WASHINGTON -- "Amy" was 8 years old when her uncle began raping her.
She was 17 when she found out the sex acts had gone viral on the
Internet. Today, she is one of the most popular stars in the
international underworld of child pornography.
On Wednesday, the
Supreme Court will consider whether anyone who downloaded or distributed
Amy's images can be held liable for the entire psychiatric, vocational
and legal cost of Amy's degradation, estimated at $3.4 million. Its
decision could set the standard for hundreds of other such cases in the
Her lawyers say she could not finish college, has had
trouble holding a job and will require weekly psychotherapy for the rest
of her life -- all factors in the $3.4 million restitution price tag
assembled by James Marsh, a White Plains, N.Y., lawyer who represents
victims of child pornography.
"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," Amy said in a victim-impact statement.
The case will test
the concept of "joint and several liability" -- whether participants in a
crime can be assessed the full cost, regardless of how many others were
involved. Such an arrangement makes it easier for victims to get full
restitution; violators have the burden of seeking contributions from
others convicted for the same offense.
The 5th Circuit Court of
Appeals made just that ruling for Amy, whose real name is not used in
court proceedings. But other appeals courts have disagreed, prompting
the Supreme Court to hear the case.
"While the imposition of full
restitution may appear harsh, it is not grossly disproportionate to the
crime of receiving and possessing child pornography," the 5th Circuit
ruled in November 2012.
Already, Amy has won about $1.6 million as
a result of 182 court orders of restitution, in amounts ranging from
$100 to $1.2 million. That's a fraction of the number of people who have
possessed or distributed her images. State and federal authorities have
discovered 3,200 such cases.
"Our position is that every
defendant should contribute ... until Amy is made whole," says one of her
lawyers, Paul Cassell, a University of Utah law professor and former
federal judge who specializes in victims' rights cases. That could take
another three years, he estimates.
Her lawyers' best guess is that there are 71,000 people like Doyle
Randall Paroline, who pleaded guilty in Texas in 2009 to possessing
child pornography, including two images of Amy. To collect from that
many would reduce each person's share to $47.
"Given the vast
number of criminals who are injuring Amy, such an approach would
relegate Amy (and the nation's district courts) to decades of litigation
about the size of the constantly-changing, global child pornography
market," their brief states.
Lawyers for Paroline say he should
only be assessed for his share of the crime. The contrary appeals court
ruling, they argue, "created an administrative and judicial nightmare by
holding every defendant liable for all of the losses or damages of a
And the federal government, which prosecutes child
pornography, says the amount should be left up to the trial judge.
Awarding all of Amy's losses to Paroline, it says, "has no statutory
support, is practically unworkable and may be fundamentally unfair."
from the sentences some of Amy's voyeurs have received, it would seem
her uncle got off easy. He was sentenced in 1999 to 10 years in prison
and ordered to pay $6,325, the cost of her counseling at that time.
Internet "rapes" followed. In the case of Paroline, who was slapped
with a two-year prison term and 10 years of supervised release, the FBI
sent images from his laptop to the National Center for Missing and
Exploited Children, which identified Amy. The U.S. attorney's office
alerted her lawyers, who submitted a request for restitution.
Paroline could be judged liable for the full amount but assessed
about $200 per month, Cassell argues. If he came into a fortune, his
assessment would soar as well.
Wednesday's oral argument at the
Supreme Court will be unusual because it features three sides. The case
is Paroline v. United States, but Amy's lawyers will get equal time as
the victim's representative.
"We're at the edge of a brave new
world," Cassell says. "The Internet is a powerful tool that can do
tremendous good or tremendous evil."