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If the prosecutorial estimates in the various cases are to be believed, the number of actual victims probably ranges between 3,000 and 6,500―and, for reasons we explain below, may be much higher even than that.
As the teenage child of one of the present authors put the matter, “You just can’t put a portable porn studio in the hands of every teenager in the country and not expect bad things to happen.” This paper represents an effort―to our knowledge the first―to study in depth and across jurisdictions the problems of sextortion.
Law enforcement authorities investigating the emails soon realized that the threatening communications were part of a larger series of crimes.
Mijangos, they discovered, had tricked scores of women and teenage girls into downloading malware onto their computers.
This is the new playground.” But while the FBI has issued numerous warnings about sextortion, the government publishes no data on the subject.
Unlike its close cousin, the form of nonconsensual pornography known as “revenge porn,” the problem of sextortion has not received sustained press attention or action in numerous state legislatures, in part because with few exceptions, sextortion victims have chosen to remain anonymous, as the law in most jurisdictions permits. The 78 cases we reviewed alone involve at least 1,397 victims, and this is undoubtedly just the tip of the iceberg.
To make matters worse, Mijangos also used the computers he controlled to spread his malware further, propagating to the people in his victims’ address books instant messages that appeared to come from friends and thereby inducing new victims to download his malware.
Sextortion thus turns out to be quite easy to accomplish in a target-rich environment that often does not require more than malicious guile.
It is a great mistake, however, to confuse sextortion with consensual sexting or other online teenage flirtations. It is also a crime that, as we shall show, does not currently exist in either federal law or the laws of the states.
The malware Mijangos wrote was sophisticated, and he told federal authorities that he designed it specifically to be undetectable to antivirus programs.
He then, according to court documents, “used [those] intimate images or videos of female victims he stole or captured to ‘sextort’ those victims, threatening to post those images or videos on the Internet unless the victims provided more.” Mijangos’s threats were not idle.