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National Crime Victim Law Institute

United States v. Whitley, --- F. Supp. 3d ---, No. 16 CR 719, 2019 WL 177319 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 11, 2019)

February 21, 2019

Defendant, convicted of one count of sex trafficking of children, was ordered to pay $246,286.59 in restitution to the four minor victims.  The court determined that restitution was mandatory under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA) and the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA).  The court found that the government had failed to satisfy its statutory duty to the victims by requesting no restitution at all before the court reminded it that restitution was mandatory, and by requesting only approximately $15,000 initially for the victims’ future mental health expenses before seeking the $246,286 award after sentencing.  Stating that it has its own duty to determine the appropriate restitution award, the court set forth reasons to justify the restitution order.  First, the court determined that “a victim suffers a compensable loss even if she did not pay for it out of pocket.”  For this reason, regardless of whether the government or other sources has incurred out of pocket losses on behalf of the victims, the court found that defendant owes restitution for the victims’ past mental health treatment, participation in residential programs and any expenses incurred during their participation in the investigation and prosecution of the case.  Second, the court determined that the victims will certainly incur future losses beyond medical and mental health expenses, and those losses include expenses for transportation, housing, education, legal assistance and substance abuse treatment, among others.  Further, the court observed that recent studies estimate the total lifetime financial burden for child sexual abuse victims at over $210,000 per victim.  The court noted that the $246,286.59 award, divided among the four victims, means each victim will receive $61,571.65—which “does its best to help restore the victims to well-being” but “does not come close to the average lifetime costs of child sexual abuse victims.”  For these reasons, the court concluded that the restitution amount was proper.  The court ordered the establishment of a trust in the names of the four minor victims and directed the government to deposit the restitution award into that trust.  The court concluded with dicta warning that “the criminal justice system is failing survivors by forcing them to bear the permanent costs of their own trafficking.”  The court explained that although the law mandates restitution for all trafficking victims, “the government does not routinely request it and courts rarely award it in sex trafficking cases.”  The court further observed that “only 31% of sex-trafficking victims received restitution, compared to 94% of labor-trafficking victims.”  The court stated that “it is time for the executive and judicial branches to step up and do their[] [jobs]” or else the law “will remain mandatory in name only.”