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“We have to be vigilant:” Lawmakers work to ensure ‘sextortion’ laws keep up with technology

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MADISON -- FBI officials call it a devastating crime, and children are especially vulnerable. It's known as sextortion -- and it's a growing problem here in Wisconsin. Now, state lawmakers are taking action to ensure the law keeps up with technology.

"That's the only reason I did that. I was just messin' with her," a 25-year-old Milwaukee man we'll call 'Jimmy' said.

Sextortion

Sextortion

A few days after Jimmy had sex with an 18-year-old friend, he sent her a text she wasn't expecting.

"When we gonna make another video?"

"And, I'm like what do you mean another video?" 'Deanna,' the victim in this case, said.

He not only recorded their first encounter -- he wanted to make a sequel.

"I was tryin' to have her come back," Jimmy said.

When the young woman refused, Jimmy threatened to post the video to Facebook.

"Like, my family's going to see it and everything," Deanna said.

"Pretty much everything I was doing, I was trying to get her to be scared," Jimmy said.

"That`s absolutely outrageous," Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) said.

Rep. Jim Ott

Rep. Jim Ott

And that's why Rep. Ott introduced a bill that would overhaul the state law on extortion.

"In a nutshell, it`s trying to keep our law up to date with changes and advances in technology," Rep. Ott said.

When the law was created, it focused on threats to spread information about another person to extort money. But smartphones and other recording devices have spawned a nationwide epidemic of sexual blackmail -- otherwise known as sextortion.

"They might be forcing the person to do something they didn`t want to do," Rep. Ott said.

Like performing sexual favors or sending even more explicit photos or videos.

Sextortion

Sextortion

"It just shows the amount of power that someone has when they possess these nude images and these nude videos," Erin Karshen, assistant district attorney said.

But sextortion is just the tip of the iceberg.

In September, Mario Perkins was charged with a crime after hanging his cell phone over the top of a bathroom stall at Froedtert Hospital.

Mario Perkins

Mario Perkins

Paul Jackson was charged with posting a sexual video of his ex-girlfriend to Facebook as revenge for her getting a restraining order.

Paul Jackson

Paul Jackson

And Benjamin Theim was busted for placing an iPhone in his parents' bathroom to record female classmates who had come over to use the family's hot tub.

"It`s like everyday there`s something new when it comes to technology," Rep. John Spiros (R-Marshfield) said.

Rep. Spiros introduced a bill that would make it a crime to secretly record intimate situations -- even if the victim isn't nude.

For example, if a fully-clothed victim is secretly recorded performing oral sex -- and it would make one other important change.

'Jimmy' admits the woman he had sex with didn't agree to be recorded. However, a jury let him off the hook, because the woman he recorded should have known what he was doing.

Sextortion

Sextortion

After all, she could see the cell phone in his hand.

"That specific type of case is one of the reasons we need to update the law," Rep. Spiros said.

Spiros' bill would make it a crime, unless a victim specifically consents to the recording -- through words, or some overt action.

"Common decency would tell a person this is wrong. But nevertheless, there`s a lot of things in the law we know are wrong, but we still have to write a law to say it`s wrong," Rep. Ott said.

Last year, the state created its first revenge porn statute, and this year, Rep. Ott authored a bill that makes upskirting a felony.

Step by step, he says, the law is finally catching up with the times.

"I would definitely say it is. Now, obviously we have to be vigilant, because you never know what`s going to come along in the years ahead," Rep. Ott said.

Rep. Spiros says children, the mentally ill, and people who are unconscious cannot consent to being recorded in an intimate situation, so it's quite possible that teenagers who think they're just being flirtatious could find themselves facing felony charges.

However, he says judges and prosecutors would still have discretion to determine if such an act was vengeful or just a foolish mistake.

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