The Free Market in Child Pornography

More than six years after the international law enforcement community began desperately searching for the child pornography victim known as the Disney World Girl, justice remains allusive for Masha Allen. Despite two Congressional investigations in 2006 and pressure from Nancy Grace and Oprah, none of the perpetrators involved with her international adoption have been brought to justice.

Despite the involvement of almost 30 lawyers since Masha was rescued from Matthew Mancuso in 2003 (including the prosecutor and lead investigator in the much-hyped Caylee Anthony investigation), not one of the many child welfare institutions and organizations who were involved with Masha’s international and domestic adoptions have paid one dime for her care and recovery.

And despite a federal law named for her, not one case has been brought on her behalf under Masha’s Law which guarantees $150,000 from each of the thousands of child molesters who collect and trade her images each year.

Neither a high-profile 2008 exposé in Wikileaks nor aborted investigations by ABC News in 2009 and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2010 have been able to shed any light on the abject failure of the American justice system to vindicate the rights of one of the most notorious victims of child trafficking in this country’s history.

Ms. Allen will turn 19 in just a few days. With each passing year, her ability to collect anything from anyone diminishes substantially. The tolling she enjoyed as a minor under the Pennsylvania statute of limitations ended when she reached legal adulthood last year. Law suits for intentional torts typically must be brought within a year. Claims for fraud, personal injury or professional malpractice must be brought before Masha turns 20. This includes a lawsuit under the Notice of Claim relating to her failed domestic adoption by Faith Allen which we filed back in 2007.

Masha’s millionaire father also has somehow escaped civil liability for what he did to Masha. And while other victims are collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in mandatory restitution in the federal courts, Masha has sought and received nothing.

Now Masha’s Law itself is under attack. In 2009, Jesse Walker, the influential editor of Reason magazine (which espouses “free minds and free markets”), wrote an editorial entitled The Blurry Boundaries of Child Porn. Walker correctly summarizes Supreme Court jurisprudence which makes child pornography outside the scope of First Amendment protection when he recognizes that “[t]he viewing [of child sex abuse images], in this analysis, is itself a perpetuation of the abuse.”

Walker continues:

Such arguments undergird Masha’s Law, named for Masha Allen, a Russian orphan who was held prisoner, raped repeatedly on camera, and advertised in the kiddie porn world as “Disney World Girl.” The measure, which became law in 2006, allows adults who were victimized by pornographers as minors to sue people who download the resulting images.

Emotionally, it’s a compelling concept. And where invasion of privacy is the concern, civil remedies certainly make more sense than criminal prosecutions. But the idea opens a can of worms. If the issue is privacy, shame, and being haunted by ineradicable images, wouldn’t the same argument apply to the abused prisoners photographed at Abu Ghraib? To hostages filmed by their captors and aired on the news? To anyone humiliated in front of a camera? Should an inadvertent Internet celebrity, deeply embarrassed that people are chuckling at a clip of his light-saber dance, have standing to sue the viewers?

That last example might seem absurd, but it actually veers close to the pornography debate. Because the child porn laws set the age of maturity so high, they cover not just the victims of coercion but exhibitionists who voluntarily put photographs of themselves online. There also are people who post pictures that are salacious but don’t include the “lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area” invoked by the law. They do not necessarily intend for anyone but their friends to see the photos. But the Internet doesn’t always work that way.

After analogizing Masha’s child sex abuse images to teen-aged girls in bikinis and equating them with a video clip of a “light-saber dance,” Walker declares “Is it the role of the government to preserve her peace of mind? … I’m not convinced that’s reason enough to punish the people who merely see those recordings, as opposed to the people who actively participate in the abuse of prisoners like Allen.”

Perhaps what Walker desires is a “free market” in child pornography which will “free the minds” of the tens of thousands of child molesters and pedophiles who actively collect and trade child sex abuse pictures and videos.

Walker’s vision, however, is hardly “free” or fair to the victims. Until the legal system insures that victims like Masha Allen can recover for the very real harms caused by the horrific abuse inflicted on them by the production, distribution and collection of child sex abuse images, the “market” is neither free nor fair.

And as we’ve seen in the Masha Allen case, if Congress, Oprah and 30 lawyers can’t bring justice to one victim, then deregulating the market for child pornography is hardly the answer. Sadly, Walker’s unfettered “free market free mind” is currently much closer to reality than the victims’ “peace of mind.” Unfortunately, for Masha Allen and thousands of other victims of child pornography, justice remains long in coming.

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