Recently I had the opportunity to address the court on behalf of a 28-year-old victim whose images of childhood sexual abuse were among those discovered on the computer of child porn trader Michael D Meister.
On December 20 Meister was sentenced in Federal Court to seven years in prison for collecting and sharing child pornography. But it was also ruled that Meister, who has high-risk multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, would be allowed to remain free during appeal.
Speaking on behalf of one of the victims I sought restitution for a young man whose life has been devastated by graphic photos and videos of him being sexually abused as a boy of 12 to 14. The victim suffers from panic attacks, sleep disorders, rarely leaves home, and is unable to afford private counseling.
Initially U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara indicated that he didn't think the 11th circuit court allowed restitution for such victims. But I was able to locate other cases where restitution was permitted. To avoid rescheduling the sentencing hearing to accommodate a restitution hearing Meister, through his attorney, agreed to pay $25,000 to the victim.
Under a 1994 Federal statute full restitution is mandatory in cases involving the sexual exploitation of minors. The law lists examples of qualifying losses as psychological care, lost income, and attorney fees. The last item listed is "any other losses suffered by the victim as a proximate result of the offense." This phrase has been interpreted differently in Federal courts.
At question is whether the collective viewing of child pornography causes all losses, or does each individual viewing or sharing child pornography cause them. Federal courts have interpreted the phrase both ways and the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments later this month regarding the issue.
As an advocate for the victims of childhood sexual abuse I believe that every individual who views or trades child pornography should be prosecuted and held liable for the damage they inflict. In a masterful Tampa Bay Times profile of the victim in this case, writer Patty Ryan shows how the victim continues to be tormented over a decade after the abuse occurred. His photos still circulate on the Internet and each week he receives between 10 to 30 victim notices he can barely force himself to go through. Worldwide, thousands of people have been caught with images of this victim and each time it happens he has to relive that horror all over again. He questions if the nightmare will ever end. Because of this he hasn't been able to hold a steady job, dropped out of college, and is reluctant to form friendships out of fear that he will have to divulge his past.
Meister remains free, and in spite of having multiple cars and a boat registered in his name, pleaded poverty and the Judge's order allows for a $100 per month payment plan. His first payment to the victim, due on January 1, was late.
Meanwhile the victim is still unable to afford private counseling.