New Zealand Law Society - Politicians worldwide urged to act to tackle 'sextortion'

Politicians worldwide urged to act to tackle 'sextortion'

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A new report from the International Bar Association’s Legal Policy & Research Unit urges politicians to create bespoke legislation for sextortion instead of ‘shoehorning’ such conduct into current anti-corruption law.

Based on comparative research from eight jurisdictions, Sextortion: A crime of corruption and sexual exploitation highlights the barriers to addressing sextortion within existing legal frameworks. The report is being launched at the 2019 IBA Annual Conference in Seoul, South Korea.

IBA President Horacio Bernardes Neto says abuse of power takes many forms.

"It's time we recognised sextortion as one of them. Sexual exploitation is a global issue that is shamefully under-represented as a criminal practice in law. This needs to change. I urge the international community to heed the recommendations of this report and stamp out this behaviour once and for all," he says.

In 2008, the International Association of Women Judges coined the term ‘sextortion’. This label describes:

"A form of sexual exploitation and corruption that occurs when people in positions of authority… seek to extort sexual favours in exchange for something within their power to grant or withhold. In effect, sextortion is a form of corruption in which sex, rather than money, is the currency of the bribe."

The IBA says a recent example would be the humanitarian aid scandal of March 2019, where certain aid workers in Mozambique determined that essential items such as food and medicine would only be exchanged in return for sexual favours.

In exploring the existing legal and policy frameworks for addressing sextortion, Sextortion: A crime of corruption and sexual exploitation considers the legal frameworks in place across eight jurisdictions: Brazil, India, Nigeria, Republic of Korea, Romania, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States. Criminalising activity that falls under the ‘sextortion’ heading is complex, and there is little to no specific legislation targeting sextortion. In most jurisdictions, sextortion is considered as part of anti-corruption, anti-gender-based violence or sexual harassment law. However, identifying and prosecuting sextortion within one of these categories is problematic for a number of reasons.

Prosecution under anti-corruption legislation may face barriers such as the financial benefit requirement, the position of perpetrator (they must be a public official) and the criminalisation of the target. Addressing sextortion under anti-gender-based violence legislation may come up against obstacles such as the definition of consent, stigmatisation and a lack of support. Taking action under sexual harassment legislation could encounter such problems as only being applicable to workplace-based behaviour.

The report concludes with five recommendations on how to increase awareness of sextortion and recognise the full extent of this crime:

  1. raise awareness of the issue and ensure that people know this conduct is punishable;
  2. consider corruption and gender as interlinked issues;
  3. enact bespoke legislation to cover the conduct and recognise the nature of the crime;
  4. change institutional cultures by expressly noting sextortion in codes of conduct and ensuring that there are appropriate support structures in place; and
  5. identify ways to overcome barriers faced by victims to enable access to justice.
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