Bill Ensuring Justice for ‘Sextortion’ Victims Passes Senate Public Safety Committee

SB 500 Protects Teens and Young Women from Perpetrators

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

SACRAMENTO – The Senate Public Safety Committee today passed legislation authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) that would criminalize sexual extortion (“sextortion”) and provide prosecutors with an important tool to combat this serious crime.

Passed with bipartisan support, Senate Bill 500 updates California’s outdated extortion laws to not only include the coercion of a victim to hand over money or property, but also coercion involving sexual acts and sexually explicit images.

In the digital age, perpetrators of sextortion can target their victims online and exert power over strangers. Perpetrators obtain private, often sexually explicit, images of their victims by hacking into their computers or smartphones and use the threat of distributing these images to demand sex or additional sexually explicit images.

“As perpetrators have found new ways to target their victims, we must make sure that California law keeps up with these new forms of extortion that can directly victimize young adults. Faced with the fear of having their private images shared on the Internet or sent to family or friends, victims—often teens and young women—are forced to comply with the perpetrators’ demands,” Senator Leyva said.  “It is simply wrong that, because of ambiguity in California law, perpetrators can get charged with a lesser crime and victims do not receive the justice that they deserve. I thank Senator Skinner and the members of the Senate Public Safety Committee for approving SB 500 and giving prosecutors this important tool to combat this dangerous crime and protect victims from further harm.”

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has reported that 78% of reported sextortion victims were girls, with an average age of 15, and more than 20% of reported incidents involved multiple victims. These statistics are based on victim reporting and the rate of sextortion may actually be underreported.

California Legislative Women’s Caucus Chair Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) is a principal coauthor and Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra (D-Pacoima) is a coauthor of SB 500.  The California Legislative Women’s Caucus has also highlighted SB 500 this year as a priority bill that protects vulnerable communities.

Sponsored by the California District Attorneys Association and Legal Momentum and supported by the California State Sheriffs’ Association, SB 500 will next be considered in the Senate Appropriations Committee later this spring.