The Lead

N.J. lawmakers pass bill to make ‘sextortion’ a crime

By: - February 5, 2023 6:30 am
The New Jersey Senate voting during its session on 2/2/23. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor).

TRENTON, N.J. —  Using sexual images to extort victims could soon become a crime in New Jersey after lawmakers in the Senate unanimously passed legislation last week to criminalize “sextortion.”

Sextortion can involve someone hacking into a person’s computer or phone to steal sexual material and threaten to distribute it, or coercing a victim into taking explicit photos or videos and then using them to demand more.

The bill, sponsored by Sens. Steven Oroho (R-Sussex) and Fred Madden (D-Gloucester), would make it a third-degree crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine. If the victim is a minor or adult with developmental disabilities, the offense would be a second-degree crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $150,000 fine.

“This bill puts some real teeth in the law,” Oroho said in a statement. “Young victims are often reluctant to report their abusers due to fear of embarrassment or retaliation.”

The Assembly passed the bill unanimously last month. Because the Senate amended the bill Thursday, it must return to the Assembly for another vote. If the governor signs it, New Jersey would become the 18th state to ban sextortion, according to Legal Momentum, a national nonprofit that advocates for the legal rights of women.

The legislation comes at a time when sextortion cases are rising, with teenagers a common target of blackmailers, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the FBI.

Law enforcement agencies nationwide have received more than 7,000 reports of online sextortion of minors, with at least 3,000 victims, primarily boys, the FBI said last month. More than a dozen victims died by suicide, according to the FBI.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo is a reporter for the New Jersey Monitor, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. She formerly worked at WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.