New Jersey closer to declaring ‘sextortion’ a crime

New Jersey closer to declaring ‘sextortion’ a crime

Aura Dunn

TRENTON, N.J. – Sextortion – extortion by threatening to share nude or explicit images and videos of victims – could soon be punishable by prison time and fines in New Jersey. The full Assembly voted unanimously to advance Assemblywoman Aura Dunn’s bill establishing the crime of sexual extortion on Thursday.

“Crimes have evolved in the digital age, but the state’s statutes haven’t exactly kept up. This law will give prosecutors the necessary tools to punish sexual predators who exploit our most vulnerable populations. Victims of sexual extortion deserve to know they are not alone and justice will be served in New Jersey,” Dunn (R-Morris) said.

New Jersey currently criminalizes sexual assault, harassment, endangering the welfare of a child and distributing child pornography, which could be applied in certain sextortion cases. Dunn’s bill (A343) would make it a crime to blackmail an individual of any age with threats to do harm by exposing the victim. It would be a crime regardless of whether the explicit material is actually shared, but penalties would increase if the victim was a minor or a developmentally disabled adult.

“Sexual extortion is a growing threat and addressing it legislatively is a promise to our communities that we as public servants are committed to stopping these horrible crimes,” Dunn added.

According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the number of sextortion reports doubled between 2019 and 2021. Offenders exploit victims to get more explicit content, money, or lure them for in-person sexual contact. Last year, the FBI said that more than 3,000 minors, primarily boys, were targeted in financial sextortion schemes. More than a dozen of the victims committed suicide.

“These predators scam, shame and destroy lives and families. Victims don’t know how to cope with the lifelong threat that they could be exposed at any moment by someone hiding behind a keyboard,” Dunn said. “So, in addition to parents having conversations with their children about online safety, this measure would add an extra layer of protection by punishing criminals to the fullest extent of the law.”

Anyone committing a crime of sexual extortion faces a prison term between three to five years and a fine up to $15,000, under the provisions of the bill. If the victim is a minor or an adult with a developmental disability, it becomes a second-degree crime that carries the presumption of a prison sentence between five and 10 years and a fine up to $150,000.

The full Senate still needs to vote on the bill before it goes to the governor’s desk for a signature.