Bill Increases Child Porn Penalties

Kat Khan
WASHINGTON — Adults whose images have been used for child pornography on the Internet will be allowed to sue for damages under bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate this week.

The bill, dubbed "Masha's Law" for a Russian orphan who was sexually exploited by her American adoptive father, also will boost civil damages awarded from $50,000 to $150,000.

"It's really a sad statement that we have tougher penalties for downloading music than for downloading sick images of infants and children," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the bill’s author.

"What happened to Masha was a terrible tragedy that should never be repeated," said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., the bill’s co-sponsor. "Unfortunately, reminders of her horrific ordeal remain posted on the Internet for all to see every day."

Child pornography is a multibillion-dollar business, according to the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection. Kerry said he was inspired to craft the legislation after learning about Masha, who was five years old when she was adopted from Russia in 1998 by Matthew Mancuso, a divorced engineer from the Pittsburgh area. Mancuso began sexually abusing Masha soon after she arrived, posting hundreds of explicit pictures of her on the Internet during the next five years.

Law-enforcement officials eventually located Mancuso, who has been convicted and imprisoned for child sexual abuse and for producing and possessing child pornography. However, sexually explicit pictures of Masha remain on the Internet.

Current law allows child exploitation victims under age 18 to sue pornography purveyors for $50,000 in damages in federal court. The Kerry-Isakson bill would change the law to allow child exploitation victims to sue for damages that occur after they become adults and would raise civil damages to $150,000 – the same amount allowed for infringement of federal copyright law.

“Anyone who is knowingly involved with child pornography should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” ASACP Director Joan Irvine told XBiz. “Many times it is difficult for law enforcement to prosecute for child pornography because of the burden of proof. This is the first time I have heard of someone being sued for it. I think [the legislation] sends the right message to these criminals. Since some of the people involved are motivated by the money, this legislation may have some impact.”

Masha, now 13 years old and adopted by a new family, also has started to speak out to protect other children. CNN told her story anonymously in June and earlier this month ABC’s news magazine, Primetime, interviewed her, telling her story in greater detail.