TRENTON – Sexual extortion would become a specific crime in New Jersey under a bill endorsed Monday by a Senate committee.

Sextortion occurs when someone with explicit images of a victim coerces them into providing more explicit photos or in-person sexual acts.

Sen. Fred Madden, D-Gloucester, said, “Sexual extortion is real, and it’s voluminous.”

“It’s bizarre, the electronic mechanisms that are used today, to use these to extort our teens and our disabled, it’s basically unconscionable, quite frankly,” said Madden, a former New Jersey State Police superintendent.

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If enacted, the bill would make sextortion a third-degree crime with a penalty of five years in prison and a $15,000 fine. If the victim is a minor or someone with a disability, the charge increases to aggravated sexual extortion, a second-degree crime with penalties of up to 10 years in prison and $150,000 in fines.

Jennifer Becker, legal director for Legal Momentum, a women’s legal defense and education fund, said the bill is critical to keep pace with how perpetrators are abusing their victims. Cases are now prosecuted using related charges that don't quite fit or often aren't pursued at all.

“Sexual extortion is not a new crime. But as I said, it has proliferated in the digital age, and the perpetrators have increasingly learned to use technology and the Internet to reach victims,” said Becker, who said people have been more vulnerable during the isolation of pandemic that pushed people online. “And New Jersey residents have not been exempt from this.”

“Victims of this form of sexual assault suffer the same harm as other forms of sexual assault and often face the additional harm of wondering, likely for the rest of their lives, when and where the images possessed by the perpetrator may show up,” she said.

Becker said, in the last five years, 17 jurisdictions have criminalized sexual extortion.

“The bill creates a new statute that makes clear that coerced sexual conduct and sexually explicit imagery, even done through a screen, is sexual assault,” Becker said. “It’s a simple legislative solution that ensures that victims have a mechanism to come forward and law enforcement and prosecutors have a mechanism to hold perpetrators accountable.”

The bill, S653/A343, is a bipartisan one, also sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho, R-Sussex.

“Given the emotional and psychological harm these violations can have on young people, the Legislature must step up and pass this aggressive measure classifying this despicable behavior as a crime and protecting our children,” Oroho said.

The bill’s next stop is the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. Its Assembly counterpart has not gotten a hearing.

NJ teachers and educators caught in sex crime busts

Over the past few years, state lawmakers have taken on the challenge of dealing with accused child predators among the ranks of teachers and educators.

In 2018, the so-called “pass the trash” law went into effect, requiring stricter New Jersey school background checks related to child abuse and sexual misconduct.

The follow individuals were arrested over the past several years. Some have been convicted and sentenced to prison, while others have accepted plea deals for probation.

Others cases are still pending, including some court delays amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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