Interview: Ballard lawyer talks about pioneering case on child pornography
On January 24, the New York Times Magazine published an article entitled “The Price of a Stolen Childhood,” which follows the story of two child pornography victims and how they are seeking restitution for the crimes done on them in the past. Both victims, who have thousands of images of them being traded online, have struggles ordinary people do not. Though the original crimes are long done and settled -- scarring events by themselves -- they must live with the knowledge that anyone they meet may have seen their images online.
One of those victims, going by the pseudonym of Nicole in the story, was forced to make pornography when she was a child by her biological father, and now her images are some of the most highly sought after. She is represented by a Seattle lawyer who has lived in Ballard since 1982, Carol Hepburn. Hepburn’s pioneering case, which has become national in scope, seeks to gain restitution from people who download Nicole’s images for the psychological damage they have done to Nicole.
In an interview with the Ballard News-Tribune, Hepburn described her work on child pornography and why she thinks it’s important to do.
BNT: Did you ever do cases related to child pornography before?
CH: Nope. When I was a prosecutor, we weren’t doing those kinds of cases. Child pornography over the Internet had not exploded at that time. I had no experience in that. I had experience with psychological injuries. But not this sort of thing.
It was the sort of circumstance where a person comes to you for help (Nicole had reached Hepburn through the bar association), and even if you don’t know what you can do, you know it’s not right, and you know something must be done, and you know something must be able to be done about it.
It’s not so much that the subject matter is dark and foreboding, and that puts you off. For me, it's someone comes in and needs help, and it’s my job to figure out how to help them.
BNT: Can you tell me a little bit more about the psychological cases you worked on in the past?
CH: You develop a familiarity with the types of psychological injuries, the way in which people are hurt psychologically. I find psychology is a very interesting subject.
It’s very compelling, too. One of the things that’s not very well understood. Most people can understand a broken bone, most people can understand lacerations -- a lot of physical injuries are very easy to understand. Psychological injuries, not so much.
BNT: So how do you demonstrate to the judge the psychological damage that has been done to victims of child pornography?
CH: You need to show the judge, be able to demonstrate to the judge how these victims are harmed by this. (People sometimes) just think of the person looking at pictures, looking at videos online, and they so often forget that the subject of the photo is a real child. ...
I’ve never seen the photos I should say, I’ve never seen the videos, because it’s not legal for me to watch them because I’m not a member of the law enforcement. But I’ve had them described to me in detail … they’re petty gruesome.
BNT: Talk to me about restitution. Do you think receiving restitution from child pornography collectors will help Nicole?
CH: It helps her because it gives them the money she needs to get the ongoing therapy that she needs. It also helps her with the extra tuition for school, because she’s not able to attend college like other ordinary students can. She’s had to start and stop and restart again.
It also provides some sort of income replacement, because she’s not able to go to work while she goes to school like you or I can, because she can’t handle that kind of stress, she can’t do the jobs an ordinary woman can do, she has difficulty in doing jobs that deal with the public. She always wonders if the people she encounters have seen the images, because they’re so widespread.
I had no idea before I got this case how big a problem child pornography is, and how many many many cases that are being prosecuted. As I understand from law enforcement, they don’t have the resources or officers to keep up with it. So she has a very real fear of people that she encounters on a day-to-day basis who have viewed her images. She’s been stalked, she’s had pedophiles call her up. It’s not just that she’s dreaming up unfounded fears.
That’s the monetary way in which the awards are helping her, and there’s an affirmation for her every time an order is entered, because there’s an acknowledgement by a judge or a person of authority that her damage is real and that people who are downloading her images are wrong.
BNT: What about the amount of money she receives? Is it too much or too little? When is it enough?
CH: In terms of the amounts, the vast majorities that are entered for restitution are relatively small amounts. A person who may have thousands of images overall and a few dozen for her, you know, pays a few thousand dollars and they have contribute to her lifeolong fear, insomnia and other hurts that she suffers, and it’s a relatively small amount.
Some of the orders are quite large, but we’ve not received any great amount from any single person. Lots of the orders that are entered are against people who will be spending a significant amount of time in jail.
BNT: What would you say is the average amount that the judge orders from perpetrators?
CH: The average order is something around $5,000. That’s not what we get, quote unquote, that’s how much that is ordered. I sometimes get checks for as little as $25. There may be two or three victims who get paid so it’s divided.
If you want to talk about the original perpetrator versus those who download the images, the original perpetrator is in jail, she knows she’s never going to hurt her again ... it’s finished. The actual actions are finished, and she can heal from that.
The problem from downloading the pornography is that it keeps the trauma alive for the victim. Anyone around her can be someone who’s downloading her images.
(To put it in perspective) a lot of people may be unhappy if there’s an unflattering picture of them on Facebook, if a friend takes it and puts it up. Imagine a picture of you naked bound and being raped. How would people like that sort of picture going around the Internet and you have no control over it at all?
A lot of these pictures were taken at a time where their facial features were pretty well developed so you can match their face with the adult that is out there today. Imagine going in for a job interview and that person tried to do a search on the Internet with your name and they come up with all kinds of images on the search engine with sexually related vulgar terms. It would really inhibit one from wanting to go out and meet new people, or get a job, or apply for a school even because even admissions people might Google someone these days.
BNT: What is your end goal in all of this?
CH: There’ll be no stopping the spreading of the images. It’s like the genie is out of the bottle and you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. For her, she’s very interested in getting out the word to other victims to say they’re not alone, there’s help for them, that they shouldn’t be ashamed of coming out.
That’s one of the reasons she agreed to the interview with the Times, because she wants to help others who have been victimized this way.
Zachariah Bryan can be reached at email@example.com
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