Editorial: Sextortion shows criminal evolution
Crime doesn’t like to sit still.
It doesn’t achieve a goal, take a break and retire, content that it has run its race.
No, crime is a lot like modern business. It wants to see growth. It wants to expand its reach. It wants to find new product lines and new ways to reach new customers. Crime loves evolution.
You see it with drugs all the time. There is always a new way to get high or a new way to make more money doing it, like making what appear to be pharmaceutical-industry-created oxycodone pills that are really less expensive knockoffs made with dirt-cheap and deadly fentanyl instead.
It happens with sex, too. As technology evolves, so does the ability to use new devices or new software to exploit others.
That means the law has to evolve, too. Last week, Pennsylvania law did. On Wednesday, Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation that criminalizes sexual extortion. The Keystone State is the 11th to do so since 2016, according to the Associated Press.
What is sexual extortion? The FBI calls “sextortion” the use of “private and sensitive material” to force someone to provide money, sex or sexual images.
Of course, that is already illegal. It’s textbook blackmail. And yet it is more.
Sextortion can use material that has been hacked (also illegal) or coerced (possibly illegally) to box a minor into a place where there are no choices but compliance because of threats to themselves or others (again, illegal). It is a filthy soup of crimes stewed together into a new kind of poison.
Pennsylvania’s new law goes into effect in two months and will make sextortion a third-degree felony with a penalty of up to seven years in prison. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape says it also improves the ability to identify the behavior as a specific crime.
This is a good example of government acknowledging that a crime has mutated into something new and more insidious — who could have imagined blackmailing a child? — and responding accordingly.
It illustrates exactly why 243 years of lawmaking isn’t enough for Harrisburg to rest on its laurels. It shows why legislators have to be engaged and responsive to the reality of the changing world around them.
Crime evolves. The law has to do the same.