Utah and Arkansas First States to Enact Legislation Criminalizing Cyber-Sexual Extortion (“Sextortion”)

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March 31, 2017

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Jean Gazis

New York, NY, March 30, 2017,—Utah and Arkansas have enacted the nation’s first pieces of legislation designed to expressly criminalize acts of “sextortion,” or cyber-sexual extortion. The Arkansas statute became law Wednesday, following closely after Utah’s legislation, which was signed by the governor on March 25.

As Legal Momentum and its partners, the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and the Thomson Reuters Foundation, identified in a July 2016 report, current laws do not recognize or adequately address cyber-sexual extortion. Legal Momentum and Orrick have been working with legislators in Utah, Arkansas, and other states around the country to change that and to make sure that victims of cyber-sex crimes can seek justice.

“Sextortion” is a form of extortion where sex or sexual images are demanded by someone with power over the victim. In our internet age, sexual predators often pose as teenagers and use social media to entice a victim—often a teen girl—into providing explicit personal images.

Predators then threaten to expose the images publicly unless the victim provides more sexual imagery. Last year, the FBI warned that sextortion is “the fastest-growing threat to children” across the United States. The victims suffer devastating, long-lasting psychological and reputational harm. Until now, despite these dangerous consequences, sextortion was not a recognizable crime.

“We are very pleased that Utah and Arkansas have led the way with new laws to combat this fast-growing crime that harms children and teens,” said Penny Venetis, Legal Momentum’s Executive Vice President and Legal Director. “We hope that more states will swiftly follow suit to provide prosecutors and law enforcement with the tools they need to protect vulnerable women and children and to hold perpetrators accountable.”

“We are extremely proud to have worked with Utah and Arkansas to pass this historic legislation, which provides crucial protections to the vulnerable victims of sextortion,” said Ann Patterson, an Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe partner leading the firm’s pro bono efforts to secure such legislation around the country. “We look forward to working with other states to enact similar legislation, and are confident we will see Legislatures move in this direction across the United States.”

“Sextortion is a new word for an old concept: corruption,” said Thomson Reuters Foundation CEO and TrustLaw Founder Monique Villa. “The way we connect, interact and share information and personal data has been radically reshaped by technology, but the laws have not kept pace to ensure that powerless victims are not targeted by unscrupulous criminals who can hide behind a computer or cell phone. I commend the moves made by Utah and Arkansas to tackle this growing crime, and urge other states to follow suit.”

Orrick and Legal Momentum will continue working with lawmakers across the country to ensure that children, teens and women are safe online as well as in real life.

This legislative effort is only one piece of Legal Momentum’s, Orrick’s, and the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s partnership to fight sextortion. In February, Legal Momentum and Orrick filed the first-ever civil lawsuit in state court seeking money damages for cyber-sexual abuse. The plaintiff, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, was threatened with exposure of personal images that had been stolen from her computer by her landlord. 

About Legal Momentum

Legal Momentum, the Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund, has been advocating on behalf of girls and women for nearly 50 years. Legal Momentum was instrumental in drafting and helping pass the Violence Against Women Act and other major legislation that protects girls and women.

About Orrick

Orrick is an AmLaw 50 firm focused on serving the technology, energy and infrastructure, and finance sectors. Chambers Global 2016 rates the firm for excellence across 38 transactional, litigation and IP practice areas. Founded more than 150 years ago in San Francisco, Orrick today has offices in major markets worldwide.