WASHINGTON, D. C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine and Chief Deputy Attorney General Natalie O. Ludaway today testified during two Council committee hearings in favor of multiple bills designed to improve public safety in the District. The Office of Attorney General (OAG) introduced two bills to crack down on dangerous synthetic drugs and protect children from sexual predators. Another bill introduced by councilmembers aims to address and prevent early childhood trauma before it manifests into criminal behavior. OAG’s testimony on the legislative proposals stressed the importance of implementing critically important, evidence-based interventions to protect District residents.
Attorney General Racine testified before the Council’s Committee on Health to urge the Council to address and prevent early childhood trauma before it manifests into criminal behavior, in support of Bill 22-687, the “Adverse Childhood Experiences Task Force Act of 2018.” Chief Deputy Attorney General Ludaway testified before the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety in favor of two OAG-introduced bills: Bill 22-628, the “Revised Synthetics Abatement and Full Enforcement Drug Control Amendment Act of 2017” (the SAFE-DC Act) at the forefront of synthetic drug testing statutes in the nation and Bill 22-472, the “Protection from Sexual Extortion Amendment Act of 2017 to protect children from sexual extortion.
Addressing the Adverse Impacts of Childhood Trauma
During his testimony, Attorney General Racine expressed his support for the goals of the “Adverse Childhood Experiences Task Force Act of 2018,” which would commit more District resources to study the issue of childhood trauma, but stressed that the “District should simultaneously invest in and launch pilot programs in targeted areas where we already know that children are suffering from the consequences of growing up in violent neighborhoods.” His testimony also highlighted that “unaddressed trauma significantly contributes to failure in school, as well as high anxiety and fear that too often lead to impulsive, risky, and dangerous behavior,” and that these outcomes have been measured and proven by scientific experts.
Attorney General Racine’s testimony is available at: http://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2018-07/Testimony-Bill-22-766-the-Substance-Abuse-and-Opioid-Overdose-Prevention-Amendment-Act-of-2018-B22-0687-the-Adverse-Childhood-Experiences-Task-Force-Act-of-2018%20.pdf
Fighting Dangerous Synthetic Drugs
The OAG-proposed permanent version of the SAFE-DC Act now before the Council would add provisions to the existing SAFE-DC law that make it easier to fight fentanyl, a synthetic compound that is a key culprit in the growing opioid crisis. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is the nation’s most prevalent and most significant synthetic opioid threat. Opioid overdose deaths in the District have increased exponentially in recent years, from an average of about 30 deaths per year prior in 2013 to 279 deaths in 2017. More than 80 percent of those decedents had fentanyl in their systems.
In 2015, Attorney General Racine originally introduced a temporary version of the SAFE-DC Act to fight the spread and consumption of illegal and deadly synthetic drugs in the District, which the Council unanimously passed in 2016. That bill created one of the nation’s most comprehensive synthetic drug statutes, making it easier to criminalize synthetic cannabinoids (often known by street or brand names like “Bizarro” and “Scooby Snax”) and synthetic cathinones (known by street or brand names like “Flakka” and “bath salts”).
SAFE-DC also strengthened law enforcement officials’ ability to test for and prosecute cases against sellers and distributors of these substances. It accomplishes this by adding the substances to the District’s controlled-substances list based on the class of the chemical compounds contained in the drugs rather than the individual compound found in a particular substance.
Protecting Children from Sexual Predators
Attorney General Racine introduced the Protection from Sexual Extortion Amendment Act of 2017 to expand the District’s definition of extortion to include “sextortion,” an emerging form of exploitation that occurs when a person obtains sexually explicit images of an individual and threatens to release them unless their demands (monetary, sexual, or otherwise) are met. Sextortion is a form of blackmail that gives sexual predators power over their victims, particularly children.
The District currently does not have a law that explicitly protects residents from sextortion. The District’s “revenge porn” law criminalizes the distribution of sexually explicit images without consent, but that law only applies when a perpetrator shares the images. But even without distribution, victims can feel trapped and coerced to give the perpetrators sexually explicit images and even perform sexual acts.
Sextortion is also a growing crime. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, reports of sextortion have increased by more than 150 percent since the agency began tracking them in 2014. Sextortion is also often connected to human trafficking. A 2016 report from the U.S. Department of Justice notes 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.”
Chief Deputy Attorney General Ludaway’s testimony is available at: http://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2018-07/Testimony-Bill-22-472-the-Protection-from-Sexual-Extortion-Amendment-Act-of-2017-Bill-22-628-the-Revised-Synthetics-Abatement-and-Full-Enforcement-Drug-Control-Amendment-Act-of-2017.pdf