Attorney General Racine Introduces Legislation to Make ‘Sextortion’ a Crime in the District of Columbia

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine has introduced legislation to the Council of the District of Columbia to make “sextortion” a crime. The “Sexual Extortion Amendment Act of 2017” will 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 terrible form of blackmail that gives sexual predators power over their victims – especially children,”Attorney General Racine said. “This law will give us more tools to stop traffickers and other sexual predators from victimizing our kids.”

The District currently doesn’t have a law that explicitly covers 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 or distributes sexually explicit images. Where there is no distribution, perpetrators are often charged with a lesser crime.

But even without distribution, sexual extortion can cause victims – many of them children – significant harm. Victims can feel compelled to supply the perpetrators with sexually explicit images and even sexual acts. The coercive power perpetrators wield can lead victims to feel trapped: A 2015 FBI analysis of 43 sextortion cases revealed that 28 percent of victims attempted or committed suicide.

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.”

Attorney General Racine expressed gratitude to partners who helped craft the legislation. “My thanks to Legal Momentum, which has advocated on behalf of girls and women for more than 50 years, for their assistance in creating this legislation along with attorneys at Orrick, Herrington, and Sutcliffe LLP,” he said.

The “Sexual Extortion Amendment Act of 2017” and Attorney General Racine’s transmittal letter accompanying the bill are available here. To read more about efforts by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to combat human trafficking, visit this page.