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Breaking the silence, easing the anguish

She met James Marsh, a New York lawyer working on the same issue. Soon, the two were seeing clients individually, but collaborating on finding a way to quantify the pain survivors felt.

To say that was easier said than done is to understate the obvious. If someone steals a television, an offender might be ordered to pay the victim the cost of replacing it. But what should be the compensation for victims of child porn, whose injuries are complex and life-changing and linger long after the crime itself?

“It was a question of inventing the wheel,” Hepburn says, chatting in a sunny alcove at the Fort Garry. “We needed to find out what kinds of injuries are unique to these types of victims?”

In 2013, the New York Times ran a long feature on the work Marsh and Hepburn were doing. The story focused on some of their clients who had won restitution from offenders; one had won 150 orders totalling US$1.6 million.

A forensic psychologist, Joyanna Silberg, described the challenge that child-porn survivors face in healing. Usually, she said, therapists working with abused children emphasize the line between past and present.

“The idea is to contain the harm: it happened then, and it’s not happening anymore,” Silberg told the New York Times. “But how do you do that when these images are still out there?”

What she does know is that this advocacy can change lives. It changed life for Lucy, Rosemary and Odette; when they called Hepburn in 2014, they never imagined it would take them across North America.

That journey has been healing. Two years ago, the sisters went to Washington, D.C., to appear before a congressional subcommittee, part of a push for stronger legislation that Marsh and Hepburn are leading.

At the Capitol, Lucy looked down at the star-patterned carpet, and up at the pristine ceiling. And she thought about the man who first abused the sisters, and about how they’d now turned that hurt into action.

“For the first time,” she says, “I saw that our life meant so much more.”

Now, they are young women on a mission. They’re planning to participate in a survivors’ network organized by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection; the idea of helping others, they agree, is affirming.

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