across the country. Child pornography is often widely disseminated to countless thousands of criminals who have a prurient interest in such materials. While the victims of child pornography crimes often have significant financial losses from the crimes (such as the need for long term psychological counseling), allocating a victim’s losses to any particular criminal defendant is problem
Five years ago, the United States Supreme Court gave its answer on how to resolve this issue with its ruling in Paroline v. United States. Interpreting a restitution statute enacted by Congress, the Court concluded that in a child pornography prosecution, a restitution award from a particular defendant is only appropriate to the extent that it reflects “the defendant’s relative role in the causal process that underlies the victim’s general losses.”
In the ensuing years, lower courts have struggled to implement this holding. Just recently, Congress stepped in to ensure that victims will receive appropriate restitution. In November 2018, the Senate and House resolved their differences in how to handle the issue, passing the Amy, Vicky, and Andy Child Pornography Victim Assistance Act of 2018 (or “AVAA” for short). President Trump signed the legislation into law on December 7, 2018.
In this article, we describe the impact of this important new legislation. We set the stage by describing the need for restitution for child pornography victims, using the story of the lead victim in the Act (“Amy”) as an illustration of why restitution is needed. We then turn to the problematic legal regime that was created by the Supreme Court’s Paroline decision, noting some of the confusion in the lower courts following the ruling. Against this backdrop, we then discuss the AVAA, explaining how it will be a useful step forward for victims of these crimes. One even more important possibility is that the Act could set a precedent for expanding restitution for victims in the future.