Not only is New Jersey expanding its statutes to outlaw coercive criminal misconduct, federal legislators are also apparently looking into it. The Interstate Sextortion Prevention Act has been introduced by a Congresswoman from Massachusetts to punish the “interstate coercion of sexual acts, sexual contact or sexually explicit visual depictions and for other purposes.”
Under the proposed law, introduced by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), anyone who uses the mail or any means for interstate or foreign commerce to “coerce” any person to engage in a sexual act with another, through fraud or threats to injure the person, property, or reputation of any person, shall be fined as a Sextortionist or imprisoned for a period of years or for life, or both.
The law further punishes anyone who “with the intent to coerce any person to engage in sexual contact with another, knowingly transmits any communication containing a threat to injure the person, property, or reputation of any person, using the mail or any facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce” with fines or prison up to five years, or both.
Other provisions in the proposed Interstate Sextortion Prevention Act deal with offenses involving minors, offenses causing death or serious bodily injury, and extortion using sexually explicit visual depictions. A forfeiture provision would require convicted offenders to give up their interest “in any property, real or personal, that was used or intended to be used to commit or to facilitate the commission” of the crime, as well as “any property, real or personal, constituting or derived from any proceeds that such person obtained, directly or indirectly, as a result of such violation.”
The proposed Sextortion law, H.R. 5764, which has now been assigned to a congressional committee for review, is part of a rising tide of legislative interest in clamping down on coercive crimes that can lead to physical and emotional injuries, scars and damages.
On August 10, 2015, the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act was expanded to include criminal coercion under N.J.S.A. § 2C:13-5, as one of several new predicate acts constituting domestic violence.
Criminal coercion, as a basis for domestic violence in New Jersey, is likely to become a popular basis for obtaining restraining orders in the years to come. The offense of criminal coercion is defined as a threat made to unlawfully restrict freedom of action, with a purpose to coerce a course of conduct from a victim which a defendant has no legal right to require, including threatening to:
- inflict bodily injury on anyone or commit any other offense;
- accuse anyone of an offense;
- expose any secret which would tend to subject any person to hatred, contempt or ridicule or to impair credit or business repute;
- take or withhold action as an official or cause an official to take or withhold action;
- bring about or continue a strike, boycott or other collective action except that such a threat shall not be deemed coercive when the restriction compelled is demanded in the course of negotiation for the benefit of the group in whose interest the defendant acts;
- testify or provide information or withhold testimony or information with respect to another person’s legal claim or defense; or
- perform any other act which would not in itself substantially benefit the defendant but which is calculated to harm another person with respect to his health, safety, business, calling, career, financial condition, reputation or personal relationships.
Interest in “Crimes of Coercion,” both in New Jersey and at the federal level, appear to be rising on the legislative frontier. Whether characterized as a form of “Sextortion” or as a basis of a “Domestic Violence” claim, the rising interest in coercion-related crimes means that more and more kinds of acts, activities and actions between people may be susceptible to prosecution or to form the basis for restraining orders.
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