The woman, now in her twenties, lives in relative anonymity on the West Coast, but to child pornography collectors worldwide she will always be known as “Vicky,” a little girl raped by her father in a series of videos illegally disseminated online thousands of times during more than a decade.
Now the woman and a small but growing number of other child pornography victims are seeking restitution from those who collected or traded pictures and videos depicting their abuse, filing claims for damages against convicted child pornographers in Massachusetts and around the country. In court papers, victims describe living with the knowledge that their images can never be cleansed from the Internet.
“Many people somewhere are watching the most terrifying moments of my life and taking grotesque pleasure in them,” the woman said in court statement provided by her Seattle attorney, Carol Hepburn. “They are being entertained by my shame and pain.”
Since 2008, six federal child pornography cases in Massachusetts have resulted in defendants being ordered to pay restitution, according to the US attorney’s office in Boston.
The amounts range between $2,000 and $2.5 million, and more than a dozen local cases are pending as courts across the country grapple with questions about whether victims deserve restitution and, if so, how much.
The recent restitution efforts come as the scourge of child pornography has accelerated during the last decade, aided by improved technology and the Web’s promise of anonymity.
While most sexually exploited children go unidentified, nearly 5,000 nationwide have been located during the last 10 years by law enforcement officials and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
The Virginia nonprofit manages a database to aid prosecutors and help identify exploited children.
The woman described as Vicky declined to speak to the Globe for this story.
Her body builder father is serving a 50-year prison term, but that does not provide much comfort. In court filings, the woman described how she suffers from nightmares and panic attacks — mostly because graphic evidence of what he did to her still circulates online.
Some men have even stalked and solicited her after becoming obsessed with the so-called Vicky series.
Pictures and videos from the series have been found in the files of about 2,600 defendants nationwide — including about two dozen cases in Massachusetts — Hepburn’s staff said. On behalf of the victim, she wants convicted pornographers to pay a total of $1.3 million. Hepburn said the money will compensate for therapy, lost wages, and other damages. In the last three years, she has collected several hundred thousand dollars by filing motions in 350 cases.
Payments, in increments as small as $25, come from convicts’ assets and family members, or through tax seizures. Some will probably never pay up because they are destitute or have been deported, Hepburn said.
Hepburn said her client also is using the courtroom as a stage to tell her story, speaking openly about a crime that often paralyzes victims with shame and fear.
“She really wanted to do all she could for victims,’’ Hepburn said. “So many of these girls and boys don’t want to come forward.”
But critics say restitution orders unfairly punish those who haven’t physically abused children or even produced illicit pornography. And attorney Jonathan Turley, a law professor from George Washington University, said it’s not practical to require payments every time a victim’s picture pops up on someone’s computer.
“If everyone is entitled to restitution, no one will get it,” Turley said. “Inevitably, this is going to be a challenge both logistically and financially for the courts as more restitution demands arise.”
New York attorney James R. Marsh, a pioneer in the restitution effort, said more victims do not seek damages because they are afraid and embarrassed.
His client, identified in court documents as Amy, was molested repeatedly by her uncle from the age of 4. Images of those attacks have been located on the computers of more than 1,600 defendants.
Marsh seeks $3.4 million in lost wages, medical costs, and other damages on behalf of his client. He said he has prevailed in more than 170 rulings totaling about half that amount since 2008.
Amy, in her 20s and living in rural Pennsylvania, declined to talk to the Globe.
In court papers, she said it is difficult for her to concentrate, study, or keep a job.
“I live in constant fear that someone will see my pictures and recognize me, and that I will be humiliated all over again,” she said in a victim impact statement.Continued...