Harm to victims of child abuse from the viewing of the resulting child pornography

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In 1994, the US Congress passed the Sexual Exploitation and Other Abuse of Children Act, which established penalties and restitution for sexual assault, domestic violence and child pornography. The law called for full restitution — but it did not specify who should pay what.

It has been argued, "If the viewing of child pornography is a violent crime, then didn't the law enforcement officers who found this stuff on the defendant's computer, and the judge and the jury who had an opportunity to examine the evidence against him engage in a violent crime?"[1]

Libertarian view

Jesse Walker argues:

If the issue is privacy, shame, and being haunted by ineradicable images, wouldn’t the same argument apply to the abused prisoners photographed at Abu Ghraib? To hostages filmed by their captors and aired on the news? To anyone humiliated in front of a camera? Should an inadvertent Internet celebrity, deeply embarrassed that people are chuckling at a clip of his light-saber dance, have standing to sue the viewers?

That last example might seem absurd, but it actually veers close to the pornography debate. Because the child porn laws set the age of maturity so high, they cover not just the victims of coercion but exhibitionists who voluntarily put photographs of themselves online.


At 17, the women codenamed Amy learned that the pictures her uncle took of her had gone "viral on the Internet" and had been downloaded and viewed by an estimated 70,000 individuals [2] and has sued more than 170 men collecting about $1.7 million.[3] Amy, whose real name is not used in court papers, was reportedly raped and filmed at ages 8 and 9 by her uncle who served 10 years in prison for his actions ..... As a result of massive distribution and viewing of these images of her as a child taken by her uncle (who distributed them on AOL), her lawyers argued, she could not finish college, has had trouble holding a job and will require weekly psychotherapy for the rest of her life, [4] estimating that the cost of her psychotherapy, lost wages, and other costs would be $3.4 million. However, Amy does appear to be able to navigate the legal system and make decisions.

Doyle Paroline

Doyle Randall Paroline, who possessed just two images of the 280 or more illegal images available on the internet was sentenced in 2009 to two years in prison was found liable by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit for the full amount of the $3.4 million in restitution Amy has claimed. The 5th Circuit said it was up to Paroline—not Amy—to find the other men who could also be on the hook for restitution and go after them for contributions[3] for their part in damaging Amy's soul.

The majority wrote, "It is common ground that the victim suffers continuing and grievous harm as a result of her knowledge that a large, indeterminate number of individuals have viewed and will in the future view images of the sexual abuse she endured. . . . Harms of this sort are a major reason why child pornography is outlawed."[5] The Amy and Vicky Child Pornography Victim Restitution Improvement Act was passed by the U.S. Senate in response to the court's ruling.

Michael Wright

Amy also sought more than $3.3 million from Wright, who had images of Amy stored on his computer. A federal judge ruled Wright owed Amy more than $500,000.[6]

US Supreme Court

In the recent decision by the US Supreme Court on April 23, 2014, Doyle Randall Paroline v. United States, et al. [7], it was adjudicated that restitution can be awarded based not only on the manufacture, sale, or distribution of child pornography; but can be collected from all those who have been convicted of viewing the image, based on the magical belief [8] that the act of viewing the image has essentially caused damage to the soul of the person depicted. That the subject of the image could seek limited restitution and that it "would not be severe, but it would not be token," either.[4] It was legally maintained that there is a magical causal link between viewing an image and the "pain and suffering" of its subject. [4] However, there is no demonstrable scientific evidence which shows the existence of any psychical damage or changes to the brain structure of the subject related to the viewing or other manipulation of the image. It was argued by Paroline that the damage was attributed to Amy's knowledge that images of her uncle's crimes are circulating on the Internet without demonstrating causality to a proximate cause of her suffering, or that there was any demonstrable connection between Paroline's actions and any harm to Amy.[6] The Supreme Court thus upheld the lower court's decision that victims do not have to show any link between the defendant's crime of possession of child pornography and their alleged injuries. [9]

It should be noted that three US Supreme Court justices dissented and held that the Government's case "lacks any basis in law."

Paroline v. United States
Docket No. Op. Below Argument Opinion Vote Author Term
12-8561 5th Cir. Jan 22,14 Apr 23,14 5-4 Kennedy OT 2013

Holding: Restitution to the respondent, who was sexually abused as a young girl to produce child pornography, is proper under 18 U.S.C. § 2259 only to the extent the defendant, who pleaded guilty to possessing images of child porn, including two images of the respondent, was the proximate cause of the victim's losses. Victims should be compensated and defendants should be held accountable for the impact of their conduct on those victims, but defendants should only be made liable for the consequences and gravity of their own conduct, not the conduct of others.

Judgment: Reversed and remanded, 5-4, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy on April 23, 2014. Chief Justice Roberts filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas joined. Justice Sotomayor also filed a dissenting opinion.[10]

Similar cases

Ordered to pay compensation http://jonathanturley.org/2009/02/24/court-orders-former-viagra-executive-to-pay-200000-to-woman-photographed-as-a-child-while-being-sexually-abused/

See also


  1. http://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/2011/11/florida-defendant-gets-lwop-sentence-for-mere-possession-of-lots-of-kiddie-porn.html
  2. Sullum, Jacob (February 12, 2014). Looking vs. Touching. Reason Foundation. Retrieved on April 27, 2014.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Bazelon, Emily (Dec. 4 2013 5:24 PM). Paying Amy. The Slate Group, a Graham Holdings Company. Retrieved on April 27, 2014.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Wolf, Richard (April 23, 2014). Justices limit restitution to victims by child porn users. USATODAY,. Retrieved on April 27, 2014.
  5. Paroline v. United States. Cornell (23 April 2014).
  6. 6.0 6.1 KUNZELMAN, MICHAEL (October 1, 2012). Doyle Randall Paroline, Michael Wright Owe Child Porn Victim 'Amy' Restitution: Court. The Huffington Post. Retrieved on April 29, 2014.
  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_thinking
  9. SHERMAN, MARK (June 27, 2013). Supreme Court Takes Up Case On Child Porn Victim Restitution. The Huffington Post. Retrieved on April 29, 2014.
  10. Paroline v. United States. SCOTUSblog. Retrieved on April 29, 2014.

External links