By JON CAMPISI
A woman whose childhood sexual exploits at the hands of a western Pennsylvania businessman led to Congress enacting legislation commonly referred to as “Masha’s Law” has filed a federal class action lawsuit that may be a first of its kind.
Lawyers representing the woman who previously went by the name Masha Allen filed the class action complaint on Aug. 23 at the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia against men who allegedly viewed pornographic pictures and videos depicting childhood sexual abuse against the plaintiff.
The plaintiff, who is simply listed as Jane Doe in the suit, is a victim of the child pornography trade, having been sexually molested by [name withheld], who is also named as a defendant in the civil action.
According to the complaint and media reports, [name withheld], who is currently imprisoned in New England, repeatedly raped and sexually abused the plaintiff on camera over a period of more than five years, creating what the suit calls a set of “brutal and graphic images that he then distributed and traded with others via the Internet.”
The images, which are still circulating to this day, were allegedly viewed by the named defendants and other similarly situated persons, the lawsuit states.
Images of the plaintiff, who is known to law enforcement and child porn users as “Internet Girl,” “Disney World Girl” and “Angeli,” are among the most widely distributed illegal images of child sexual abuse known to authorities, the lawsuit claims.
The complaint says that each time federal prosecutors file criminal charges against someone for illegally possessing the images of the plaintiff, the woman is sent a notice identifying the perpetrator.
To date, the plaintiff has received more than 2,000 such notices, the suit states.
The defendants in the complaint conspired with each other, and with members of the class, to share and distribute the photos and videos, largely through the “darknet,” which the suit claims is a collection of secure websites, online chatrooms, bulletin board sites and peer-to-peer file-sharing computer networks that communicate through the Internet but are designed to conceal the participants’ personal identifying information, according to the complaint.
“Because the images are illegal, there is no way to obtain copies of them except by seeking out, and becoming trusted by, someone who illegally possesses them,” the lawsuit reads. “Defendants operated under an agreement to protect each other’s anonymity, communicating with each other remotely under fictitious usernames.”
The defendants named in the litigation, the suit says, collectively participated in and helped to maintain a black market that “incentivized and facilitated the copying, trading, and distribution of illegal images of child sexual abuse, including images of Plaintiff, all in violation of the statutes for which Masha’s Law creates a private right of action.”
U.S. lawmakers used the plaintiff’s tale as inspiration for the passage of the 2006 law formally known as the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.
The statute is often referred to as Masha’s Law.
The plaintiff’s lawyers wrote that the approximately 200 hundred original images of their client has since grown “exponentially into millions of copies distributed worldwide.”
“Scarred by years of brutal exploitation, she now must also bear the humiliating knowledge that untold numbers of men, such as Defendants, continue to take sadistic pleasure in viewing and distributing graphic visual depictions of her pain and degradation,” the lawsuit states.
The suit notes that Congress has provided that a plaintiff who establishes a claim under Masha’s Law is able to recover a minimum of $150,000 in damages from each defendant in a civil case.
If her case went to trial, there’s no telling how much damages the plaintiff could be looking at given that the case is being filed as a class action.
The plaintiff is a Russian native who had been adopted by [name withheld] when she was 5 years old, the record shows.
[name withheld] adopted the girl specifically for the purpose of sexually abusing her and using her to create child pornography, the suit claims.
Most of the abuse against the plaintiff took place at [name withheld]’s Pennsylvania home, the complaint says, although some images were created in Florida on an annual trip to Disney World, hence one of the nicknames given to the girl.
The complaint says that each of the named defendants has pleaded guilty or otherwise been convicted of a federal criminal offense involving the receipt and/or distribution of illegal images depicting child sexual abuse against the plaintiff.
The plaintiff seeks compensatory damages of no less than $150,000 per defendant, unspecified punitive damages, pre-and-post-judgment interest, attorney’s fees and costs.
The woman is being represented by Philadelphia attorney Michael A. Ferrara, Jr., and Georgia lawyers Darren Summerville and William Q. Bird.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
|Kyle B. Garstka|
By Tim Damos
The case of a former Sauk County jailer accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting two children is now slated for a trial by jury. Last week a judge scheduled the case of 32-year-old Kyle B. Garstka of Reedsburg for a trial that would begin Feb. 17 and last four days.
In April, Garstka was charged with two counts of repeated sexual assault of a child while off duty. Prosecutors allege heis guilty of repeated sexual acts, inappropriate touching and voyeurism against two children younger than 10.
His attorney has said the entire case rests on the “bare bones statements” of children, which lack corroborating evidence.
When he was employed as a jailer with the Sauk County Sheriff’s Department, Garstka faced allegations of domestic abuse on two separate occasions, but never was convicted.
In 2009, prosecutors agreed to dismiss a disorderly conduct charge involving domestic abuse in exchange for Garstka’s no contest plea and his fulfillment of certain terms, including counseling. Another incident in 2011 caused a separate woman to seek treatment at Hess Memorial Hospital in Mauston. The woman alleged Garstka beat her after an argument in a restaurant parking lot.
A nurse interviewed by detectives said the woman’s injuries were consistent with her story. However, a special prosecutor declined to press charges, citing “certain inconsistencies” and “the lack of witnesses.”
A former Sauk County jailer, Garstka was placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation after the most recent charges were filed in April.
Sauk County Sheriff Chip Meister said Monday that Garstka is no longer an employee with the department.
Location: Reedsburg, WI 53959, USA
By Alex Burness
Rod Bretches, the former Loveland police officer convicted of possessing child pornography and videotaping a woman in the shower without her consent, was sentenced Monday to 16 months in jail, plus 15 years of probation and intensive therapy.
Eighth District Court Judge Stephen E. Howard said that while Bretches' status as both an ex-policeman and sexual offender will render him highly vulnerable to harassment by other inmates, it would have been inappropriate to not give a jail sentence.
"The circumstances are, in my opinion, horrendous," Howard said.
Bretches, 49, must turn himself in by Friday at 5 p.m. His sentence requires he spend the first six months of his sentence in the county jail, though he may become eligible to spend the remaining 10 months on outside work release.
He was originally arrested in May 2012 after colleagues at the Loveland Police Department began investigating Bretches following a woman's complaint that he had secretly videotaped her showering and then shared it online. Police searched his home and found videos and photos depicting child pornography, in addition to online messages between Bretches and user name "masterbill69" suggesting the shower taping was premeditated.
"You need to grow some ... and start taking pictures," masterbill69 wrote in June 2011. "I want action, wimp."
Bretches' attorney, Denver-based criminal defense lawyer Jonathan Willett, argued against a jail sentence by citing his client's "troubled" and "broken" childhood." In his youth, Bretches rarely spent more than one full year in the same place and was often subjected to abuse from his mother's numerous sexual partners.
The non-consensual videotaping of a Loveland woman, Willett argued, "is not so much indicative of Mr. Bretches' general view of sex," but rather that, "he is a product of some of the negative behaviors that he experienced as a child."
"When you're a little kid and you're subject to this kind of abuse, you don't think rationally," Willett said.
The lead prosecutor, Erin McElroy, said the pretext of Bretches' actions does not rebut his "bad character."
"It doesn't matter who the woman in that video is," McElroy said of the peeping Tom charges levied against Bretches. "It is truly about the defendant. It's a window into what's going on in his mind."
Bretches' defense was buoyed by testimony from three women, all of whom described Bretches as a caring man always willing to assist others. In her testimony, Loveland's Christine Weston said she would put Bretches "at the top of my list" for babysitting her grandchildren.
"He's not a detriment to society," she said.
The only testimony presented by the prosecution came from the victim.
Bretches took the stand near the end of the two-hour-long sentencing, and he appeared contrite and ashamed.
"I would do anything to take it back," he said, fighting tears. "I will be working diligently on all problems I had going on with me. My goal in life is to continue on with counseling to see where I got off track. I got myself into this mess, and I'm going to work to get myself out."
Location: Loveland, CO, USA
By Cathy Newman
The first ever elected female MP in Oxfordshire is launching a campaign to make it easier for the police to keep tabs on child sex offenders, after figures show only five of the 65,000 registered offenders are banned each year on average from travelling abroad. Cathy Newman reports.
It takes all sorts to fill the House of Commons, and while many backbenchers love the business of being a constituency MP, plenty of others toil in the hope they'll soon be marked out for greater things by the whips, and picked for ministerial office.
It seems to me, though, that too many backbenchers overlook the power that they have. In fact, if they're determined, they can potentially get things done just as easily as many of their ministerial colleagues.
One backbencher who's realised this is the Conservative MP Nicola Blackwood. She's a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, and as I reported on Monday night's Channel 4 News, she's launching a campaign this week to tighten the law on sex offenders. And there's every chance she may succeed.
The crux of her "Childhood Lost" campaign is to reform the current panoply of orders which ban offenders from travelling abroad or, in this country, having contact with children – for example at school gates or playgrounds. Police and lawyers have been arguing for years that the orders are too difficult to apply. There are nearly 65,000 registered sex offenders in the UK, yet just five a year on average are banned from travelling overseas.
Ms Blackwood told me she's going to amend the anti-social behaviour bill to make it far easier for the police to keep tabs on offenders. At the moment, the courts can impose one of three orders only if an offender has been convicted of sex offences. The crucial change is that a new "child sexual abuse prevention order" – replacing the existing orders – could be issued if the defendant hasn't been convicted of anything, providing there is evidence of the danger they pose to children.
It may well get up the noses of civil liberties groups, and, when the bill goes to the Lords, peers. But Ms Blackwood is determined to get this onto the statute book.
She told me she's been working on measures to deal with child sexual exploitation for over a year. An Oxford MP, she got a call from Thames Valley Police the night before 14 men were arrested for child grooming in her constituency in March last year. "Like so many others, I couldn't believe such brutal sexual abuse had been going on in beautiful Oxford for so many years without being stopped," she told me.
Since that shocking case, she's asked parliamentary questions, led a backbench debate, put down an amendment on vulnerable witnesses and got her own select committee to do an 11-month inquiry into child sexual exploitation.
The campaign she's launching this week has the backing of leading charities, police and lawyers. But she knows to get the amended bill onto the statute book will require further efforts, and behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Home Office.
"A legislative reform like amending the Civil Prevention Orders can take years. The evidence is clear that the orders need to be reformed but all departments have shopping lists of priorities and work in their own bureaucratic ways if left to their own devices. If you want to get something done you have to get your issue to the top of the shopping list – that is what this amendment and the Childhood Lost petition is all about," she said.
Even if the amendment secures the support of many of her colleagues from all parties, she knows from bitter experience that it might end up falling foul of Commons bureaucracy.
"My last amendment, calling for Specialist Courts for Very Vulnerable Witnesses, was a response to cases where victims were being blamed in court for their abuse, being kept on the stand for weeks on end, and aggressively cross examined by multiple barristers. Over a hundred MPs from all parties supported my amendment but in the end I only got five minutes to make my case in debate because a Leveson row blew up and hijacked the bill," she recalls.
Ms Blackwood is a determined character though. The first woman ever to be elected as an MP in Oxfordshire, she was seriously ill in her teenage years with ME. As a result she had to study for her A-levels at home. That didn't seem to set her back: she went on to get a first in music at St Anne's College, Oxford.
Having vowed to herself and child abuse victims that she's going to get the law changed, she's intent on keeping her word. And by the way, she's stuck to more inconvenient promises in the past. A classical singer, she promised to sing live on the radio if she won her ultra-marginal seat. She didn't let her constituents down, belting out a polished rendition of Every Time We Say Goodbye. You certainly haven't heard the last of Ms Blackwood.
Location: Oxfordshire, UK
Lawmakers are already making plans to toughen up those laws for the next legislative session. Some of the lawmakers say repeat offenders are becoming a growing problem once they're released and they want to do something about it.
How many more useless laws do you need?
If a person comes out of prison and commits another crime, arrest them and lock them up for a longer time.
No matter how many laws you pass, it won't prevent someone from harming another person, if that is their intent.
The only thing you can do is lock them up forever, and even that won't prevent future crimes.
This is just Florida, in typical knee-jerk fashion, reacting to a fear-mongering article without verifying the facts themselves, in our opinion.
The police officer in this video who said we should sentence those who commit ANY sex crime up for the maximum, says he deals with sex offenders / predators daily. Yeah, most of them are fellow cops, as you can see here.
Location: Florida, USA
By Alison Gene Smith
TWIN FALLS - Police say two men broke into a hotel room and beat a man who is a registered sex offender.
Bradley Houser, 35, was charged with felony aggravated battery. A second man has not been arrested.
A police report by Twin Falls Police Officer Samir Smriko gives this account:
Just before 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 23, police say, police went to the Super 7 Motel at 320 Main Ave. following a battery call.
As police entered the hotel room they saw [name withheld], 69, washing blood off his head and arms. [name withheld] had a two-inch gash on his forehead and multiple cuts in other places.
[name withheld] told police that at about 10 p.m., two men came to his door and threatened him. [name withheld] recognized one from a previous encounter. The men said they were going to beat him up because of a past child sex abuse case.
In 2008, [name withheld] was convicted on six counts of lewd conduct with a minor younger than 16. He was sentenced to a three years in prison and made parole in November 2011. Prosecutors said Tuesday that it was unclear if the beating was connected to that case.
[name withheld] told police the two men, who smelled of alcohol, initially left his room because other people were around, but soon returned, closed the door behind them and started beating him.
The beating lasted for about 10 minutes. As he spoke to officers, [name withheld] grabbed his side in pain several times.
Paramedics arrived and [name withheld] declined to be taken to a hospital, but was informed he would need stitches on his head.
Police later found Houser in the 200 block of Alexander Street but couldn’t locate the other man.
Houser was extremely intoxicated and had to use a fence to hold himself up, police said. He told them he and another man who he didn’t know went to the hotel and [name withheld] swung at them.
Houser is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Sept. 6. Prosecutors will attempt to show that they have enough evidence to take Houser to trial.
Location: Twin Falls, ID, USA