Washington, DC – Congresswoman Katherine Clark is bringing attention to online sexual extortion after reports from the Brookings Institution shed light on its growing prevalence and exposed vulnerabilities in federal law. Sextortion is defined as the use of extortion to coerce sexual activity online. Perpetrators often hack into personal devices to find intimate images or coerce young victims to share nude photos. Once intimate images are obtained, attackers use the material as leverage to extort money or manipulate victims to engage in sexual acts. The Department of Justice recently released a report declaring that “sextortion is by far the most significantly growing threat to children.”
Federal law does not explicitly count sextortion as a separate offense, a problem that can lead to unprosecuted or under-prosecuted crimes. A vocal opponent of online abuse, Clark is speaking out against the crime and gaps in the law that could leave young people – particularly teens -- vulnerable.
“When predators come after our kids in the real world, we respond with the full force of the law, and it should be no different when it happens online,” said Clark. “As a mom of 3 teenagers, I find the prevalence of this heinous practice alarming. Our laws need to keep pace with threats to our children, and I will be filing legislation to address this crime.”
Young victims of sextortion often feel shame and desperation, and reports indicate higher risk of suicide or self-harm. According to a 2015 FBI analysis of 43 sextortion cases involving child victims, at least two victims committed suicide and at least 10 more attempted suicide.
Clark has championed combatting severe online threats and abuse. She successfully earned the U.S. House’s backing to instruct the Department of Justice to investigate severe online threats, and to use existing laws to prosecute these crimes. Clark introduced the Prioritizing Online Threats Enforcement Act to ensure that federal law enforcement has the resources they need to enforce laws regarding the use of the internet to perpetuate severe threats. Clark is also the author of the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act of 2015, legislation to criminalize hoax calls made to law enforcement to elicit an armed police response.