New York (July 19, 2016) — A new legal report issued by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Legal Momentum and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe provides an unprecedented framework for ending “sextortion,” a growing form of cyber violence aimed at teens, girls and women.
“Sextortion” is a form of extortion where sex or sexual images, rather than money, is demanded by someone with power over the victim. The report, “A Call to Action: Ending Sextortion in the Digital Age,” highlights how self-made hackers are increasingly able to infiltrate other people’s computers to steal sexual imagery. It draws attention to real instances where hackers secretly filmed women and children and later threatened to release nude images of their victims unless they supplied more pornographic images and/or videos of themselves. The report also contains real-life examples, including the chilling case of one hacker who made children write his own name on their small bodies, and call themselves his “cam slaves.”
Earlier this summer, the FBI warned that sextortion is fast becoming one of the most serious threats to children and teens across the United States. The victims suffer devastating and long-lasting harm because the psychological and reputational damage is felt long after the initial crime.
The report indicates how, despite the dangerous consequences, sextortion is not yet codified as a specific sex crime with dramatic consequences ranging from the lack of support provided to the victims, to the low level of prosecutions. In one instance, the Montana Supreme Court dismissed a case against a high school principal who told a student she would not graduate unless she performed sexual favors because his actions were not explicitly prohibited by Montana law.
“A Call to Action” aims to be a much needed roadmap to addressing sextortion. It includes practical solutions, such as amending and updating already existing extortion and cybercrime laws, together with a number of tips for parents, teachers and youth groups aimed at raising awareness of the crime among the general public.
“Sextortion is a new word for and old concept: corruption by asking sexual favor, often online nowadays,” said Thomson Reuters Foundation CEO Monique Villa. “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.”
“Legal Momentum has led the charge to make violence against girls and women illegal,” said Carol Robles-Román, Legal Momentum’s President and CEO. “The Internet is the new frontier for abusive and coercive violence and sexual abuse. We are working with victims, families, communities, law enforcement and lawmakers to stem online violence against women and children.”
Legislators are already mobilizing as a result of the report’s findings. Representative Katherine Clark (D-Mass), who introduced anti-sextortion legislation just last week said: “When predators come after our kids in the real world, we respond with the full force of the law, and it should be no different when it happens online. As a mom of three teenagers, I find the prevalence of this heinous practice alarming. Thousands of women and children are the targets of online sexual extortion and they need to know that the justice system is on their side. Our laws need to keep pace with these threats, and I have introduced legislation to address this crime.”
“I commend Legal Momentum for its work on this important report," said Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY). "Sextortion is a devastating crime that is too often unreported or unpunished. The consequences cause irreparable physical and emotional damage. High-powered figures personally intimidate and threaten their victims while others prey upon strangers through internet communication, making this heinous act more prevalent. Parents and children need to be aware of the dangers of predators online. Lawmakers must ensure that victims—who are overwhelmingly women—can seek recourse, and law enforcement officials have the tools to prosecute those who use sex as a method of blackmail. And this report provides critical information we need to do just that.”
In praising the report, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. stated: “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.”
“This report is a call to action to deal with the very real threat sextortion has become in the digital age,” said Orrick partner Lorraine S. McGowen. “Our firm is proud to have been able to provide guidance for legislators at both the state and federal level to establish laws that criminalize this conduct.”
An executive summary of the report is available online. 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, so that the public at large can protect itself against online sexual violence.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation acts to promote socio-economic progress and the rule of law worldwide. The organzation 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 & 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.