On Wednesday, November 27, 2019, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law a bill that will make sexual extortion a criminal offense. The legislation will take effect 60 days after approval.
The bill’s sponsor, Representative Tedd Nesbit, said that Pennsylvania’s current laws did not adequately address sexual exploitation. He stated that it is a serious crime, and the consequences of committing it should be as severe as the offense itself.
In today’s digital age, sexual exploitation is becoming more common, as people use social media platforms to coerce others into sending images of themselves engaged in sexual acts.
The law was introduced as a way to combat a growing concern among policymakers regarding sexual-related crimes involving children. Nesbit cited a Department of Justice report stating that this offense is increasingly committed against minors. About 71% of victims are under 18 years of age.
However, the law doesn’t only criminalize actions conducted with minors. Extorting any person to engage in sexual acts or create explicit photos or videos will be illegal in the state.
How Does the Law Define Sexual Extortion?
Sexual extortion, often called “sextortion,” occurs when someone forces another individual to send them sexual images under the threat of exposing private or sensitive information.
Pennsylvania’s new law defines sexual extortion as knowingly or intentionally coercing or causing someone to:
- Engage in or simulate sexual conduct;
- Become nude; or
- Make, produce, or disseminate images that depict the person naked or performing or simulating a sexual act
The law also lists 5 ways that a person could be considered to have extorted someone for sexually explicit images or conduct:
- Harming or threatening to harm the individual, their reputation, their property, or anything of value to them
- Making or disseminating, or threatening to make or disseminate, a video or image of the individual naked or engaged in a sexual act
- Exposing or threatening to expose information that would result in the individual becoming involved in a criminal or civil proceeding, or would subject them to hatred, embarrassment, or ridicule
- Withholding or threatening to withhold a service, job, or anything of value from the individual
- Causing or threatening to cause a loss or injury to the individual or their family or household member
What Will the Penalties Be for a Sexual Extortion Conviction?
Depending on the circumstances, sexual extortion will be either a misdemeanor or felony. In either case, the punishments are severe.
Generally, if the offense is carried out on a person 18 years of age or older, it will be charged as a first-degree misdemeanor.
Penalties for this level of offense include:
- Up to 5 years imprisonment and/or
- Up to $10,000 in fines
When the act is committed on a person under 18 years of age, the alleged victim has an intellectual disability, or the actor is in a position of trust or supervises the individual, the charge increases to a third-degree felony. Additionally, the offense is raised to this level when the perpetrator exhibits a pattern of engaging in this type of behavior or has been previously convicted of this or a similar offense.
The punishments for a third-degree felony include:
- Up to 7 years in prison and/or
- Up to $15,000 in fines
Call the Law Offices of William D. Thompson for Legal Representation
If you were charged with a sex crime or other offense in Scranton, contact our attorney as soon as possible. Building a strong defense for criminal matters requires a detailed examination of the facts of the case, and we will be dedicated to developing a solid legal strategy on your behalf.