What is Sextortion?

Sextortion is a type of online blackmail. It’s one kind of sexual exploitation that takes place on the internet when an anonymous individual threatens to distribute the victim’s explicit videos or pictures if he or she does not comply with the demands which can include transferring funds through digital currencies. The culprit may use a webcam to extract private information and make threats to harm the victim if the victim fails or refuses to comply with the demands.

The culprit usually follows his victims on websites and chatrooms to gain their trust. The culprit may send a message to the victim that has malware in an effort to hack into the victim’s electronic devices. The victim can make the mistake of clicking on the link which releases the virus on to the computer. The infected computer is now compromised and can be used for nefarious purposes.

The courts have been dealing with sextortion since it is a new problem in the technology age. The law prohibits the non-consensual dissemination of intimate pictures or videos but the litigants or their lawyers have been using laws related to harassment, extortion, bribery, or child pornography. For example, 18 U.S.C. § 2251 prohibits sexual exploitation of children. The following federal statutes could be relevant to these activities: 18 U.S.C. § 2252, 18 U.S.C. § 2422, and 18 U.S.C. § 875.

18 U.S.C. § 2252 prohibits the transfer of a visual depiction (e.g., film, video, picture, image) by computer or email involving a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct. A violation of this statute can result in imprisonment for several years. Now, if there is evidence of stalking against an identified victim, then 18 U.S.C. § 2261A may be applicable to the case. Also, if there is evidence of computer hacking, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) which is codified under 18 U.S.C. § 1030 would be applicable.

The first states that criminalized sextortion were Arkansas and Utah. Their laws prohibited anyone from coercing the victim to engage in sexual acts through threats against their property or reputation. These cases were tried as felonies in those jurisdictions. In 2018, the Uniform Law Commission approved the “Uniform Civil Remedies for Unauthorized Disclosure of Intimate Images Act” in order to provide a fair and practical remedy. There are no federal laws that directly address sextortion at this time. However, in 2019, legislators have introduced HR 2896 that is also known as the Stopping Harmful Image Exploitation and Limiting Distribution Act (“SHIELD Act”).

There are precautionary measures that can be taken to prevent sextortion. First, do not send your explicit or intimate pictures or videos to any individual. Do not click on, open, or download email attachments that are sent from unknown individuals. It is important to disconnect or disable your electronic devices when you are not using them. You must not alter, delete, or destroy the evidence that resides on your electronic devices because it may be used during litigation. You should not reset your electronic device’s factory settings for any reason because it may alter, delete, or destroy the evidence.

Internet sex crimes are taking place more than ever these days. It’s important to know your legal rights and responsibilities when it comes to sextortion laws. Please contact our law firm to speak with an internet attorney at your earliest convenience.