The Price of Innocence in Child Pornography

Child pornography is destructive - to children, to families, and to society. In our Juvenile Law course, Elizabeth Stahlman, Regent Juris Doctor 2012, recently researched the new mandatory restitution law in Virginia for child pornography, and what she found was shocking. Children are receiving meager financial restitution from those adults who have used them for pornography. In a good intentioned attempt to restore victimized children by compensating those child victims monetarily wtih restitution actually works to further their humiliation.

The article entitled “Putting a Price on Innocence,” discusses the challenges facing the 2011 Virginia legislation that requires possessors of child pornography to pay a mandatory restitution award to identifiable victims. This is a topic that is being widely discussed on a federal level in many recent journal publications in the context of the federal Mandatory Victim Restitution Act, which is almost identical to the new Virginia legislation. The issues that arise with restitution for child pornography victims have shown splits in the decisions of the federal circuit courts. Stahlman's article addresses these issues and possible solutions to better accomplish the goals of the legislation. She writes,

"The change in the law was first seen in the Louisa County court when Ryan Macklin was brought to trial. The court required Macklin to pay $1,000 to each of the two identifiable victims. $1,000 certainly will not restore the two victims to the position they were in before being exploited for the child pornography market. So what does this say? Is Virginia putting a price tag on innocence? Does awarding $1,000 as restitution cheapen the innocence of children? Is it worth $1,000 to put a child pornography victim through the trauma of being notified of the offense?

This article addresses whether the new Virginia law mandating restitution for possession of child pornography effectively accomplishes the intended purposes of restitution. The article will discuss how the amended Virginia statute resembles the 1996 federal Mandatory Victim Restitution Act (MVRA) and what we can learn from the 15 years of case law and study coming from the MVRA. Section I will discuss the amended Virginia statute, the MVRA, and the purpose of the statutes. Section II will discuss the legal issues that stem from awarding mandatory restitution to child pornography victims. Section III will discuss the non-legal consequences that affect the victims of child pornography when restitution orders are mandatory. Finally, Section IV will offer possible solutions that will accentuate the positive aspects of mandatory restitution orders to possessors of child pornography while diminishing some of the negative consequences." Read the entire article here.

These attempts to mandate victim restitution may appear to be nice legislation, but unless righted, as Stahlman suggests in her piece, they may work to further demean child pornography victims, rather than restore them in any fashion. Pornography destroys an individual's innocence. Paying restitution for it may not work out as well as federal and state legislators had hoped.

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