PDAA Praises Passage of “Sextortion” Bill

November 22, 2019

Legislation criminalizes the misuse of power to demand sexual acts, images or videos in social media and the internet  

HARRISBURG, PA — A bipartisan bill to make sexual extortion illegal in Pennsylvania is headed to the governor’s desk to become law.  House Bill 1402 was approved by both the state Senate and House this week unanimously in response to the disturbing increase in the misuse of power to demand sexual acts, images or videos from victims.

“District Attorneys are seeing more sexual extortion cases, but until now there has not been a state law that adequately holds offenders accountable for this disturbing conduct and its devastating impact on its victims,” said PDAA President and Pike County District Attorney Raymond Tonkin.

Once signed by the governor, the new law will make sexual extortion a felony of the third degree if the perpetrator is over the age of 18 and the victim is under the age of 18, the victim has an intellectual disability, the perpetrator holds a position of trust or power over the victim, the offender has a previous conviction for the crime, or the act is part of a course of conduct by the perpetrator. Otherwise, the crime will be graded a misdemeanor of the first degree.

“We are grateful for the bipartisan leadership in response to the need to keep up with technology and the criminals that misuse it,” Tonkin continued. “Representatives Ted Nesbitt and Joanna McClinton, Senators Judy Schwank and Kim Ward, and our partners at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) have all been great champions for this issue on behalf of victims.”

“We know this law will provide victims of sexual extortion with protections and recourse,” said Donna Greco, policy director of the PCAR. “With this new crime, Pennsylvania will be better equipped to identify, report, and prosecute acts of sexual extortion. PCAR is grateful to the PA District Attorneys Association for their partnership on this important legislation.”

Earlier this year the FBI issued a warning to parents that ‘sextortion’ cases involving children are on the rise.

Pennsylvania’s current extortion law was insufficient in holding perpetrators accountable.  The extortion law was written before the proliferation of sexual extortion, the internet, the cloud, or the web.  The current law treats extortion as a theft and doesn’t take into account the deviant, manipulative behavior, or the gravity of a threat to publish naked or sexually explicit images if the victim does not engage in some form of sexual activity.  District attorneys have reported that both perpetrators and victims have called sexual extortion a form of virtual slavery.

Approximately ten states have enacted sexual extortion language, including Alabama, Arkansas, California, Utah and Texas.

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November 22, 2019
Contact: Lindsay Vaughan, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association lvaughan@pdaa.org or (717) 238-5416.