Child porn victims seek multimillion-dollar payouts
One victim. One photo. $3.68 million
In December 2008, Virginia-based deputy sheriff Arthur Weston Staples III received a visit at home from police investigating claims he had traded child pornography images online. The former Vietnam vet, who had no previous offenses, was eventually sentenced to more than 17 years in prison after investigators found 400 to 600 illegal images, according to court documents.
The 210-month sentence can be considered modest compared with the life sentences dished out in many child pornography convictions. But in a twist, Staples was also ordered to pay $3.68m for his possession of a single picture taken more than 10 years earlier of a girl being severely sexually abused when she was eight years old. The restitution was awarded to “Amy,” the pseudonym of the victim, who is now 21 and has filed almost identical claims in some 600 other federal prosecutions over the past 18 months.
Over the same period, a separate survivor of sex abuse images identified only as “Vicky” has submitted some 80 claims under the same law, known as the Mandatory Restitution for Sexual Exploitation of Children Act.
Courts have responded to the flood of restitution requests with widely varying rulings. In sharp contrast to the outcome in Staples's case, the federal judge presiding over a separate child pornography trial in the Eastern District of Texas refused to award any restitution at all, even though two of the illegal images defendant Doyle Randall Paroline admitted to possessing were identified as depicting Amy. That ruling is now on appeal before the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where oral arguments are scheduled for this Thursday.
The new legal maneuver comes as the internet has fundamentally changed the way child abuse images are trafficked. It also comes as federal prosecutions for child pornography have skyrocketed over the past 15 years. In 1995, there were 50, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Last year, there were almost 2,500.
The photographs and videos of Amy – which were shot and originally published by the girl's uncle – have taken on a life of their own over the past decade, becoming a staple known as “the Misty series” in child predator circles. They depict some of the most depraved images imaginable, including fellatio, cunnilingus, and anal and vaginal penetration.
There are at least 730 federal prosecutions that involve images from the series, according to court documents. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has said the pictures have been actively traded since 1998 in more than 3,227 cases.
New York attorney James Marsh, who represents Amy, hired a psychologist and economist to evaluate her and calculate the damage that has stemmed from her abuse and the continuing distribution of the images documenting it. Accounting for lost wages, counseling and lawyer fees, they settled on a price of $3.37m.
Next page: Continuing trauma
A picture postcard from sue-happy-stan.
This sort of quagmire is a nice illustration why I've argued before to prosecute actual production and arguably large scale and/or commercial distribution, but to leave mere possession be. Not because of any moral stance but because pictures are just pictures and in and of themselves ought not to be deemed illegal. The extreme porn law does apparently out of moral superiority fueled spite, which IMO isn't a very solid basis for fair and impartial lawmaking.
The "let them sue each other" doctrine strikes me as oh so very american and not something that sits well with fairness in lawmaking either, for it brings down the hammer on whoever happens to be sued just now and then turns its back with a "let them sort themselves out". How's that for fair administering of justice? It's pure spite, is what it is.
The fact that various judges apply the idea wildly unevenly is just that more insult to injury, and a good indication that the law is in fact a fantastically bad idea. This idea of "damages" wouldn't even fly for the "anti-piracy" crowd with their habitually overinflated claims, though one could easily imagine they'd like it to. If this idea of compensation is to be vaguely even-handed then set up some fund that seeks the total amount by finding as many suable cogs as possible and suing each for a share of the total.
And just to pour some oil on the fire: One could argue that pedophily is a "hard wired" innate property and not curable, just like we've finally figured out that homophily is not a curable disease. That is not to defend or justify child abuse in any way or form. In fact I'm not arguing to stop prosecuting for harm done, and never will. But I will say that it doesn't do to simply jail people for their urges, no matter how depraved we (currently) view them to be. This has historically been hard for the moral guardians to grasp, even when all that was at stake was "depraved unnatural acts" between consenting adults.
Here, people have some responsibility to protect children, even if not their own, and sexually abusing children instead is a serious breach. But mere jailing or trying to "treat" people for that is too simplistic. We'll have to find different ways to ensure those liable to do so don't stray into child abuse. Perhaps through some buddy system or other. But something more sophisticated than we have we do need.
And that in turn requires that our lawmaking doesn't stop at smug satisfaction for having "done something against the badness", effectively shuffling the problem under the carpet through censorship and simple but spectacularly long jail terms and juicy public suefests, but instead necessitates that we understand the problem and professionally mitigate it into harmlessness... somehow.
This is uncomfortable because it exposes how our societies aren't up to the enlightened standards we'd like to imagine we'd be. But that is the rub: Dealing with this kind of nasty icky problem civilly is hard. How civilised are we, really?
How It Works
"...Virtually all of the child porn offenders ordered to pay restitution had no contact with the victims and played no role in the production of the images, which were shot and originally published by someone else many years earlier. Despite their limited roles in in the victims' considerable pain and suffering – most of which, it would seem, was caused by the original abusers – the perps are required to shoulder equal responsibility. Critics have argued it's a slippery slope..."
Ever since advocates decided 2+2=5 in the blame game the 'slippery slope' has become positively treacherous. The first casualty, as always, was any sense of proportionality or fairness: after all, paedomonsters don't deserve any pretence of justice, so why bother? In the USA the courts' approach to issues such as these can be best described as 'medieval'. This has been going on (and geting worse) for the best part of the last decade.
The wicked argument that 'every time a child abuse image is viewed the victim is abused again' makes no sense whatsoever to a rational, common-sense mind. Are child casualties in America's wars murdered time-after-time every time photos of them are republished and viewed again by the general public? Should we bring in some hasty, ill-thought out legislation to criminalise whole new swathes of the population for looking at such images?
Such fallacies are not only perpetuated but enshrined in law to the detriment of justice everywhere - witness the way the UK police service continues to use the charge of 'making' an indecent image of children against everyone it charges with possession of CP images - this is a huge lie, deliberately designed by the police to suggest to an uninformed public that the defendant was somehow directly involved in the abuse and photography of children.
Sentencing in regard to sex offenders (specifically child sex offenders) in the USA has long been out of hand - no, strike that; it's been downright spiteful, wilfully punitive and thoroughly inhuman. Paedomonsters (accused or proven) are basically socially excluded long after their ridiculously over-inflated prison sentences are served. There is no such thing as rehabilitation - not in any meaningful sense of the word, anyway. There are many indoctrinaire schemes designed to 're-educate' child-attracted adults, but sadly these are more often used as sanctuaries than as therapies by men (and it is mostly men) who find life on the outside too unworkable, too unforgiving and inflexible post-incarceration.
It is not uncommon to hear many convicted sex offenders request that they remain in State custody rather than face release back into an openly hostile society - these are men who have lost family, career and home. There is no coming back, no second chance. The Paedogeddon is quite unique in this respect. A man can rape,can murder or defraud on a massive scale and can expect incarceration and eventual freedom, possibly even a real chance of reintegration back into 'normal' society once he's paid his dues, but should he look at a single photo of a half-naked kid online (and get 'caught'' for it) he might just has well have signed a waiver on his human rights: all bets are off as far as the justice system is concerned. This is the crimen exceptum. Normal rules no longer apply. Time for the mob to decide his fate.
Victim culture, encouraged by advocates and police for their own self-serving reasons, has naturally produced a court system more like a gameshow than a process of evidence-based justice. 'Petty grievances can profit' is the dominant mantra from the child protection industry; what once might have been a minor, barely remembered transgression is now magnified to the proportions of a major trauma - worse, one that can be described as 'rape' and carry a prison sentence numbered in the tens of years.
Make no mistake. What America does first, Britain eventually mimics. We've already imported most of their 'victim culture' mentality into our legal system (helped by supine government and determined lobbyists - especially amongst the police service), but there is much more work to be done. The last ten years of NuLabour saw whole new demographics criminalised in the name of the great moral panic, the flames of righteous indignation and moral outrage fanned gleefully by zealots and bullies willing to ride roughshod over any vague notions of 'fair process' or quaint, out-moded presumptions of innocence.
Thanks to armies of child salvationists on a mission, the Paedomonster is become some kind of opaque, barely-glimpsed, out-of-focus bogeyman of our time. To invoke them is to justify a plague on all our houses as, quietly and with little public fanfare, personal freedoms for all are slowly curbed, intruded upon and ultimately taken away. Laws are created, rewritten and expanded, while sentencing policy becomes muddled, confused, disproportionate and ultimately unjust, until in the end, in some twisted, farcical facsimile of 'justice', courts begin handing out sentences numbered in the thousands of years - as happened to Thomas Reedy In the USA (who was never actually charged with physically or sexually molesting any child, ever) in the famous Landslide case - a case which precipitated the UK's own hellish Inquisition/moral panic/Paedogeddon: Operation Ore and led to the systematic arrest or threat of arrest of over 7000 individuals here in the UK and directly led to the creation of the UK's very own 'Ministry of Love' - CEOP. This year CEOP begin trialling government-sanctioned lie detector interviews.).
By now, of course, the clock is already striking thirteen.
Difficult legislative bits.
Sad stories for the young ladies involved. Right versus wrong in many different layers here all tangled with emotion, the common good, individual rights and the need to attempt to prevent it all from happening in the future.
I empathise with many of those involved in this. I am of many different minds on these issues...I don't know that I have a black-and-white answer to any of it. What I do know for certain is that I am very deeply glad that I am not personally asked to sort this mess out. My condolences to anyone who is.