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September 16, 2010

Restitution terms debated in another federal child porn downloading sentencing

As detailed in this new article from the Kansas City Star, which is headlined "Long prison sentence, restitution sought in child porn case," federal district court around the country continue to confront the challenging and unsettled issue of whether and how they can and should order restitution as part of a federal sentence for downloading certain child pornography pictures. Here are the particulars:

The nightmare never ends for the young woman known around the world as “Vicky.”  Every day, new letters arrive in her mailbox informing her that another man has been arrested for having on his computer pornographic images of her being raped as a child.

One of those men was in a Kansas City courtroom Wednesday to face sentencing for receiving and possessing thousands of images of child pornography, including a nearly two-hour video of Vicky being abused as a 10-year-old.

William Harold Laursen, a former music teacher at two area schools, last year pleaded guilty to the charges. On Wednesday, federal prosecutors sought not only a lengthy prison sentence but an order for Laursen to pay restitution to Vicky.

U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs took the matter under advisement after a morning of testimony, including how the videos of Vicky’s abuse at the hands of her father are some of the most widely disseminated child pornography images on the Internet.

 “There’s no end to it,” said Randall Green, a psychologist who has examined the now-20-year-old woman in the Vicky series of images.  “She feels she is serving a life sentence.”  Not only must she deal with the trauma of being sexually assaulted by her father, but she must live with the knowledge that thousands of others have seen her being abused, Green said.  She suffers from myriad psychological problems that will require a lifetime of therapy, and she continually is fearful that people she encounters may recognize her from the videos, he said.

Though she lives in another state and did not attend Wednesday’s hearing, prosecutors have provided her written statement to the court.  “Thinking about all those sick perverts viewing my body being ravished and hurt like that makes me feel like I was raped by each and every one of them,” she said.  “It terrifies me that people enjoy viewing things like this.”...

Seeking restitution for child pornography victims from those who download and disseminate their images is relatively new.  To date, various courts have ordered about $44,000 in restitution to Vicky, according to a statement from her attorney.

Vicky is not her real name, but some downloaders of her childhood images have learned her real name and have attempted to contact her, Green said. One even created a video called “Where’s Vicky Now?” and combined current images of her with the pornographic images from her childhood, he said.

Laursen, 57, of Kansas City, formerly taught at Kansas City Academy and at CS-1 School in Prairie Village. He did not testify during Wednesday’s hearing in U.S. District Court in Kansas City. His attorney, Tom Bath, pointed out in his questioning of witnesses that there were no allegations or evidence that Laursen ever touched a child inappropriately.

I am deeply saddened by the fact that "Vicky" still suffers greatly as a result of her sexual abuse and the continued circulation of images of her victimization, and I would readily credit the psychologists assertion that "there’s no end" to the harms that "Vicky" continues to endure. 

But this reality makes the legal debate over restitution in child porn downloading cases even more challenging.  If there is no end to the harms that Vicky is suffering, should there likewise be no end (either temporally or monetarily) to her ability to collect restitution award from any and every defendant who has ever downloaded her pictures?

Some related recent federal child porn restitution posts:

September 16, 2010 at 08:45 AM | Permalink

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Comments

It seems that the government perpetuates the victim's nightmare more than anyone else. Of course, she will know that people on the internet are viewing the photos but the daily delivery of notices must cause a real impact. Is it really better to get these notifications and daily reminders of trauma for such slim chances of recovery?

Posted by: Anon | Nov 1, 2010 11:49:56 PM

At first glance restitution seems like a great idea. It certainly can help the victim more than putting the "sick" defendant in prison. But I can see some equally "sick" parents pushing their child into pornographic pictures in order to get the restitution. Vicky may have gotten only $44,000, a significant figure to some, but some of the figures that have been spread around are quite mind boggling and could act as encouragement to some, less than moral parents.

Posted by: Zadik Shapiro | Feb 18, 2011 8:15:45 PM

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