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What is Sextortion?

Published: Feb 27, 2019 in Criminal Defense, Sex Crimes

A Texas man was recently sentenced to 35 years in Illinois state prison for soliciting nude photos of underage girls from across the county. The defendant, 36-year-old Mark Barnwell of Whitehouse, Texas, would create fake Facebook profiles and then contact young women, posing as a modeling agent. He would persuade the girls to submit compromising pictures with the promise of large cash payments. Once he had the photos, he would threaten to post their photos online if they did not continue to provide him with pictures.

Sextortion and related crimes are very serious criminal charges that can change your life forever. If convicted, you face imprisonment and the public stigma of being a sex offender. If you’ve been charged with such an offense, you need to contact an experienced Houston sex crimes lawyer for help. To schedule a free and confidential case consultation, contact us today at (713) 222-6767.

Defining Sextortion

Barnwell engaged in an act known as “sextortion.” The FBI defines sextortion as threatening to distribute someone’s private and sensitive material in exchange for images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money. In Barnwell’s case, he engaged in sextortion when he threatened to release the girls’ photos if they did not continue to provide him with sexual images.

Sextortion in Texas

In 2017, the Texas legislature amended the law to address the rise in acts of sextortion Texas Penal Code Section 21.16(c) makes it unlawful to threaten to release photos or video in which a person is nude or engaged in sexual conduct in order to obtain some benefit.

It’s important to note that the statute criminalizes the threat itself – you do not need to have actually released the material to be charged with extortion, actually obtain the benefit of the threat. Simply making the threat can subject you to criminal charges.

Defending Against Sextortion Charges

Texas law expressly states that you cannot defend yourself by claiming that a victim consensually made or provided you with the sensitive material. As a result, defending against a sextortion charge can be somewhat of a challenge.

One of the key elements of the statute, however, is that you must have received some benefit in order to be charged with sextortion. While this section of the statute doesn’t define what constitutes a “benefit,” a benefit is elsewhere defined in Texas law as “anything reasonably regarded as economic gain or advantage.” Threatening to release material unless the victim pays you money is sextortion, but you cannot be charged with sextortion if you have not received or attempted to obtain some economic benefit. Threatening to release photos out of anger or simply to embarrass the other person does not qualify as extortion.

It is also arguably unclear whether threatening to release photos or video in exchange for additional material or sexual favors would be considered sextortion.

Possible Penalties

Under Texas law, sextortion is a state jail felony. This means that if found guilty, you face a prison sentence of 180 days to two years. You could also be fined up to $10,000.

In addition to statutory penalties, you could face a number of collateral consequences, including:

  • Sex offender registration
  • Difficulty obtaining and maintaining employment
  • Challenges finding housing
  • Issues pertaining to child custody

Contact Houston Sex Crimes Attorney for Help

If you’ve been charged with sextortion or a similar crime, don’t leave your future in the hands of the prosecution. With decades of legal experience, sex crimes lawyer Ned Barnett knows how to defend against criminal charges. To schedule a free, initial consultation of your case, contact The Law Offices of Ned Barnett at (713) 222-6767, or reach out via the online form.