Legal Momentum, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe spearhead a call to action with legislators, FBI representatives, and advocates to end sextortion, a growing form of cyber-crime against women and children.
On Wednesday, September 21, Legal Momentum will host a program at the Roosevelt House in New York City to shed light on an insidious form of cyber-violence known as “sextortion,” which the FBI has called “by far the most significantly growing threat to children.” Sextortion is a form of extortion where sex or sexual images, rather than money, are demanded by someone with power over the victim. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 78 percent of reported victims are girls, their average age is 15. More than one-fifth of reported incidents involved multiple victims.
Legal Momentum has formed private-public partnerships with the FBI, legislators, and law firms to educate the public about sextortion, implement prevention and awareness programs, and enact laws that criminalize sextortion. Because technology evolves so quickly, current criminal laws do not fully address online sexual violence.
This event is timely. Last week, the FBI reported a large increase in offenders targeting children ages 10-17 (and even younger) who use the internet, and announced a public service ad campaign to raise awareness about the vulnerability of these children. Offenders often falsely pretend to be a child and over time persuade their victims to send sexually explicit images or videos of themselves or other kids. The offender then threatens to make the images public or send them to friends or family members. Offenders are using Facebook, Skype, and Omegle. One recent Department of Justice investigation uncovered at least three live-streaming video and chat websites that were created by offenders for the sole purpose of luring minors to sexually exploit them.
In many cases, perpetrators go unpunished or are charged with lesser crimes because existing laws do not explicitly describe sextortion as a crime. In one of the most egregious examples, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of a case where a male high school principal threatened to prevent a female student from graduating unless she complied with his sexual demands. The principal was charged with sexual intercourse “without consent,” but those charges were dropped because his actions were not explicitly prohibited by Montana law.
In July, Legal Momentum, together with the Thomson Reuters Foundation and Orrick, issued a groundbreaking report, “A Call to Action: Ending Sextortion in the Digital Age,” that outlines the scope of the problem and proposes effective ways to stop it. The full report is available for download free of charge at http://www.legalmomentum.org/sextortion. It should be read by parents, policy makers, members of the law enforcement community, educators, and victim advocates. A free, one-page tip sheet on how to stay safe online is also available.
“Sextortion is a new word for an old concept: corruption,” said Thomson Reuters Foundation CEO and TrustLaw Founder Monique Villa, who will introduce the program. “Technology has radically transformed the way we connect, interact, share and access information, but the law has not been updated to address this fast-growing crime, leaving victims powerless and predators unpunished. Lawmakers cannot ignore such an ignominious crime any longer.”
Carol Robles-Román, Legal Momentum’s President and CEO, said the group stood at the forefront of tackling this growing crime. “The internet is the new frontier for abusive and coercive violence and sexual abuse by cyber-predators. We are working with victims, families, communities, law enforcement and lawmakers to stem online violence against women and children.”
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. praised the report, saying: “In today's digital age, the devastating effects of sexual exploitation and coercion are increasingly widespread and long-lasting. As technology evolves, so must the laws and tools available to help protect these victims—so often young women—from being exploited online. I would like to thank Legal Momentum and its partners for their dedication to raising awareness of this important issue.”
New York Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, who represents the 76th Assembly District, said: "As the mother and aunt of teenagers, I know how important it is to protect our children and all members of our community from becoming victims of sextortion. As a legislator, I know how necessary it is to amend existing criminal statutes so that perpetrators of sextortion crimes can be punished. We must bring attention and education to this much needed reform of the existing criminal penal statute."
Kevin Gutfleish, Unit Chief, Violent Crimes Against Children Intelligence Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation, said “Results of the Department of Justice’s 2016 National Strategy for Child Exploitation survey indicate that sextortion is by far the most significantly growing threat to children, with more than 60 percent of survey respondents indicating this type of online enticement of minors was increasing.”
Lorraine McGowen of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe said: “Thanks to Legal Momentum for its leadership in raising awareness of this very important issue. Our firm is proud to have assisted Legal Momentum, and to provide guidance for legislators at the state and federal level to establish laws that criminalize this conduct.”
About the Organizations
The Thomson Reuters Foundation acts to promote socio-economic progress and the rule of law worldwide. The organization runs initiatives that inform, connect and ultimately empower people around the world: access to free legal assistance, media development and training, editorial coverage of the world’s under-reported stories, and the Trust Women conference.
Orrick is an AmLaw 50 firm focused on serving the technology, energy and infrastructure, and finance sectors. Chambers Global 2016 rates the firm for excellence across 38 transactional, litigation and IP practice areas. Founded more than 150 years ago in San Francisco, Orrick today has offices in major markets worldwide.