|The Amy and Vicky Act seeks to secure damages for victims of online |
paedophiles who possess indecent images fof them.
UK: People who view images of child sex abuse could lose their homes or pensions under new US-style laws being proposed by a powerful coalition of children’s charities which is demanding action from the British government.
The Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety – which includes the likes of the NSPCC, Barnardo’s, Action for Children and the Children’s Society – will on Monday publish an open letter to Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, urging him to study legislation being drafted in America that would force internet paedophiles to make financial reparations for their actions.
The Amy and Vicky Act, which has been passed by the Senate and is now before the House of Representatives, seeks to secure damages for victims of online paedophiles who possess indecent images of them.
The act would force offenders to pay damages that would help their victims to pay for medical services, therapy, lost income and legal fees. The act was drawn up following a supreme court case in which a victim, known only as “Amy”, sought $3.4m in damages from a man who had been convicted of possessing images of her. Her claim was unsuccessful, but the court backed the notion that she should be entitled to some level of damages.
Legal experts who back a law change say it recognises that the viewing and sharing of child abuse images exacerbates the harm inflicted on victims by creating a potentially permanent record of the abuse.
In handing down its judgment, the supreme court explained: “These crimes [child sexual abuse] were compounded by the distribution of images of her abuser’s horrific acts, which meant the wrongs inflicted upon her were in effect repeated, for she knew her humiliation and hurt were and would be renewed into the future as an ever-increasing number of wrongdoers witnessed the crimes committed against her.”
In their letter to Gove, the charities say such a law in the UK would act as a strong deterrent. They observe: “Not only would potential offenders know that if they engage with child abuse images they run the risk of prosecution or of receiving a caution; in addition they would also know that a financial order could be made against them which may put their assets at risk.”
They explain that it would also help to take some of the financial burden off the state. “The sort of financial orders we envisage might cover an element of compensation to the victim, but also make a contribution to the cost of any necessary therapy or ongoing support the abused victim might need. Typically, this would relieve the state of some or all of the cost of providing such therapy or support.”
John Carr, the coalition’s secretary, said a new law was urgently needed. Estimates suggest that paedophiles in the UK alone could be holding between 150 million and 360 million images of child abuse. “Conventional law enforcement methods are not working in this area, so we have to look for new deterrents,” Carr said. “I think this could be a very effective one. If guys know they could lose their house or their pension, they’ll think twice.”
Carr said there was a precedent for such forms of reparation. “Under the Proceeds of Crime Act, villains are made to forfeit their ill-gotten gains. By analogy, here is a mechanism to force a different kind of villain to pay for what they have done to an innocent child.”
He denied that the new law would see the victim forced to relive the harm done to them for a second time when the claim for damages was brought to court. “In the US, the victims’ lawyers handle everything so, no, the victim does not have to relive the crime every time a new perpetrator is found,” Carr said. “The lawyer collects the money and sends it on to them. But there should be a provision to allow a victim to opt out if that is their wish.”