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Child pornography trader pays restitution to victim

More than a decade after 10-year-old “Vicky” was raped by a relative in front of a video camera, images of her assault are still circulating the Internet as child pornography, traded from one computer to another over peer-to-peer networks.

One of those computers belonged to Steven Bell, 63, of Revere, who in September pleaded guilty to child porn charges. Vicky’s image was among more than 5,000 pictures and video files of apparent child pornography police discovered in Bell’s home.

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As she has done in numerous cases across the United States, Vicky sought restitution from Bell as a victim of his crimes.

And in a groundbreaking ruling, a judge has ordered Bell to pay $8,000 in restitution to Vicky, in what is believed to be the first time in Massachusetts that someone convicted of possessing child pornography has been ordered to pay restitution to a person depicted in the images, according to Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office.

“We hope that this result helps to set a precedent in Massachusetts courts and that more victims will be awarded restitution to ensure access to crucial services and care,” Coakley said in a statement.

Vicky, now in her 20s, has been identified as a victim in hundreds of child pornography cases, according to recent media reports.

To support the request for restitution, Vicky and two family members filed devastating victim impact statements, describing the ongoing damage she suffers from the circulation of her image. The family’s identity is blacked out in the documents; they are from out-of-state.

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“I live every day with the horrible knowledge that many people somewhere are watching the most terrifying moments of my life and taking grotesque pleasure in them,” the victim wrote in a 2011 court document supplied by Coakley’s office. “Unlike other forms of exploitation, this one is never ending.”

“They are trading around my trauma like treats at a party and it feels like I am being raped all over again by every one of them,” she wrote.

In an updated victim statement from last September, Vicky told the court she had recently gotten married and now has a 2-year-old stepdaughter, yet is “still having emotional and psychological problems due to knowing that the images of me being abused as a child are circulated freely on the Internet.”

She continues to need counseling and suffers from panic attacks that affect her ability to work, she said.

Vicky’s lawyer, Carol Hepburn, said the “scenes of rape and sexual torture” involving Vicky are among the most widely circulated child pornography video series on the Internet and have cropped up in thousands of child porn prosecutions. The videos were made in the 1990s, she said, and the continued sharing of what amount to “crime scene photos” continues to haunt Vicky.

“Even well-meaning people can ask what can be very hurtful questions,” Hepburn said in an interview. “It makes it very hard to live a normal life. . . . By receiving restitution she has been able to get the psychological counseling she needs.”

The case against Bell began with a September 2012 investigation by a State Police task force that specializes in fighting Internet crimes against children, according to court documents filed by Coakley. Police discovered a computer user who appeared to be offering child pornography for download. Investigators used a subpoena to get the physical location of the computer from Comcast, which led them to Bell’s house.

Police executed a search warrant at Bell’s home on Nov. 1, 2012, and discovered USB drives containing child pornography in a safe inside a closet, according to court documents.

Bell pleaded guilty in Suffolk Superior Court to seven counts of possession of child pornography and one count of dissemination of child pornography, Coakley said.

Massachusetts authorities sent material from Bell’s computer to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for analysis. Coakley said the center was able to identify the child assault victims depicted in 228 of the files on Bell’s computer, including Vicky.

He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 10 years probation.

Coakley’s office filed a court memorandum that suggested Bell should pay $26,000 in restitution to Vicky. The memorandum argued that “the psychological harm caused to Vicky by those who possess and disseminate images of her rape is incalculable.”

Coakley suggested Vicky has suffered nearly $1 million in monetary losses as a victim of child pornography, including lost earnings and future counseling needs.

“Individuals like the defendant should not be permitted to sexually gratify themselves at the expense of innocent children free from the concern that they will have to pay for a portion of the financial damages that any reasonable person would know would be inevitably caused by their exploitation,” Coakley argued to the court.

Judge Garry Inge agreed that “the award of monetary damages is justified” and said in a written ruling that the request for $26,000 in restitution was “not unreasonable.” However, he ordered Bell to pay $8,000 in restitution, imposing the lesser figure “due to the defendant’s acknowledgment of responsibility and inability to pay” the higher amount.

Bell could not be reached for comment. According to Coakley’s office, he paid the restitution in full on Dec. 12.

Vicky intends to become a child psychologist, her lawyer said.

Mark Arsenault can be reached at mark.arsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark.

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