Next Wednesday, May 11, Brookings is holding an online event to release a pair of papers on which I and a team of Lawfare folks have spent a great deal of time over the last several months. The subject is a new form of sex crime, colloquially called "sextortion," in which a perpetrator threatens a victim online (generally with the release of compromising photos) if the victim does not produce pornography for him. I have written about these cases, which amount to a new form of remote sexual assault, in The Future of Violence: Robots and Germs, Hackers and Drones—Confronting A New Age of Threat. But these papers—by me, Cody Poplin, Quinta Jurecic, and Clara Spera—represent the first serious effort to study the problem in depth.
The results, about which we'll be writing extensively on the site next week, are surprising and alarming: To put the matter simply, we found a large number of cases of exceptional brutality involving literally thousands of victims. These cases suggest, to me at least, that we are defining cybersecurity far too narrowly. And they describe significant gaps in federal law, which we endeavor in these papers to identify.
Sextortion—defined as blackmail (often by the threat of releasing sexually explicit images of the victim) carried out over a computer network, which forces victims to engage in some form of sexual activity online—is a new term for a new crime. The remote coercion of sex is a crime that was impossible until recently, but with the expansion of the Internet and proliferation of webcams, Sextortion is a growing form of exploitation. This remarkably understudied crime has affected thousands of people, almost entirely women and children.
On May 11, Governance Studies will host an online discussion at which Benjamin Wittes will release new research on sextortion. A panel of experts will explore what sextortion is and what lawmakers can do to stop this egregious crime. Panelists will also discuss how to help victims and how to more effectively prosecute sextortionists.
Tune in below or on the Spreecast platform, where you can submit questions. This Spreecast accompanies the release of two new papers authored by Benjamin Wittes, Cody Poplin, Quinta Jurecic, and Clara Spera. In “Sextortion: Cybersecurity, teenagers, and remote sexual assault,” the authors provide an in-depth study of sextortion cases, and in “Closing the sextortion sentencing gap: A legislative proposal” they recommend a new federal law on the subject.