I had my wallet pickpocketed in December at the Union Square Holiday Market alongside five other small 20-something brunettes who had iPhones snatched, and when I asked the cop whether I’d be financially reimbursed for my claims if they caught the guys, he said, “No, we’ll just arrest them.” The Restitution law suggests that that defendant owes me the money he stole and the cost of everything in my wallet. And my wallet.
Restitution was discussed even though the prevailing view is that technically it isn’t considered part of punishment. Its purpose is to “make the victim whole,” as the legal phrase goes. “Simply put, an innocent victim should not suffer financial losses from a crime — the defendant should make good on those losses,” Cassell said.
That quote’s from a dark article in this week’s NYTimes Magazine called “How Much Can Restitution Help Victims of Child Pornography?”, clearly an offensively more disturbing crime than a stolen wallet. The questions around restitution, how it’s implemented and how it can be with virally distributed content make it worth a read.
The story follows two girls who are victims of rape and subjects of child pornography, the acts done, filmed and distributed by father and uncle, respectively. Now, they’re getting paid back via restitution for their “financial losses” - the cost of psychiatric care, lost income and legal costs. All people who are caught in possession of child pornography faced jail time, and those in possession of these girls’ images, for the first time in child pornography suits, face restitution claims.
This article is dark, and I usually find dark narrative nonfiction a little too sensationalist, like the last article in People Magazine sensationalist where you think “Why am I reading about this one freak murder, it’s scaring me for no reason,” or “Why did I just watch that video of the McDonalds guy hitting a drunk customer with a mop handle, I feel gross for no reason,” but this one’s got some questions worth exploring. Restitution’s used, I gather, pretty widely: bank robberies, mortgage fraud, not paying taxes…Peregrine founder and resident dipshit Russell Wasendorf will pay restitution upwards of $200 million to the clients he stole from over the past 20 years. But it seems there’s been nothing as vague as loss incurred by emotional and psychological damage, especially by the recipients, owners of illegal online content, versus the primary distributor himself. Ultimately, though, if the question is, are you, by owning and perpetuating the availability of a child’s image provided against her will and/or far before her ability to consent, using a global online network, are you actively contributing to her trauma that will add to her financial losses in the form of psychiatric care? I say yes. But in the anonymous world of the internet, many men probably don’t imagine these girls as real people who have been psychologically harmed by the images that are giving them pleasure. And that’s a weird thing about the Internet. Reification of people. We don’t think about the systems in place that got our tube of toothpaste made, packaged, and put on that shelf at Walgreens to buy. On a sicker realm, the increasing distribution of images discourages questions about how that girl got there to turn you on in the first place. It explains why the number of defendants sentenced in federal court for child pornography offenses increased 30 fold in under 20 years, from 61 in 1994 to 1,880 in 2011. And, I think, makes an even stronger case for slapping hearty restitution on as punishment.
Read the article! It’s good.