Sextortion 101: A Legal Primer

Sextortion: revenge porn's equally odious cousin.
Sextortion: revenge porn’s equally odious cousin.

First, revenge porn hit the scene. Now, sextortion is also on the stroll. “Sextortion,” you ask? A hybrid crime of extortion and hacking, sextortionists use malware to gain control of web cams, and then take nude pictures and videos of victim’s without their knowledge or consent. After that, the perpetrator usually contacts the victim and demands money in exchange for not publishing the material. Unlike revenge porn, sextortion is illegal everywhere. If you get caught, you’re going to need superb lawyering to keep you out of jail.

Teenage Sextortionist Could Face Over A Year In Jail

Nineteen year old Jared James Abrahams of California recently found out the hard way that sextortion will land you in a heap of trouble with the law. After successfully using malware to commander the web cams of several women, including Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf, Abrahams amassed a library of unsolicited nudie media. He then contacted his victims and demanded “payment or else.” One of Abraham’s targets said he threatened to turn her “dream of being a model…into a port star.”

He Confessed Instead Of Going Through A Trial

But apparently Abrahams didn’t cover his tracks well enough and authorities smoked him out of his hole. Now he is facing time behind bars. And since Abrahams’ sextortion racket reached its tentacles into Ireland, Canada, Russia and Moldova, international suits may also arise – especially since EU online privacy laws are a lot more strict than U.S. online privacy laws.

Abrahams copped to the crime instead of enduring a trial. He “admitted to infecting people’s computers with malware” – a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. He also conceded to “watching women change their clothes and using photographs against his victims.”

On March 19, 2014, Abrahams’ fate awaits him at his sentencing hearing. He could spend several years in the clink.

Sextortion Isn’t New, But Some Of The Methods Are

Analogue Sextortion

James Abrahams is not an anomaly. Sextortion is a prevalent pastime that has touched nearly every corner of the globe and every level of society. Though, it hasn’t always involved a digital component. For example:

  1. Several years ago, in Tanzania, authorities convicted a high school teacher who demanded sexual favors for grades.
  2. In 2010, a Canadian judge handed a government adjudicator an 18-month sentence for extorting sex from a refugee looking for asylum.
  3. Chinese Communist Party official Lei Zhengfu lost his job after a video called “Lei, the secretary who accepts sex bribes”went live on Sina Weibo, that country’s most popular social media site. And yes, as the title suggests, he was convicted for doling out government favors for sexual labors.

Digital Sextortion

In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of hacking- and social media-related sextortion scandals. To illustrate:

  1. Celebrity phone hacker, Christopher Chaney, got 10 years in federal prison for hacking the phones of Mila Kunis, Christina Aguilera and Scarlett Johansson.
  2. A teenager in Wisconsin got a 15-year prison sentence for posing as a girl on Facebook, then using the account to convince boys to send him nude pics, which he then used to extort homosexual sex.

Judges Ban Together To Educate Law Enforcement and Lawmakers On Sextortion

Sextortion is so prevalent that the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), in conjunction with the Association of Women Judges in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Philippine Women Judges Association, and the Tanzania Women Judges Association launched a three-year program called, “Stopping the Abuse of Power through Sexual Exploitation: Naming, Shaming, and Ending Sextortion.” The Netherlandian government was kind enough to foot the bill for the cross-border legal awareness project.

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