WASHINGTON - The US Supreme Court on Wednesday appeared open to compensation for victims of child pornography but did not make it clear how much people holding the illegal material should pay.
It listened to arguments in the case of "Amy," who at eight was a victim of sexual abuse by an uncle which stated in 1997. Pornographic photos of her were posted on the Internet and then downloaded some 3,200 times, according to prosecutors.
Two of the images were found in possession of Doyle Paroline. The victim is seeking US$3.4 mllion from him in damages.
The court seemed to see a place for compensation from people who download such images and distribute them.
"The woman has undergone serious psychological harm because of her knowledge that there are thousands of people out there viewing her rape... each person increases the amount of her psychological harm," said justice Antonin Scalia.
But the high court was looking at several ideas for compensation: asking for it all from Paroline, as "Amy" sought; seeking none from him as he countered; or finding a middle ground dividing up damages among all those found in possession of the images.
Paroline, serving a two-year term for possession of some 300 child porn images, believes he owes Amy nothing and that only her uncle, who is already serving 12 years, should pay.
"An award of 3.4 million dollars against an individual for possessing two images of child pornography is punitive and grossly disproportionate to the offence conduct," Paroline's lawyers argue.
US attorney Michael Dreeben asked that the compensation be divided up among all the image-holders - to the tune of about US$18,000 per person.
But what should be done with the first person arrested in possession of the images, when it's not known how many will follow, the justices asked.
Paul Cassell, a lawyer for amy, said: "We don't know if there will be future convictions. (If Paroline pays), she gets her compensation and then she's out of the picture."
The court is expected to rule in June.