On Tuesday, May 14, 2013, our clients, Jane Doe 173 and her parents, settled a historic lawsuit against the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph and its Bishop, Robert Finn. Their case was significant for two reasons. First, through the lawsuit, Jane Doe 173, with the brave support of her family, sought justice for the damages caused by Bishop Finn’s actions in supporting Father Shawn Ratigan, a child pornographer, at the expense of numerous children from the Diocese, including Jane Doe. Second, Jane Doe 173 brought her claim under Masha’s Law, a federal statute which allows survivors of sexual exploitation and child pornography to file a civil claim in federal court. Jane Doe 173’s case is one of the first in the country to be brought against an institution for its involvement and association with child pornography. The successful resolution of Jane Doe 173’s claim under Masha’s law is an important touchstone for the protection of children from the growing menace of child pornography.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), at least hundreds of thousands of websites with child pornography exist worldwide. In 2006, in recognition of this global problem, President George W. Bush signed the Adam Walsh Protection Act, which contained Masha’s Law (18 U.S.C. §2255). In addition to increasing penalties for downloading child pornography, the law provided that victims of sexual exploitation and child pornography could file a civil lawsuit against those persons, who received, possessed, and distributed child pornography. The statute provides that a victim may recover actual damages of no less than $150,000.00, along with attorney’s fees and costs of the suit. The law, therefore, explicitly recognizes the devastating repercussions that child pornography can have on its child subjects.
Corresponding with the adoption of Masha’s law, public awareness of the global proliferation of child pornography continues to grow. Emily Bazelon’s brilliant article in The New York Times Magazine, The Price of a Stolen Childhood, is a must read and presents the very real ramifications for survivors of such exploitation. Because the sexual exploitation of a child is reduced to a potentially permanent recording or an image, child pornography can haunt the victim for years after the original crime took place, tattooing the soul of its subject with hurt, shame, and fear. Each distribution of the image has the potential to create re-victimization. For some, the very uncertainty of distribution on the internet, will impact their life and career choices, as a survivor must confront the specter of the unknown. But we believe there is hope.
At Jeff Anderson & Associates, working with survivors to combat the evil and tolerance of child pornography, is a privilege. We are honored to bring awareness to this crucial issue and to represent the courageous family of Jane Doe 173 and her mother and father. With their perseverance as example, other survivors can know there is a pathway to hope, to healing, and to justice.
Gregg Meyers & Jared Shepherd are attorneys and advocate working with survivors of clergy sexual abuse at Jeff Anderson & Associates.