Fighting to give pornography victims a clean slate on the Internet

By Ashley McNamee

January 31, 2013 Updated Feb 1, 2013 at 12:31 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill  --  In early January, federal agents arrested more than 200 people for owning, trading and producing images of child pornography.

In this digital world, the images exploiting children will circulate long after the arrests are made and restitution paid.

Can a victim clean the slate so that the photos are never seen again?

Central Illinois native Jennifer is one of the most widely viewed victims of child pornography in the world.

“The hardest part is when I am reminded of things,” said Jennifer. “I try to move on, but there are always things that remind that there are still pictures out there and there are still people looking at them.”

Today her father, who took the pictures, is in prison and she receives restitution from the people caught possessing the images of her abuse.

Regardless, the pictures are still out there and every time she meets a stranger, she panics. 

“It's a weird feeling. Would they recognize me now if they saw me?”

“They should have more control. They should be empowered,” said Tim Cusack, an attorney. “These photos were taken of them illegally and why can't they do something to keep them from being shown again?”

Cusack, an attorney and newly appointed Peoria County Associate Judge, came up with an idea to stop future distribution of the pictures.

"If she could posses those photos then there is a possible way she could cause other people to not publish them anymore," he said.

For two months we've been discussing the issue with several lawmakers in Washington. After digging through various laws, there still is no clear solution. What appears to be the best option is to change copyright law so victims, like Jennifer, can own the illicit pictures of themselves.

Throughout all of this, one thing has become clear: it will literally take an act of congress to actually make this happen.

"You could cut a huge hole in child pornography," said Cusack. "If the Internet providers basically stepped up and said, 'yes, we can stop this and we will stop this,' but what are they going to stop right now, there is nobody who can say I own this picture you can't show it anymore."

Jennifer's attorney, Dan Cusack, has also started working with a bill writer to draft a piece of legislation that could be presented to lawmakers.  It would create an exception for victims of child pornography.

"Everyone is in favor of the idea,” said Dan Cusack. “Child pornography is very easy to be against. We need some people that will push this and get behind it.”

For victims like Jennifer, this idea could stop the cycle, stop the distribution of her picture and finally allow her to move forward.

“Like I always want to think, 'oh what happened to me is in the past', but it's not in the past if it's still happening,” said Jennifer.

In the two months since our original story ran, at least two people locally have been picked up on child pornography charges, including an East Peoria school bus driver.

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