Crime victims have won an important victory with the appellate decision of the 11th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in United States v. McDaniels published by the court on January 28, 2011. This is the first published federal appellate decision recognizing that the children who are the subjects of heinous photographs and videos depicting their sexual torture are indeed victims who qualify for restitution. The viral spread of child pornography on the internet has made this a problem of incomprehensible proportion.
Although a federal statute specifically allowing courts to order restitution for such victims has been on the books since the 1990s, the lower courts have been split on whether criminal defendants should actually have to pay. Perhaps out of shame, or perhaps out of lack of knowledge of their rights, only a few victims have been requesting restitution, and these only within the last few years.
In response, while many courts have answered “yes” and awarded restitution from those convicted of child pornography related crimes, other courts have said that there must be specific evidence of causation as to the particular criminal defendant. This, in reality, is a standard that most victims could never meet. Because of the anonymity of the crime, it is difficult, if not impossible, for victims in most of these cases to provide such proof.
Those who view and distribute images of child sexual abuse on the internet typically never have direct contact with the victim who is the depicted in the images. The specific amount of harm caused by the specific person who looks at and passes on the pictures of the child’s sex abuse is hard to quantify. Without the market for these pictures, however, it is unlikely they would be produced and distributed.
The one other published federal appellate case on this issue, In re Amy, found that the proximate cause requirement was so specific to the particular defendant that it defeated the victim’s right to restitution. The decision in US v. McDaniels, however, affirms that a new harm is visited upon the child with each viewing of the images of her rape. McDaniels recognizes that, while the original assault inflicted injury, the victim is never able to put an end to it while pictures of her rape circulate for all the world to see. This decision affirms that each defendant who possesses images of the sexual abuse of a child inflicts further harm and should contribute to restitution.
We are among a handful of attorneys in the United States who re pursuing restitution on behalf of victims of child pornography crimes. We are proud to represent the victim in US v. McDaniels and are happy for her rights to be vindicated in this decision. Most importantly, US v. McDaniels also clears the way for so many other child victims, many who are now adults, to receive compensation for the profound harms they suffer. To date we have obtained restitution orders for our client in over 129 cases. Our success leads us to continue to do this work because it is an important way to give a voice to the many children and their families who have been harmed by the proliferation of images of child sex abuse.