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After the Supreme Court – Congress Must Now Act

Law and Order SVU recently aired an episode based on our client Amy’s case. It told the story of a prosecutor using a restitution statute to obtain multi-million dollar compensation for a victim of child pornography from a wealthy man who had been caught violating child pornography laws by possessing and viewing her child sex abuse images.

Because the television restitution statute imposed significant liability on television perpetrators, the television defendant decided, not surprisingly, to avoid a lengthy prison term by paying full restitution to the television victim. The 50 minutes ended as happily and fairly as it could—providing substantial compensation to the television victim so that she could rebuild her life, while imposing significant liability on the wrongdoing television defendant and giving him the right to seek contribution from others who possessed the victim’s images.

Life does not, however, always imitate Art.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court acknowledged that Amy and other victims suffer very real and grave losses from the possession of their child sex abuse images by individuals such as the defendant in that case, Doyle Randall Paroline. Even if Paroline downloaded Amy’s child sex abuse images in the middle of the night, in the privacy of his own home, with no one else watching, Amy was still seriously injured.

The Supreme Court also ruled that all possessors of child pornography must pay restitution to their victims. And the Supreme Court ruled that the restitution law should (and, if properly written, may) require defendants to pay significant sums in restitution.

However, the Supreme Court ultimately decided that unlike the restitution statute employed by the prosecutor in the Law and Order episode, the federal restitution statute Amy invoked does not provide for full restitution, despite its express language requiring “full restitution.” Paroline v. United States.

The majority held that the criminal defendant must pay restitution to the victim only in an amount that comports “with the defendant’s relative role in the causal process that underlies the victim’s general losses.” Here, because defendant Paroline is one of thousands of individuals who possessed or will possess Amy’s child sex abuse images, his proportionate role is de minimus and her ultimate restitution is likely to be very little.

Our principal concern with the ruling—and what Congress must fix—is that it limits Amy to piecemeal recovery against each perpetrator, thus requiring her to spend years, perhaps decades, filing hundreds if not thousands of restitution claims without any real prospect of ever obtaining full restitution for her losses.

We believe—as in the Law and Order episode—that the burden should be imposed on the wrongdoer Paroline, not the innocent victim Amy, to chase down contribution from the thousands of others who possessed her images. We also believe that Amy should not be required to continue to repeatedly relive her pain and reopen her wounds with never-ending litigation concerning her sex abuse.

The decision closes one chapter in our ongoing effort to help victims of child sex abuse receive some measure of justice. We move next to Congress where we will urge an amendment to Section 2259 of the federal restitution statute to address the justices’ concerns, so that victims like Amy can obtain real, tangible and meaningful relief. We expect in the future to ask you, our clients and friends, to help us in these efforts by writing or calling Congress.

Here is a Summary of the Court’s Decision

Facts: Amy’s uncle repeatedly raped her as a young girl and photographed the rape to produce child pornography. When Amy was 17, she learned that images of her abuse were being trafficked on the Internet, in effect repeating the original wrongs, for she knew that her humiliation and hurt would be renewed well into the future as thousands of additional wrongdoers witnessed those crimes.

Defendant Paroline was convicted of possessing images of child pornography, including several of Amy. Amy sought $3.5 million in restitution—the full amount of her losses—at Paroline’s sentencing. The trial court denied restitution to Amy. The Court of Appeals ultimately reversed and granted her full restitution from Paroline.

Issue: The Supreme Court took the case to determine whether and in what amount under the federal restitution statute a victim of child sex abuse such as Amy may recover from those who possess images of her abuse.

Majority by Kennedy (with Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan): A five justice majority, written by Justice Kennedy, held that Amy is entitled to some restitution from defendant Paroline, who possessed images of her being raped as a child, but left unclear the amount. It returned the case to the trial court with instruction that the amount comport “with the defendant’s relative role in the causal process that underlies the victim’s general losses.”

The majority further ruled that restitution amount in this case would “not be severe…given the nature of the casual connection between the conduct of the possessor and the entirety of the victim’s general losses from the trade in her images, which are the product of the acts of thousands of offenders. It would not, however, be a token or nominal amount.”

Dissent by Roberts (with Scalia and Thomas): A three-justice dissent by Chief Justice Roberts opined that the law as currently written accords Amy no relief. It reasoned that under the restitution statute Congress passed, a victim must be able to pinpoint with specificity what amount of her loss is attributable to any particular defendant, and because Amy cannot disaggregate or tease out how much Paroline (one of thousands of possessors) contributed to her aggregate losses, she cannot show actual causation. This dissent suggested that Congress must speak with greater clarity for a court to order a possessor of child pornography to pay restitution to the victim.

Dissent by Sotomayor: Justice Sotomayor in dissent adopted Amy’s position. She opined that Paroline was involved in criminal activity which, along with many others, contributed to Amy’s losses in the aggregate. And, although the injuries caused by child pornography possessors are impossible to apportion in any practical sense, that is not unusual in the law. In such cases, the law imposes liability for all of the jointly caused loss on each participant under the doctrine of joint and several liability. Here, Paroline was one of thousands of possessors and is jointly and severally liable for the aggregate harm caused by all possessors. Only such a reading of the statute comports with the statute’s dictate that victims recover the “full amount of their losses.”

Stay tuned for more details about Amy and her long quest to obtain justice. You can follow us on the Huffington Post, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or LinkedIn. Or subscribe to this blog.


Child Pornography victims need a roadmap to restitution, and Congress can provide it

April 23, 2014

Contact: Kath Cummins

Today the Supreme Court unambiguously affirmed the right of victims of child pornography to receive restitution. But the process by which restitution is collected remains extremely difficult and burdensome for the victims. Congress must act to bring clarity and lift the victim’s heavy load. 

In light of today’s decision in Paroline v Amy Unknown, the National Center for Victims of Crime calls on Congress to re-draft the statute to ensure that victims get just and fair restitution. Justice requires that we shift the burden of collection, which is currently on the victims, on to those who participate in this illegal trade.

“The Supreme Court has stated 9-0 that child pornography is not a victimless crime and that this harm creates a right to restitution. Congress must step up and provide victims with a roadmap to enforce that right,” said Mai Fernandez, Executive Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.

“We must ensure that all who participate in this shadowy global marketplace market are held responsible for the harm it causes,” said Ms. Fernandez. The Supreme Court has acknowledged that those who trade, share and download child pornography are responsible for the restitution owed to the victims. It is now up to Congress to provide clear guidance to court on how victims can enforce this right of restitution without placing an undue burden upon them.”

As well as bringing much needed public attention to the plight of child pornography victims, the Amy Unknown case was a landmark for crime victims because it was the first Supreme Court case where the victim was represented by her own counsel.

National Crime Victim Bar Association attorneys Paul Cassell, a former federal judge, and James Marsh, a New York based trial attorney and head of the Children’s Law Center represented Amy Unknown. NCVBA attorney, Carol Hepburn represented another victim of child pornography whose claim for restitution in a different jurisdiction had been held over pending this ruling by the Supreme Court.

Victims of child sexual abuse can suffer from depression and anxiety; many attempt suicide or are unable to maintain relationships or employment over their lifetimes.

The marketplace for child pornography makes recovery from this kind of abuse particularly difficult. Victims know that their images continue to be used and traded for sexual gratification, and this may go on forever. Many fear being stalked by or recognized by viewers, and in some cases victims have been stalked and recognized. Many suffer from crushing guilt knowing that that their images will be used to groom new victims, or to persuade consumers of child pornography that child rape and abuse is enjoyable for the victim.


The National Center for Victims of Crime and the National Crime Victim Bar Association Supreme Court amicus briefs in support of the victim “Amy Unknown” are available here:

For the reaction to the decision by the victim, Amy Unknown:

National Center for Victims of Crime is working to improve the response to victims of child pornography through a project funded by the Office for Victims of Crime, U.S. Department of Justice. The National Center and its partner organizations, the National Children’s Alliance and the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, has been hearing directly from victims and their families—and the professionals who work with them—about their needs and the barriers they face in finding or accessing services. This important and sensitive work will identify promising treatments and policy responses to promote the recovery of child pornography victims.


The National Crime Victim Bar Association is an affiliate and program of the National Center for Victims of Crime. It was founded in April 1999, creating the nation’s first professional association of attorneys and expert witnesses dedicated to helping victims seek justice through the civil system. Crime victims deserve compensation for the harms they have suffered, and third parties are increasingly held accountable through the civil justice system.

The NCVBA attorney help line is 212 467-8716.


National Crime Victim Law Institute: Mixed Message From U.S. Supreme Court to Crime Victims

The United States Supreme Court issued its opinion today in a long continuing case that NCVLI has been involved with since 2009.  The decision, which involves the proper scope of financial recovery for a victim in a child-abuse image case (aka child pornography cases), is unfortunately one of mixed messages and new hurdles for victims across the country. 

In Paroline v. United States, Defendant was convicted of possessing two images of “Amy” being photographed as her uncle sexually abused her when she was a young girl (8 years old).  The district court awarded “Amy” nothing in restitution, despite her documented losses of approximately $3.4 million for harms including future counseling and lost income.  On appeal, the Appellate Court reversed and ordered defendant to pay “Amy’s” full losses in restitution.   The Supreme Court reversed and remanded. 

This reversal came despite the Court’s recognition that the victim’s costs “are direct and foreseeable results of child-pornography crimes, including possession”, that “every viewing of child pornography is a repetition of the victim’s abuse,” and that Congress’ clear intent was “that victims of child pornography be compensated by the perpetrators who contributed to their anguish”.  The Court cautioned that restitution awards should not “be a token or nominal amount”; in light of the varied amounts in restitution awards issued over the years this statement is paltry solace for these victims who have already endured too much. 

A full summary of the Court’s decision, together with a PDF of the decision itself is available as a New & Noteworthy case.

Perhaps no one can speak more eloquently regarding the impact of this decision on victims than “Amy” herself – the victim in this case.  Today she issued this statement:

“I am surprised and confused by the Court’s decision today. I really don’t understand where this leaves me and other victims who now have to live with trying to get restitution probably for the rest of our lives. The Supreme Court said we should keep going back to the district courts over and over again but that’s what I have been doing for almost six years now. It’s crazy that people keep committing this crime year after year and now victims like me have to keep reliving it year after year. I’m not sure how this decision helps anyone to really know if, when, and how restitution will ever be paid to kids and other victims of this endless crime. I see that the Court said I should get full restitution ‘someday,’ I just wonder when that day will be and how long I and Vicky and other victims will have to wait for justice.”

A timeline of NCVLI’s work on this and similar cases for years across the country can be found here. Today we applaud the Court’s recognition of the trauma these victims endure and the mandatory nature of their right to restitution yet we recommit to working with survivors and other victim groups to encourage Congress to affirm the country’s commitment to victims by drafting an even clearer statute to afford the right to full and timely restitution from each and every perpetrator.  The practical outcome of the Court’s decision – that individual victims must seek restitution case-by-case, year-by-year – should not stand.

To read NCVLI’s press release regarding this decision: Click Here.

To read NCVLI’s amicus curiae brief click here:

To read the amicus brief of a collection of Anti-Violence Against Women Groups and Professors, including Law Professor Meg Garvin click here:

Disappointment at the Supreme Court – Amy’s Reaction

“I am surprised and confused by the Court’s decision today. I really don’t understand where this leaves me and other victims who now have to live with trying to get restitution probably for the rest of our lives. The Supreme Court said we should keep going back to the district courts over and over again but that’s what I have been doing for almost six years now. It’s crazy that people keep committing this crime year after year and now victims like me have to keep reliving it year after year. I’m not sure how this decision helps anyone to really know if, when, and how restitution will ever be paid to kids and other victims of this endless crime. I see that the Court said I should get full restitution “someday,” I just wonder when that day will be and how long I and Vicky and other victims will have to wait for justice.”

Download (PDF, 263KB)


Law & Order: SVU – Restitution at Last

Last night NBC’s Law & Order: SVU aired an episode about the Marsh Law Firm’s effort to obtain compensation for victims of child pornography called Downloaded Child. This clip, Restitution at Last, should sound familiar to anyone who has been following our work. They even mention the Violence Against Women Act and joint and several liability. Pop culture, we have arrived!

You can watch last night’s full Law & Order SVU episode, Downloaded Child, here free online (for a limited time). They are even using the Twitter hashtag #StolenChildhood which was the title of the story about our clients written by Emily Bazelon in the New York Times Magazine last year.

After you’ve watched Downloaded Child, read about the real #StolenChildhood, Emily Bazelon’s groundbreaking New York Times Magazine story about our clients and our firm’s efforts to obtain compensation for victims of child pornography.

Is Belle Knox the Madonna of Her Generation or Something Else?

Thirty years ago, before the Internet, Madonna scandalized society with her brash underwear, explicit sexuality, and the song “Like a Virgin.” Madonna’s clothing, performances, and music videos had a huge cultural and social impact on fashion, music and the emerging Internet of its era—the edgy counter-culture youth driven cable television network known as MTV.

Madonna’s 1984 title track, “Like a Virgin”, topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six consecutive weeks. It was criticized for promoting premarital sex and undermining family values, and there were efforts to ban the song and the accompanying video.

In July 1985, Penthouse and Playboy published several nude photos of Madonna taken in New York in 1978. Desperate for money, Madonna posed for as little as $25 a session. Their publication caused a media backlash and social criticism, but Madonna remained defiant and unapologetic. Madonna later appeared on the cover of the NY Post saying about the photographs “I’m NOT ashamed.”

Then there was Madonna’s 1992 book that was simply entitled Sex. It was shrink-wrapped and could not be previewed, and was filled with sexually provocative and explicit images. While the book was strongly criticized, it sold 1.5 million copies at $50 each in a matter of days.

Finally, in September 1993, Madonna embarked on The Girlie Show World Tour, in which she dressed as a whip-cracking dominatrix surrounded by topless dancers. Once again the show faced strong negative reaction. In March 1994, Madonna appeared as a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman, using profanity that had to be censored and handing Letterman a pair of her underwear and asking him to smell it.

Madonna’s sexually explicit films, music and books, combined with her unabashed appearance on Letterman, led some to conclude that Madonna was so far outside the mainstream that her career and her legacy were effectively over.

They were wrong.

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Supervised Visitation

Supervised Visitation and the Role of Human Service Departments

Supervised child visitation can be indicated in cases involving custody; shared parenting; grandparent custody or visitation; divorce; legal separation; post-decree matters; emergency custody situations; abuse/neglect/dependency cases; concerns about parental abduction; and, reintroduction of a parent after a long absence.

Child visitation can be restricted or denied if a court finds that allowing regular visitation would endanger a child’s physical or emotional health. In numerous situations, courts may order child visitation by stipulating how often visits are to occur, with whom, and whether the visits are to be supervised by a human services employee or some other responsible adult. If there are protection and safety concerns the visits are supervised.

Such supervised visits also provide an opportunity for workers to observe and document parent-child interactions.

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