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Washington leads ‘friend of the court’ brief concerning child pornography victims

Attorney General Bob Ferguson led a coalition of 34 states and one territory today in filing a ‘friend of the court’ brief in the U.S. Supreme Court. The issue in the case, Paroline v. Amy Unknown and the United States, No. 12-8561, is the extent to which victims of child pornography can recover money (restitution) from those who market, possess or trade images depicting sexual assault and rape of children.

The attorneys general believe victims should receive full restitution under federal law for the harms they have suffered.

“Washington state is combating child pornography and the sexual trafficking of minors,” said Ferguson. “The Internet makes it easier than ever to market and share child pornography. Victims know their images remain online, and often spend the rest of their lives coping with the emotional effects. The federal law must ensure full restitution for these victims.”

Internet increases access to and demand for child pornography

The attorneys general have taken many steps to stamp out the sexual exploitation of children and the trafficking of children, but the expansion of the Internet has brought a surge in the marketing, trading, and possession of child pornography.

This has led to more children being victims and increased trafficking of children to meet the demand for new graphic depictions of sexual assault.

Difficult for child pornography victims to obtain restitution

Knowing that images of their rape and molestation are marketed and traded on the internet causes child pornography victims to suffer ongoing feelings of helplessness, humiliation, and psychological torment.

Many child pornography victims require counseling and other treatment throughout their lives. Under federal law, a victim may ask to be compensated for these costs during the trial of someone accused of possessing images of the victim.

However, the courts rarely award victims full restitution, often finding that the victim cannot prove exactly what losses resulted from the defendant’s actions.

Victims should receive full restitution

The attorneys general believe that by enacting the Mandatory Restitution law in 1977 (18 U.S.C. § 2259), Congress directed the courts to order defendants to provide ‘full recovery’ for the damages suffered by victims of child pornography.

The attorneys general want to ensure their citizens receive full compensation for the recurring harm caused by ongoing marketing and possession of child pornography images.

States in support

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson led the filing of the amicus brief. Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming, and the Territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands all joined the brief.

Washington state’s focus on preventing human trafficking

The Washington Attorney General’s Office has a history of leading anti-human trafficking efforts. In 2011, the Washington Attorney General’s Office launched Four Pillars of Hope: Attorneys General Unite Against Human Trafficking.

Ferguson currently co-chairs the 2013-14 National Association of Attorneys General Human Trafficking Committee with Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller.

For more information about AGO work on anti-human trafficking click, here.

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