Senate passes bill to help child porn victims recover damages
© Greg Nash

The Senate on Wednesday in a unanimous vote passed a bill that would make it easier for victims of child pornography to receive damages.

“Through this legislation, we are telling future offenders that they will pay for these heinous crimes, and even more importantly, we are telling victims that help is on the way,” Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMellman: What happened after Ginsburg? Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-Utah), the lead sponsor, said in a statement after the 98-0 vote. 

A companion bill has yet to move in the House.

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The bill is in response to a 2014 Supreme Court case that essentially ruled in favor of a man convicted for viewing child pornography. The court decided that even though the man had clearly harmed the victim, he was only a small part of the overall harm suffered and couldn’t be responsible for paying the victim's full damages.

That decision put the burden on victims to seek out each individual offender in order to receive full damages for their harm.

Hatch’s bill would ensure that courts take a holistic view of a victim’s losses, including medical services, therapy, rehabilitation, transportation, child care and lost income. If only one individual harmed the victim, he or she is responsible for full damages. But if more than one are involved in the crime, the defendant is either responsible for that entire amount or certain minimums depending on the severity. 

It also allows convicted criminals who victimized the same person to sue each other in order to spread the burden around.

That idea played a significant role in the Supreme Court case, as the victim’s lawyer argued it was a fair way to help victims get paid faster.

“Sexual exploitation, especially child pornography, has a devastating impact on the lives of its victims," Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Overnight Health Care: Biden unveils COVID-19 relief plan | Post-holiday surge hits new deadly records | Senate report faults 'broken' system for insulin price hikes MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

"They ought to have access to full restitution from any single perpetrator for their losses. This bill ensures that victims can be fully compensated for these heinous crimes, and can focus their attention on healing."

The bill is named for two anonymous victims of child pornography, who are now adults: referred to as Amy and Vicky.

Amy’s uncle was sentenced to 10 years in prison for raping her and distributing pictures of her, but only paid about $6,300 in restitution. Court documents said that Amy had mostly recovered from that trauma until she realized that the pictures continued to be passed around online. That realization made it difficult for her to work and socialize, and her lawyers contended that she needed more than $3 million in total restitution.

But the lawyer for the defendant warned the high court, which ultimately sided with him, that his client should not be required to pay that entire sum simply for possessing two pictures of Amy.

If Hatch’s bill becomes law, judges would have the ability to hold individual defendants responsible for the full damages and require them to sue other offenders to share the burden.