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How much compensation is justice for victims of sexual exploitation?

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)–A federal appeals court decision marks the latest chapter in the growing national fight to give victims of sexual exploitation the right to seek full financial restitution.

Last week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, ruled that victims of child pornography can collectively go after perpetrators for full damages.

In previous rulings, six other appellate courts, including the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, placed limits on the amount of damages a victim can receive.  The courts ruled that victims had to show a link between each individual crime and that victim’s injuries.

Camille Cooper, a victims’ rights advocate for PROTECT, says the previous rulings placed a big financial and emotional burden on victims.

“They’re interpreting the statute so the victim would have to go from courthouse to courthouse all over the country for a few thousand dollars at a time from each defendant,” Cooper said.

Interpretation of the federal law is now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2011, Virginia passed legislation that allows victims to seek unlimited restitution from those convicted of creating, possessing or distributing child pornography.

While the federal law has no impact on Virginia’s state law, some prosecutors fear conflicting interpretations of the federal law are hampering the creation of more legislation across the country.

Louisa County Commonwealth’s attorney, Rusty McGuire, believes the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision is fairer to victims.

“As a prosecutor, it’s very disheartening for me to read a federal appellate decision and learn that the justice department is going into court siding with the defendant against the victim,” McGuire said.

PROTECT said that the U.S. Justice Department is fighting the efforts of victims to secure collective restitution under the Crime Victims Rights’ Act of 2004.

“Not only do victims have to go in (to court) and fight against people who are trafficking in their images,” Cooper said, “they now have to fight against the government.”   

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the federal law this term.


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