STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - December 20, 2005)
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Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, today Senator Isakson and I introduce legislation to increase civil penalties for child exploitation. Our legislation is a small piece of a larger battle that we believe will stop would-be child predators and protect our children. Predators like the ones who exploited Masha, a little girl who was featured on Prime Time Live a few weeks ago, and the thousands of other children who are victims of these horrific crimes.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, child pornography has become a multi-billion dollar internet business. With the increasingly sophisticated technology of digital media, child pornography has become easier to produce and purchase. Countless people around the world have instant access to pictures and videos posted on the Internet and, unfortunately, millions of these images are pornographic depictions of infants and children. Masha is one of these children, whose images--hundreds of them--are on the Internet and being downloaded around the world. And while the man who sexually abused Masha and posted the pictures on the web is in jail, the damage has been done and will continue until people stop downloading pictures of her off the internet.
Under current law, a victim of child exploitation is entitled to civil statutory damages in U.S. District Court in the amount of $50,000--less than the civil penalty for illegally downloading music off the internet. This penalty is far too low to effectively deter would-be child pornographers. This legislation increases the civil penalties recoverable by victims of child sexual exploitation, including internet child pornography, to at least $150,000. This increased penalty will serve as a deterrent to those who disseminate and possess child pornography, as well as a means of compensating victims of this terrible abuse. If someone downloads a song off the Internet, Federal copyright law provides for statutory damages to be awarded to the copyright holder in the amount of $150,000. Downloading child pornography is far more detrimental to the victim than downloading copyrighted music and, as a result, the penalty should reflect that.
But it is not only the statutory damages that are flawed. The current statute states that ``Any minor who is a victim of a violation [of the act] may sue in United States District Court''. This language has been interpreted literally by a Federal district court to restrict recovery to plaintiffs whose injuries occurred while they were minors. Thus, when victims turn 18 they cannot recover against their perpetrators even if pornographic images of them as children are still distributed via the internet. Our legislation would clarify the statute to include victims of child pornography who are injured as adults by the downloading of their pornographic images.
This bill takes an important step towards ensuring justice for victims of child exploitation. I would urge speedy passage of this legislation as a stand alone bill or encourage its inclusion in a larger child protection package. It is the very least Congress can do for Masha and the thousands of children like her who have suffered at the hands of these criminals. I thank Senator Isakson for his co-sponsorship, and I look forward to working with him and all my colleagues to see that it passes the Senate.