Teen 'Sextortion' on the Rise: What is It?

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on August 23, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. That idea applies to the many legal issues of online privacy and crime that have the legal system running to catch up to the everyday uses of the internet and wireless technology. One fast expanding example of this maxim is the upsurge in cases of a type of extortion called "sextortion."

According to a report by the Associated Press and CBS News, there is an increase in teens who text nude cell phone photos of themselves or show off their bodies on the internet being targeted by those who then threaten to expose those pictures to friends and family unless they pose for more explicit porn, creating a cycle of exploitation. The victims are both male and female.

Even if the law is slow to move, vocabulary is not. Prosecutors have put this name, first used in a federal affidavit, to a crime they are seeing in increasing numbers, according to the AP. Sadly, many of the easiest targets of sextortion are teens, and that is where the numbers are hitting the hardest. While the statistics on sextortion are not currently being tracked, the AP says federal prosecutors are pointing to several current high profile cases to illustrate the increase in this problem.

In one case, a 24 year-old defendant, Jonathan Vance, was sentenced to 18 years in prison after he admitted sending threatening emails on Facebook and MySpace to extort nude pictures from more than 50 young women in Alabama, Pennsylvania and Missouri. In another case in Wisconsin, defendant Anthony Stancl, 18, received 15 years in prison after prosecutors said he posed as a girl on Facebook to trick male high school classmates into sending him nude cell phone photos, which he then used to blackmail them for sex.

Although the specifics of this crime are new, they can likely be prosecuted under current laws against extortion, exploitation and even child pornography, if the victims are under 18 years of age. There are state criminal laws against extortion, but the use of the internet can bring the crime under federal control as well. One applicable Federal law prohibits anyone who, with the "intent to extort from any person ... any money or other thing of value, transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to injure the property or reputation of the addressee ..."

The best way to act online is to assume anyone can see everything. "Kids are putting their head in the lion's mouth every time they do this," Parry Aftab, an attorney and online child safety advocate, told the AP. "You are blackmailable ... and you will do anything to keep those pictures from getting out."

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