In the News

In Court, a Victim Gives Voice to Sex Abuse

By AL BAKER, NY Times
Published: June 9, 2011

He had never met the young girl, recognizing her only through a 15-minute video he had downloaded that showed her being sexually abused by a man. Her circumstances were not familiar to him; he knew her only as “Vicky,” the self-titled subject of a series of videos popular in child-pornography circles.

But on Thursday, Matthew Fanning, a retired New York City police officer, came to learn more about Vicky, who is now in her 20s, as her victim-impact statement was read aloud at his sentencing in State Supreme Court in Queens.

“I wonder if the people I know have seen these images,” the woman wrote, according to the statement, which was read by a senior assistant district attorney, Kateri A. Gasper. “I wonder if the men I pass in the grocery store have seen them. Because the most intimate parts of me are being viewed by thousands of strangers, and traded around, I feel out of control. They are trading my trauma around like treats at a party, but it is far from innocent. It feels like I am being raped by each and every one of them.”

Prosecutors have withheld her real name because she is a repeat victim of child abuse: her father sexually abused her and filmed those acts more than a decade ago.

In her statement, she described enduring flashbacks, nightmares and paranoia. Crowds were unbearable, she said, and she withdrew from college because of panic attacks.

And each time she learns that images of her “naked body being tortured” are at the center of another court case against a purveyor of child pornography, she feels exploited anew. Victim-impact statements from the woman’s mother and stepfather were also introduced into the record, though not read aloud. Later, Justice Fernando M. Camacho sentenced Mr. Fanning, 48, of Ozone Park, to up to 10 years in prison.

“The children who are depicted in these vile videos are real children,” said Richard A. Brown, the Queens district attorney. “The fact that the defendant is a retired N.Y.P.D. officer makes this case all the more disturbing.”

Last month, Mr. Fanning pleaded guilty to two counts of promoting sexual performance by a child: one for obtaining a video featuring a 3-year-old girl engaged in a sex act with an adult male and one for the Vicky video.

In court, Mr. Fanning apologized after hearing the victim’s statement.

“The phrase ‘Lord knows, I’m sorry,’ comes to mind,” he told the judge. “I would never do anything to hurt anyone.”

As for the victims in the case, Mr. Fanning said: “I pray for them and their families every day. I swear to God nothing like this will ever happen again.”

For the young woman at the center of the Vicky series, offering an impact statement is part of a two-pronged legal approach seeking some relief for her past. When people are convicted in federal court of possessing pornographic images of her, she files motions to receive damages, her lawyer, Carol L. Hepburn, said.

She is seeking about $1 million to date for counseling, lost wages, extra educational costs and evidence gathering, Ms. Hepburn said. So far, her client has filed for restitution in more than 200 federal criminal cases across the country, and received more than 50 orders for payment — though not much money has come in because many defendants have little means.

“We ask that her victim-impact statement be read aloud in all cases so the defendant and those in court have an opportunity to realize the effect of this crime,” Ms. Hepburn said. “I’m hopeful other victims will come forward and realize they, too, can have a voice.”

Ms. Hepburn said her client was one of three victims in the nation who regularly request restitution from people who possess child pornography images — not just from those who produce or distribute it. Whenever the Vicky images show up in a prosecution, the government notifies Ms. Hepburn — although victims and their relatives can ask that the government not do so. In his statement, the stepfather of the victim in the Vicky series said he did just that.

“We don’t receive the notices anymore,” he wrote. “The pain and gut-wrenching reminder of receiving enough notices to overflow a 55-gallon drum is more than my family can take.”

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