BOXER URGES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE TO TRACK CRIMINAL CASES OF "SEXTORTION"

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Attackers use compromising information to force victims to engage in sexual activity online

East County News Service

May 17, 2016 (Washington, D.C.) - U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging the Department of Justice to begin specifically tracking criminal offenses involving acts of sexual extortion, or "sextortion."

A Brookings Institution report released last week describes in horrifying detail how criminals are using the Internet to force victims to engage in sexual activity online.

"While the attacks may be virtual, the damage is not. These experiences can have traumatic, lifelong psychological consequences," Senator Boxer wrote in the letter.

The report defines "sextortionists" as criminals who obtain compromising images or videos of their victims and then threaten to post the content online if the victim does not agree to engage in further, often humiliating, sexual activities. Court records show that at least one victim attempted to commit suicide as a result of this online abuse.

In some cases, these criminals acquire the initial explicit material by hacking into a victim's computer webcam and secretly recording them. In other instances, an attacker might pose as a significant other on social media and lure the victim into recording a compromising video of themselves.

Through public records searches, the Brookings Institution identified 78 recent cases of online sexual extortion involving at least 1,397 victims, but the estimated number of actual victims is believed to be between 3,000 and 6,500. Yet, the true extent of this crime is largely unknown, as there are no federal efforts to specifically track the number of sextortion cases.

"In an attempt to better understand and address these serious threats facing women, men and children on the Internet, please provide information outlining the efforts the Department of Justice is taking to collect this critical data," the Senator continued.

The full text of the letter follows:

May 17, 2016

The Honorable Loretta E. Lynch

Attorney General of the United States

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Lynch:

I am writing to express concern about the growing issue of online sexual assault and to urge the Department of Justice to begin specifically tracking criminal offenses involving acts of "sextortion."

A Brookings Institution report released last week describes in horrifying detail how criminals are using the Internet to sexually extort victims online. In what is often referred to as sextortion, attackers use compromising information - usually in the form of sexually explicit images or videos - to force victims to engage in sexual activity online. For example, some criminals have hacked into victims' computers, secretly recorded explicit videos of them, and then threatened to post the footage on social media if the victims do not agree to send additional sexual material.

While the attacks may be virtual, the damage is not. These experiences can have traumatic, lifelong psychological consequences. The Brookings report notes that victims of sextortion "spend every moment in fear of the next message demanding more compromising pictures or videos, living in perpetual anxiety of the risk of public exposure." In at least one case, sextortion drove a female victim to attempt suicide.

Court records show that some of these cyber-criminals have blackmailed hundreds of different victims online. However, since specific data is not collected by any federal entity on online sexual extortion, the full extent of this crime is largely unknown. In an attempt to better understand and address these serious threats facing women, men and children on the Internet, please provide information outlining the efforts the Department of Justice is taking to collect this critical data.

Thank you so much for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Barbara Boxer

United States Senator