Inspiration for ‘Masha’s Law’ files class action suit against viewers of child porn images

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 Michael Mancuso, who is also named as a defendant in the civil action. According to the complaint and media reports, Mancuso, 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 Mancuso when she was 5 years old, the record shows. Mancuso 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 Mancuso’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. Aside from Mancuso, the other individually named defendants are Alan Hesketh, Richard Carino, George Eliot Kabacy, Dan W. Joachim, Ranier Gerow, Douglas Michael Stum, Richard Scheiring, Charles Lindauer, Joseph Marcus, William George Gammon, Stephen Jabbour, Albert Noah Abrams and Mayer Finkelstein.   The federal case number is 2:13-cv-04935-SD. 

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