Legal Momentum News Brief—January 2, 2018

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January 2, 2018

Legal Momentum Urges States to Criminalize Sextortion

After working with California State Senator Connie M. Leyva to pass SB500, a new law that criminalizes sextortion, Legal Momentum is publicly calling for all other states to follow suit. (Sextortion is extortion where the currency is sexual acts or images rather than money.) In an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle dated January 3, Legal Momentum Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Becker and Senator Leyva urge other states to update their laws to criminalize sextortion, because loopholes in existing laws too often allow perpetrators to escape full accountability. Read the op-ed here.

Legal Momentum Influences New York Governor Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State Agenda 

Much-Needed Legislation Will Combat Sexual Harassment and Sextortion

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State for New York includes two important legislative proposals aimed at ending sexual harassment and sextortion, crimes which too often harm the safety and well-being of women and girls. 

New York State of the State Proposal 11, “Ending Sextortion Now,” would criminalize disclosing (or threatening to disclose) intimate or sexually explicit images or videos without consent and would require convicted perpetrators of sextortion and “revenge porn” to register as sex offenders. Legal Momentum is proud to have partnered with the Governor’s office on this important proposed legislation during the past several months.

In 2016, Legal Momentum, Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, and the Thomson Reuters Foundation issued a groundbreaking report, <a href=">In 2016, Legal Momentum, Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, and the Thomson Reuters Foundation issued a groundbreaking report, "A Call to Action: Ending Sextortion in the Digital Age,” that highlighted the seriousness of this fast-growing crime and laid out a road map for closing loopholes in the law that have allowed perpetrators to go unpunished. We are thrilled to see New York taking the lead in following these recommendations. After the report’s publication, Legal Momentum worked with pro bono partners Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe to craft and pass first-of-its-kind anti-sextortion laws in several states in 2017, including Utah, Arkansas, Alabama, Texas, and, most recently, California. Because of these efforts, women and girls in those states are now protected from online predators. We are now working on pending legislation with Arizona, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia, as well as New York, and in Congress.

Proposal 18, “Combat Sexual Harassment in the Workplace,” is multi-faceted and would prevent public funds from being used to settle sexual harassment claims, void forced arbitration policies in employee contracts, and require companies that do business with the state to disclose the number of sexual harassment adjudications and nondisclosure agreements they have executed. To ensure accountability, the Governor proposes a uniform code of sexual harassment policies for all branches of state and local government and an independent, anonymous whistleblower process to help individuals to communicate complaints across state and local government without fear of retribution. Legal Momentum advocated specifically for such a process. Governor Cuomo said, "There must be zero tolerance for sexual harassment in any workplace, and we can and will end the secrecy and coercive practices that have enabled harassment for far too long."

This much-needed legislation will ensure that victims of sextortion and harassment can seek and obtain justice, and that convicted offenders are held fully accountable in New York State. We encourage New Yorkers to reach out to their state legislators to urge their support for these measures.

Join Legal Momentum for Anti-Trafficking Rally in Washington DC on January 11

Legal Momentum is calling for the passage of SESTA, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (S.1693), an important anti-trafficking measure. In Washington DC on January 11, Legal Momentum President and CEO Carol Robles-Román will speak at a Congressional briefing and rally in support of SESTA provided by the World Without Exploitation coalition. Legal Momentum is a member of the coalition and a sponsor of the events.

Legal Momentum is advocating for SESTA because it would enable survivors to take civil legal action against websites that enable online sex trafficking. Until now, courts have held that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) protects websites that enable trafficking from being sued by survivors. This interpretation is contrary to the original intent of Congress in passing the CDA.

A competing bill, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA, H.R. 1865), that is endorsed by many tech industry organizations, would not provide civil remedies for trafficking survivors. For this reason, trafficking survivors and anti-trafficking advocacy organizations strongly support SESTA.

“Disrupting Online Exploitation: Why Survivors Are Standing Up for #SESTA—A National Briefing,” will take place on January 11, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Russell Senate Office Building. To register to attend the briefing, email NOW-NYC also supports SESTA and is providing bus transportation from New York City to Washington DC for the briefing and rally. For details and registration information, go to

Legal Momentum Advocates for Improvements to VAWA in 2018

The landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)—critical legislation for the safety and security of millions of women in communities across the country—is coming up for reauthorization in spring 2018. Legal Momentum is actively working behind the scenes to ensure that when it is introduced, VAWA 2018 will be stronger than ever in providing protections for the most vulnerable women and girls.

The Violence Against Women Act is critical to the safety and security of millions of women and communities across the country. As you know, Legal Momentum has been deeply involved in crafting, passing, and improving VAWA since its inception, including the last reauthorization in 2013, when it was expanded to include protections for immigrant, LGBT, and Native American survivors of gender-based violence.

VAWA is our nation’s single most effective tool in responding to the devastating crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It provides lifesaving programs and services. Congress must pass a new version of the law by the end of this year to ensure continued funding for prevention services, encourage collaboration between law enforcement and nonprofit service providers, educate and train judges and court personnel, and address the needs of underserved populations. Legal Momentum, along with our partners in the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, is laying the groundwork to ensure that the 2018 reauthorization builds on previous successes and makes critical improvements with bipartisan support. Stay tuned for news of how you can take action to support VAWA later this spring.