State Rep. Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park) filed a bill in response to “sextortion,” a crime that he said is growing rapidly and that typically affects children who are using the internet.
Sextortion is a relatively new form of sexual exploitation that occurs primarily online and in which non-physical forms of coercion are utilized, such as blackmail, to acquire sexual content, usually photos or videos of the child, obtain money from the child or engage in sexual acts with the child. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, although children are the ones predominantly targeted, adults can also be victims of the crime.
“On a daily basis our attorney general is getting phone calls with complaints about someone threatening exploiting intimate photos and videos of themselves as blackmail,” Dale said.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children states that CyberTipline started tracking sextortion in October of 2013. Between 2014 and 2015, there was a 90-percent increase in sextortion reports. Data says the reports have climbed to a 150-percent increase in 2016 in comparison to 2014’s same timeframe.
“They say things to kids like ‘if you don’t give me money I will post this where your friends and family can see it,’” Dale said. “You would think that’s illegal, but
threatening someone with that it not illegal here.”
Perpetrators sometimes secretly film sexually explicit videos of the child during chats and then might threaten to assault the child or the child’s family.
Dale said it’s usually an adult posing as a child that threatens another child this way, but not always.
“We have to get a modern law lets that addresses this,” Dale said. “Criminals can always find loopholes.”
The bill in question, House Bill 2974, revises Chapter 21 of the Texas Penal Code to address the issue’s prominence by specifying that a person commits an offense if they intentionally threaten to use intimate visual footage to gain benefits whether this be sexual contact or money. It specifies that this pertains to anything sent by email, a website, a social media account, a chatroom or any other technological outlet. A conviction would be deemed a state felony for a first offense and a third-degree felony for repeated offenders.
“This heinous crime disproportionately impacts children and it is critical that the Legislature gives more tools to law enforcement and prosecutors to find justice for these victims,” Dale said.
According to data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 78 percent of reports involve female children and 15 percent involve male children. The remaining eight percent could not be identified by gender. Victims typically are between the ages of eight and 17 years old.