Friday, February 6, 2015
Last term, the Supreme Court reversed a restitution award for a victim of child sexual abuse images (a.k.a. child pornography) and ruled in Paroline v. United States, that this victim could not receive mandatory restitution under 18 U.S.C. 2259. In Paroline, the defendant was a possessor of the images. Although the Court recognized that “[i]t would be inconsistent …to apply the statute in a way that leaves offenders with the mistaken impression that child-pornography possession (at least where the images are in wide circulation) is a victimless crime,” the Court ruled that the victim would have to establish that the possessor was a proximate cause of her harm. So, somewhat paradoxically, the Court recognized the harm caused by possessors, but applied a nearly impossible and unworkable standard for victims to actually receive restitution for that harm. (It should be noted that in doing so the Court was not alone, but other lower courts required proximate cause as well.)
While a blow to the ability of victims of child sexual abuse images to be able to recover from this pernicious exploitation, the decision sparked legislative actions. Yesterday, the Amy and Vicky Child Pornography Restitution Act passed 19-0 in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Not only is the Act a step forward for victims. It also represents a refreshing change in Congress working together for what is inherently good, as it is sponsored by Orin Hatch and Charles Schumer, among others.