In the past few months, the issue of sexual harassment and assault has become the topic of national conversation in the United States, with scandals coming to light not just in Hollywood, but also in the judiciary, the corporate world and the Congress.
Such misconduct stems from the same root cause of abuse of power, according to State Sen. Connie M. Leyva of California.
She pointed out that abusing power for sexual gratification is an age-old problem and “without meaningful channels to report and respond” to such cases, there may be no change.
Leyva authored the SB500 bill which was signed into law in October 2017 by California Gov. Jerry Brown. The SB500, was passed in both houses of the Legislature without a single “no” vote.
Law Address ‘Sextortion
Under this law, with the addition of “just a few words” to the state’s extortion statute, the law helps protect Californians from “sextortion” by offering clear channels for reporting such abuse to law enforcement authorities and also empower prosecutors with tools for seeking accountability from offenders.
“Sextortion” is an act wherein the currency involved is sex or sexual images rather than money, and is fundamentally an abuse of power according to Leyva.
Protection In the Digital Age
The problem of ‘sextortion’ has gained additional relevance in the digital age with Internet and social media becoming a prime channel of communication.
Since these crimes are too difficult for victims to rely on civil remedies alone, law enforcement authorities must be provided with appropriate tools. With the introduction of SB500 prosecutors will be able to bring such sexual perpetrators to justice via the criminal courts.
According to Leyva , abusers use technology and social media while remaining shielded in order to terrorise victims who are more often than not girls and women . There must be measures put in place for having full and safe access to Internet technologies and social media, she said.
States Must Take Action
All states must take action to update their laws in order to ensure that abuses of power like sexual extortion do not go unpunished.
Several other U.S. states have taken legal action to tackle sextortion offenders. Utah, Arkansas Alabama, and Texas are some of the states that have passed legislation in 2017 that are similar to the SB500.
Bills to fight sexual extortion are currently pending several other states like Arizona, New York, the District of Columbia and New Jersey. Additionally, federal legislation has been introduced with bipartisan sponsors.