DC weighs criminalizing sextortion, which disproportionately affects kids

WASHINGTON — Sexual extortion is a crime that is growing in frequency alongside society’s use of social media, and experts say children are most often the victims.

Now lawmakers in D.C. are considering criminalizing the act.

Sexual extortion, or sextortion as it’s called, is when someone has a sexual image or video of someone else and uses that compromising content as blackmail.

“Sextortion commonly occurs through messaging apps,” said Lindsey Olson of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, during testimony to D.C.’s Judiciary Committee.

Reported instances to the national nonprofit tripled between 2014 and 2017, with a disproportionate number of victims being children.

“In the case of minors, if the images are not distributed, it might be hard to prosecute a child pornography case,” said a representative with Break the Cycle, which helped craft the amendment.

D.C.’s chief deputy attorney general, Natalie Ludaway, testified in support of that statement detailing why the amendment to a 1982 sexual extortion and blackmail law is needed.

“A related law is the District’s revenge porn law, which criminalizes the distribution of sexually explicit images without consent. The revenge porn laws apply only when the perpetrator shares sexually explicit images,” Ludaway said.

The bill was first introduced in September of last year and language has been revised to “better clarify the intent,” Ludaway said.

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