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National Crime Victim Law Institute

Fighting for Victims’ Rights in Child Rape Image Cases

December 18, 2013

The unique and acute nature of the trauma experienced by child-victims of sexual abuse when images of their victimization are preserved, disseminated, and viewed is well-documented. Despite Congressional, court, and the public’s recognition of the harm these victims endure and a stated commitment to protecting their rights, these victims face tremendous challenges in our justice system.  Among the hurdles is the all too frequent demand by courts that these victims prove that a particular perpetrator (out of the thousands or millions) who possesses their abuse images as downloaded from the Internet caused a specific component of their harm.  This demand is nearly impossible to meet because of the nature of this crime and so it all but ensures that victims rather than perpetrators bear the financial burdens of crime.  For years, NCVLI has been fighting in state and federal courts to secure full restitution for these victims. On January 22, 2014 one of these cases will be heard by the United States Supreme Court in what will mark the first time a victim of crime has been directly heard about her rights before the highest court in the nation.  

Below is a snapshot of just some of NCVLI’s recent work in this area in chronological order.

  • July 2009:  In United States v. Paroline in the Eastern District of Texas, NCVLI files an amicus curiae brief arguing that the victim, “Amy”, is entitled to her full restitution.
  • January 2010: NCVLI’s Executive Director Meg Garvin is interviewed for a story by Minnesota Public Radio about a recent case involving restitution for child abuse image victims in which the federal judge asked prosecutors to explain why they had not requested restitution from those convicted on child pornography charges. 
  • April 2010: The lead article in NCVLI’s bi-annual newsletter, NCVLI News, titled “How Current Restitution Law is Failing Victims in Child Abuse Image Cases”, details the state of the law and puts forward arguments of how to do better by these victims.
  • October 2010:  In United States v. McGarity, in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, NCVLI filed an amicus curiae brief arguing for full restitution.
  • September 2011: NCVLI publishes a Violence Against Women Bulletin titled “Restitution for Victims of the Viewing, Possession, and Distribution of Child Abuse Images,” detailing how to secure full restitution for these victims.  This Bulletin can be accessed in our Victim Law Library or directly here
  • October 2012:  The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reviews United States v. Paroline and agrees with Amy and the position put forward in NCVLI’s amicus, holding that victims depicted in child abuse imagery have a right to restitution when a defendant is found in possession of the images, regardless of whether the defendant created or distributed them. 
  • December 2012:  In Amy and Vicky v. Kennedy before the United States Supreme Court, NCVLI teams up with the University of Pennsylvania Law School Supreme Court Clinic to file an amicus curiae brief urging review by the Court on the issue of restitution for victims. 
  • August 2013:  In Vicky v. Fast, before the United States Supreme Court, NCVLI files an amicus curiae brief urging review of the case to resolve the restitution issue and to clarify the standard of review for victims’ rights cases.
  • September 2013:  In State v. Culbertson before the Oregon Court of Appeals, NCVLI files an amicus curiae brief  in support of full restitution under state law. 
  • November 2013: In Paroline v. United States, before the United States Supreme Court, NCVLI and the Lewis & Clark Victim Litigation Clinic each submit briefs arguing for full restitution and presenting to the court arguments of how a ruling against the victim could negatively impact all violence against women victims.
  • January 22, 2014: For the first time in history, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments from a victim’s attorney about her rights in a criminal case. Arguments were followed the next day by a Congressional Staff Briefing on the case and the federal statute on restitution for victims of child pornography.
  • April 23, 2014: The United States Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case. While the ruling recognized the trauma victims endure and the mandatory nature of their right to restitution, the practical outcome of the Court’s decision is that individual victims must seek restitution case-by-case, year-by-year.