The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:
It is self-evident that a child is harmed during the creation of child pornography.
But it is less clear if that person is harmed years later when someone views those images of sexual abuse on the Internet.
The decision on how harm is calculated could mean the difference between a victim being compensated -- or made whole -- for the injuries suffered, or receiving nothing at all.
While the issue has been raised here in the Western District of Pennsylvania and in federal courts across the country for five years, it is only now that the U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in.
The high court agreed late last month to hear the case involving "Amy," who had been sexually abused by her uncle at the ages of 8 and 9. He photographed that abuse and distributed the images online starting in 1998, as part of what is known as the "Misty" series. The Post-Gazette does not name victims of sexual abuse; Amy is the name used in court documents for the victim.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, more than 35,000 pornographic images of Amy have been found in 3,200 separate criminal cases since then.
Amy, with the help of an attorney, began filing requests for restitution in Sept. 2008 against defendants convicted of possessing images of her. Now in her early 20s, she has made similar filings in every U.S. district court in the country.
But the rulings have been split.
In some districts, restitution of the full amount she is seeking -- $3.4 million to cover costs of treatment and lost wages -- has been granted. But in others, Amy has been awarded nothing.
The legal question in this case turns on a single phrase.
Congress passed the Mandatory Restitution for Sexual Exploitation of Children Act of 1994 declaring that a person harmed as a result of child pornography shall be paid by the defendant "the full amount of the victim's losses," which include costs for:
• medical services relating to physical, psychiatric, or psychological care;
• physical and occupational therapy or rehabilitation;
• necessary transportation, temporary housing and child care expenses;
• lost income;
• attorneys' fees, as well as other costs incurred; and
• any other losses suffered by the victim as "a proximate result of the offense."
That very last phrase, "as a proximate result of the offense," is the linchpin on which the entire issue turns. It means a direct causal link between the offense and the loss suffered. . . .