Last week, Senator Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania introduced a bill which will help victims of child sex abuse and molestation who suffer from having images of the abuse shared, i.e., child pornography.
Toomey announced the “Justice for Amy Act” in response to the recent United States Supreme Court ruling in Paroline v. United States, which imposed legal limitations on child sex abuse victims’ rights to obtain financial recovery when images of the abuse are traded or shared in person, via mail or online.
The case involved an anonymous Pennsylvania resident, Amy Unknown, who was raped by a relative at a young age. Images of the abuse were shared and made their way online; an estimated 70,000 individuals downloaded the images. The victim gave a poignant statement describing how she was affected:
Every day of my life I live in constant fear that someone will see my pictures and recognize me and that I will be humiliated all over again. It hurts me to know someone is looking at them—at me—when I was just a little girl being abused for the camera. I did not choose to be there, but now I am there forever in pictures that people are using to do sick things. I want it all erased. I want it all stopped. But I am powerless to stop it just like I was powerless to stop my uncle. . . . My life and my feelings are worse now because the crime has never really stopped and will never really stop. . . . It’s like I am being abused over and over and over again.
While those on the U.S. Supreme Court were sympathetic to Amy Unknown, the 5-4 split decision amounts to a victory for child pornography defendants.
“The Supreme Court’s decision is a demoralizing setback for victims of child pornography. It perversely disadvantages those most in need of help. Under the Court’s decision, the more a child has been sexually abused, the harder it is for that child to obtain justice,” said Sen. Toomey. Click here to read an analysis of the Paroline Court’s decision.
Toomey’s bill would amend the 1994 Violence Against Women Act and specifically provide that anyone who produces, traffics, or possesses child pornography are jointly and severally liable for all of that victim’s damages, meaning that an individual who is found guilty of possessing an image depicting child sex abuse may be ordered to pay millions of dollars to the victim, the child in the image. That defendant can then go after the others to seek contribution or help paying the restitution amount.
Essentially, the amendment would alleviate the burden placed on victims and instead place the burden on those who perpetuate the silent conspiracy of child pornography.
As Amy Unknown’s statement shows, the fear of recognition and the feeling of powerlessness are traumatic and can prevent a child pornography victim from being able to fully recover, despite having therapy. Child sex abuse victims deserve justice, and our laws should be designed to protect them and also help victims obtain financial restitution from the perpetrators.
Please show your support for Toomey’s bill. Contact local representatives and senators in your state and tell them you support this important bill.
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