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Bill would let child porn victims sue for at least $150,000

Monday, January 25, 2010 | 4:09 p.m. CST; updated 6:44 p.m. CST, Monday, January 25, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Child pornography victims could sue anyone convicted of producing, promoting or possessing their sexual images for at least $150,000 in damages under a proposal backed by the Missouri attorney general.

The legislation, which could be sent to a Senate committee this week, is intended raise the financial stakes for the purveyors of child pornography while giving private law firms an incentive to help crack down on the industry.

"Possession and promotion of child pornography is often considered a victimless crime because it's an image being distributed," said Joan Gummels, the legislative director for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. "But every image in child pornography portrays a victim.

"The bill is an attempt to give that victim a voice against the perpetrator of the crime," Gummels added.

Koster's office said the measure is modeled after a 2008 Florida law, which was promoted by that state's attorney general as a first-of-its-kind for state courts. A 2006 federal law raised the minimum amount of financial damages that child pornography victims can receive in federal court from $50,000 to $150,000.

The Missouri legislation was filed last week by Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, an attorney who for years has sought to increase state regulation of the adult entertainment industry.

The legislation would apply to pornography victims younger than 14 at the time of the crime. They would have up to three years to sue after they turn 18, after the perpetrators are convicted or after police notify them that their images were used in pornography. The legal clock would start ticking with the most recent event.

A 2007 Missouri law allows child porn victims to sue perpetrators for physical or psychological injuries. But unlike the latest proposal, the existing law sets no minimum guarantee for those damages if the lawsuit is successful.

Establishing a floor of $150,000 in damages should give private attorneys a greater incentive to take such cases, Bartle said.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, who is also an attorney, called it "a very intriguing concept" that could deter some people from downloading or possessing child pornography.


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