In Depth: Sextortion

November 16, 2017 06:24 PM

We live in a world of ever-changing technology and sometimes the law is slow to catch up. That means something that is wrong on many levels, may not be illegal - yet. That's the case with what's called "sextortion." Thanks to a NewsChannel 13 investigation, that could be changing.

"It's stuff that we really do deal with on a daily basis. It is real in Colonie, New York, in the Capital District," explained Investigator Kevin Terry.

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Terry works with the Computer Crimes Unit for the Colonie Police Department.  One of the challenges his department sees is the ever-changing technology and trying to stay a step ahead of the bad guys.

Most of the time, it's a game of catch up.

"It changes day to day, month to month, year to year and sometimes the legal system is a little slow in updating itself," he noted.

That's what's happening now. Young people are sharing images of themselves with someone they think they can trust. Sometimes it's a boyfriend or girlfriend. Other times, it's someone they meet on social media.

"The victim, for lack of a better term, is pressured by a person that she is having a voluntary communication with and ends up giving in. It’s almost a peer pressure type of thing. They end up giving in. They send some type of an image and then it's not enough and then they’re pressured to send an additional image that might be more revealing or another body part to the point where ultimately they’re sending full, naked photos," noted Terry.

Once they hit send, they're out there.

"The person who’s receiving the photos then begins to make demands that, ‘You’re going to do "A," "B," and "C," or I’m going to release these pictures. I’m going to send them to school. I’m going to post them on Twitter. I’m going to post them on Instagram, Snapchat’ – any of the various social media platforms," cautioned Terry.

It's blackmail, extortion, or as it's called in this case, "sextortion." If the person in the photo is underage, it's a felony. However, if they're 16, 17, 18 - even still in high school, it's perfectly legal.

"There's really nothing we can do. It could be posted and we have really no recourse," acknowledged Terry.

New York is just one of a handful of states that has yet to pass a sextortion law. So NewsChannel 13 brought that to the attention of lawmakers. Once we started asking questions, they started making changes. They reworded a bill that would make sextortion a felony in New York State.

NewsChannel 13 asked Assemblyman John McDonald, a co-sponsor of the bill, how much our inquiry about this was a factor in changing it. "I think it played a large role," he replied.

The bill has been re-written to include threats specifically involving sex and sexual images.

"During the next Legislative session, I’m hoping that we're going to move on this, and move on it as quickly as possible," noted McDonald.

That's welcome news to investigators on the front lines of these crimes, who sometimes feel helpless without the law on their side.

Terry says it’s "extremely important" to have specific legislation like this.

"Everyone is entitled to their legal defense and when we begin to get to a point where we’re not at the black and white letter of the law and we need to get creative to find an appropriate charge, that's when defense attorneys come in and can beat us up," asserted Terry.

The bill will be introduced in the Assembly when they return to session on January 3.


Kelly Lynch

Copyright 2017 - WNYT-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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