Courts have commented that victims of child pornography suffer harm that is like “a thousand cuts.” This characterization is fitting because once images of a victim’s childhood sexual abuse are on the internet, the images are there forever. As a result, these victims are constantly revictimized by the knowledge that their images are being trafficked and consumed across the world.
This Comment analyzes the current framework for compensating victims through criminal restitution. Victims of all federal crimes, including child pornography offenses, are entitled to restitution for the full amount of their losses. However, this standard became complicated with child pornography because of the multitude of offenders responsible for causing the victim’s harm. In Paroline v. United States, a defendant challenged the Fifth Circuit’s imposition of joint and several liability for the victim’s losses. The Supreme Court reversed and held that district courts should order restitution in an amount which reflects “the defendant’s relative role in the causal process underlying the victim’s general losses.” In determining this relative role, the Court listed several factors to consider. The Paroline framework has garnered criticism for its difficulty to apply and legal inconsistency. Unlike any other federal crime victim, victims of child pornography are not guaranteed restitution for their full losses.
Despite complaints by lower courts about the challenges in applying the Paroline framework, Congress codified the Paroline language in the Amy, Vicky, and Andy Child Pornography Victim Assistance Act of 2018. While this Act is a step forward, it has shortcomings. At the end of the day, victims are still left bearing the costs of their own victimization. Thus, this Comment proposes taking Justice Sotomayor’s solution outlined in her dissenting opinion in Paroline. This proposal charts what joint and several liability would look like for child pornography offenses—which are a unique crime that is particular suited for this treatment because the number of offenders. Instead of restitution as a “pay-per-view,” restitution can be a means of recognizing the victim’s humanity in the criminal justice system and a way to help mend the thousand cuts.
Restitution for Child Pornography: Reframing a System for Victims Harmed by Too Many,
Loy. U. Chi. L. J.
Available at: https://lawecommons.luc.edu/luclj/vol52/iss2/9