State Representative Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park) filed HB 2974 to address the growing crime of “sextortion”. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) “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 (photos/videos) of the child, obtain money from the child or engage in sex with the child”. While this crime is increasingly perpetrated against children, adults are also targeted.
According to NCMEC their CyberTipline began tracking sextortion in October 2013. These reports have been on the rise. In just the first two full years, between 2014 and 2015, there was a 90% increase in the total number of reports. The pattern is continuing, with sextortion reports up 150% in 2016 compared to the number of reports in that same time-frame in 2014.
“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,” said Dale.
NCMEC says that 78% of the reports involved female children and 15% involved male children. In 8% of reports, child gender could not be determined. Male and female children each ranged in age from 8-17 years old and had an average age of fifteen years old.
Perpetrators of these crimes use many different manipulation tactics to achieve their objectives. The most common tactic is the offender threatening to post previously acquired sexual content online. Often, the offender specifically threatens to post it in a place for family and friends to see if the child does not comply. They also secretly record sexually explicit videos of the child during video chats and then physically threaten to hurt or sexually assault the child or family members.
According to the NCMEC, “Over the past three years, NCMEC has recognized the emergence of an alarming trend called sextortion, a new online exploitation crime directed towards children in which non-physical forms of coercion are used, such as blackmail, to acquire sexual content from the child, engage in sex with the child, or obtain money from the child. In October 2013, NCMEC began tracking this disturbing new form of online sexual victimization of children and NCMEC has seen a dramatic increase in sextortion cases being reported, including a 150% increase in reports from early 2014 to early 2016. This is a new crime for which current laws are inadequate. I commend Representative Dale for the introduction of this bill and for his dedication to the safety of our nation’s children.”
HB 2974 changes Chapter 21 of the Texas Penal Code to address this modern, technology-based crime. It specifies that a person commits an offense if they intentionally threaten, including by coercion or extortion, to use intimate visual material to gain monetary, or other benefits, to include sexual contact. The bill specifies that this applies to a threat regardless of how that threat is communicated, including a threat transmitted through e-mail, Internet website, social media account, or chat room and a threat made by other electronic or technological means. A conviction under the new law is a state jail felony for a first offense and a third degree felony for repeat offenders.
“As sexual predators increasingly use online activity to threaten others with harm, individuals who are victims of sextortion are robbed of their sense of safety and dignity,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said. “This vital public safety legislation will ensure that Texans can turn to law enforcement to stop sextortion, and that the perpetrators will be brought to justice with the full force of Texas law.”
A full text of HB 2974 can be found at the following link: http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/85R/billtext/pdf/HB02974I.pdf#navpanes=0
State Representative Tony Dale is Vice Chairman of the Juvenile Justice & Family Issues Committee and is a member of the Environmental Regulation Committee. He is Chairman of the Texas House Energy Caucus. He represents southwestern Williamson County, Cedar Park, Leander, Brushy Creek, and parts of Austin and Round Rock.