Bill McCollum

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) –Florida victims of child pornography will be able to sue for no less than $150,000 per incident, under legislation championed by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum. McCollum applauded the passage of the Exploited Children's Rights Act by members of the Florida state Legislature late Monday. Child pornography has reportedly become one of the fastest growing Internet-based businesses estimated to bring in billions of dollars a year, experts say. The landmark legislation McCollum championed entitles victims of Florida-based child pornography to sue for no less than $150,000 per incident from individuals who transmit or merely download images of sexual abuse of a child. "I am extremely grateful to our legislative sponsors and all the members of the Legislature who recognize this crime for what it truly is - the most horrific form of sexual abuse of our children," McCollum said in a statement. "Once signed, this groundbreaking legislation will make Florida the first state in the nation to provide these children rights as victims of a crime in state courts, and we encourage the rest of the country to swiftly follow our lead," the Republican AG added. The House version of the bill was approved unanimously Monday, following passage of the bill by the Senate last week. It now goes to Republican Gov. Charlie Crist for his signature. Florida's Exploited Children's Rights Act is similar to an established federal law known as Masha's Law, which was created as a provision of the Federal Adam Walsh Act. The federal law gives victims of child pornography rights in any cases prosecuted on a federal level, but there had not been a similar law in any state. McCollum pushed the legislation because he said he thought it was important to have similar protections so exploited children had a voice when charges go through state court. On a state level, child pornography has been treated like a victimless crime and since victims were not notified about legal cases involving images of their abuse, they had no chance to be heard at court when their perpetrator was sentenced and were not given information about their rights as victims. More than 30 children have been identified as victims of Florida-based child pornography, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. After the governor signs the bill, the law will go into effect on Oct. 1. Then victims will have a right to sue for civil damages in state courts there against those who perpetuate child sexual abuse by downloading and transmitting images of that abuse. The new law will allow the attorney general's office to pursue cases at the request of victims. That is an important change for the victims, as McCollum noted in a statement earlier this month. "Every time an image of child pornography is downloaded, viewed or distributed, a child's sexual abuse is continued on the internet for these individuals' ghastly appreciation," McCollum said. "Until now, these children have not been treated as victims of crime in state courts and Florida would be the first state in the nation to correct this glaring oversight." In addition, the bill provides for an electronic notification system to inform victims of child sexual abuse about pending cases that involve them. That measure will allow victims to maintain their privacy while still being heard and considered in criminal cases. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, as Senate Bill 1442 and Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, as House Bill 605.

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