Pennsylvania is creating the criminal offense of sexual extortion to help combat what authorities say is a growing crime targeting children, enabled by the internet.
The legislation signed Wednesday by Gov. Tom Wolf takes effect in two months and had the backing of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association.
Since 2016, 10 other states have expressly criminalized sexual extortion, they say.
That same year, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report saying that “sextortion” of minors — hacking, coercing or otherwise obtaining incriminating photos or information and then threatening to expose them if the minors don’t perform sex acts captured on a web camera — has become “a major threat in recent years.”
The new Pennsylvania law makes sexual extortion a third-degree felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison, if the victim is under 18 or the perpetrator has shown a pattern of engaging in sexual extortion.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tedd Nesbit, R- Mercer, said Pennsylvania law did not adequately cover the crime and that the legislation helps Pennsylvania keep pace in a digital age that facilitates certain types of sexual extortion.
The crime occurs in many settings, including homes, workplaces, schools and online, Nesbit said.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape said the legislation will improve Pennsylvania’s ability to identify, report, charge and prosecute the crime.
“It will also impose tougher penalties for people committing this abuse in positions of trust or authority, or those who have the power to discipline or supervise the victim, as well as people who target children or individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities,” the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape said.
The law defines sexual extortion as using a threat of some type of coerce a victim into a sex act, simulating a sex act, undressing or making a video or image of it. Those threats can include harming the victim, their property or their reputation, including by exposing sensitive information.
It also defines sexual extortion as demanding something of value, such as payment, or withholding something, such as a job, to prevent the dissemination of an image or video involving a sex act.