In this week’s cover story at the New York Times Magazine, Emily Bazelon dives into an intriguing topic of the law: Restitution in child pornography cases.
Bazelon focuses on two victims of child rape whose tormentors took photos and videos of the abuse and distributed them on the Internet.
It walks readers through the discovery by each victim that the pornography featuring their younger selves had circled the Internet countless times, focusing on the stress and strain it caused to know that any stranger might have seen them.
Once authorities connected the popular illegal images to the human victims, the women began getting letters each time someone caught with the contraband was arrested or appeared in court.
There were many, many letters. Here’s a quote from “Nicole,” whose father victimized her and created the pornography. She was still living at home when the letters started arriving.
“More arrests followed and more letters — piles of them. “We stacked them in a laundry basket in a walk-in closet so I wouldn’t have to see them,” Nicole said. “Then there were more baskets, and we had to move them to the garage. It was really hard for me. I was still scared of my father, but I knew him. These other people, they were strangers, and there were so many of them.”
Lawyers for the women have argued that they were entitled to restitution from the strangers who were caught with copies of the pornography in which the women appeared years earlier. They’ve had some success, and Bazelon’s story explores how that success came about and asks what the legal standard for restitution in child porn cases ought to be and what value restitution payments have to the victims.
Defense lawyers have argued that their clients ought not be forced to pay those depicted in child porn.
It’s a good read, albeit a painful one at many points. It reminded me of an oft-repeated argument at sentence hearings for child porn offenders: Every time someone new downloads and watches a piece of child pornography, the person in the video is re-victimized.
I’ve heard plenty of prosecutors say that sort of thing. To date, I’ve never heard a South Dakota judge order a child porn offender to pay restitution to a specific person appearing in that pornography. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, of course, and it doesn’t mean it won’t.
Several men have been charged with or convicted of commercial sex trafficking in South Dakota, and many of them used images of the underage prostitutes to sell sex online. Just last week, a man named Sandor Czekus was given 125 years in prison for creating child porn with an ex-roommate’s daughter
Are those images still out there? How far have those images traveled?
If the women in the NYT mag story continue to succeed in the courts, perhaps the practice will become more common.