‘Sextortion’ Criminalized in Two States

(CN) — Arkansas has joined Utah in becoming the first states in the country to enact criminal “sextortion” laws targeting sexual predators who blackmail victims by threatening to release private information in exchange for sex or sexual images.

Utah approved its bill on March 25; Arkansas’ governor signed that state’s law four days later.

Under both laws a person who coerces a victim to engage in sexual contact, through threats against their property or reputation, is subject to felony prosecution for sexual extortion. Both states make it a crime to threaten a victim with production or distribution of sexually explicit images or recordings in return for sex.

The FBI says sextortion is one of the fastest-growing crimes against children. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 78 percent of the victims reported are girls, with an average age of 15.

Sexual predators create fake social media accounts and pose as teenagers to entice victims into providing explicit personal images. Victims are told if they do not comply, their reputations could be ruined or their family and friends could become targets.

Arkansas, Utah and 31 other states already have sexting laws that include criminal penalties for revenge porn, but organizations such as The Thomson Reuters Foundation say new technology makes it difficult for criminal laws to address perpetrators of online sexual violence.

Penny Venetis, executive vice president and legal director for the women’s advocacy group Legal Momentum, said she more states will pass sextortion laws, “to hold perpetrators accountable.”

“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,” Venetis said. “We hope that more states will swiftly follow suit.”

Similar bills are under consideration in Texas, California and Illinois.

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