Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Child Porn and Victim Restitution

Child Pornography and the Issue of Restitution:

When Amy was a little girl, her uncle made her famous in the worst way: as a star in the netherworld of child pornography. Photographs and videos known as “the Misty series” depicting her abuse have circulated on the Internet for more than 10 years, and often turn up in the collections of those arrested for possession of illegal images.

Now, with the help of an inventive lawyer, the young woman known as Amy — her real name has been withheld in court to prevent harassment — is fighting back.

She is demanding that everyone convicted of possessing even a single Misty image pay her damages until her total claim of $3.4 million has been met.

Some experts argue that forcing payment from people who do not produce such images but only possess them goes too far.

In February, when the first judge arranged payment to Amy in a case in Connecticut, Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, called the decision “highly questionable” on his blog and said it “stretches personal accountability to the breaking point.”

I like Jonathan Turley and agree with him on many issues, but on this, he's wrong. Not only does victim restitution stabilize the concept of personal accountability and the law (unlike the consumption of adult porn, consumers of kiddie porn engage in behavior that is both illegal and knowingly perpetuates the victimization of the innocent), but it may actually lead to a rollback of some of the dumber, more irresponsible sanctions leveled at sex offenders over the years.

For years, lawmakers (and some voters) have reasoned that virtually no punishment was too severe for such criminals; even statutory limits on sentencing were often exceeded.

Now some courts have begun to push back, saying these heavy sentences are improper, and a new emphasis has arisen on making sex offenders pay monetary damages for their crimes. If such damages become widespread, experts say, it may make it easier to reach a consensus on measured sentencing.

Douglas A. Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University and an expert on sentencing, said the rise in monetary damages might curb “a troublesome modern tendency of many legislators and judges to respond to all perceived crime problems with longer and longer terms of imprisonment.”

The federal government has struggled with how to best approach the wave of new cases, and those to come. Another victim known as Vicky has begun making similar claims in court, and still more victims could come forward. Professor Berman suggested Congress would have to sort out the issue, perhaps with a victim compensation fund.
Using sex offenders as political capital is nothing new, but a system of victim restitution might neutralize some of the more draconian forms of punishment legislators have cooked up over the years. Politically correct shell games such as civil commitment (a constitutional ruse, at best), shaming (via the much-vaunted, but ineffective, sex offender registries), and banishment (which drives sex offenders into office parks, under bridges, or campsites in the wilderness) could finally be jettisoned in favor of something that works: punishment and restitution.

What a novel idea.

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