Orrick Public Policy Team Guides Effort to Enact California Law Criminalizing Sextortion


An Orrick Public Policy team was the architect of legislation enacted this week in California criminalizing sexual extortion, part of a national effort on behalf of client Legal Momentum to craft state laws to address what the FBI has identified as “by far the most significant growing threat to children” on the Internet. Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 500 on Thursday, making California the 5th state to adopt laws criminalizing “sextortion” this year, joining Utah, Arkansas, Texas and Alabama.

Led by partner Ann Patterson, our public policy team has been working pro bono to persuade states to fill gaps in the law to criminalize the practice of sexual extortion. The California legislation was introduced by state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, and unanimously passed the state Assembly before reaching the governor’s desk.

The need for such legislation is acute. Federal and most state laws do not recognize the crime of “sexual extortion.” Last year, a team of Orrick lawyers, led by Lorraine McGowen, partnered with Reuters and Legal Momentum to prepare a report that identified the gap in federal and state laws that prevents full prosecution of sexual extortion crimes. Building on that report, our public policy and white collar lawyers from across multiple offices are working with state attorneys general, district attorneys, and legislators around the country to pass legislation to expressly criminalize sexual extortion.

Sextortion involves sexual predators capitalizing on the now-ubiquitous use of social networking and interactive online games by children and young adults. These predators obtain private, often sexually explicit images of their victims by hacking into their computers or smartphones or by pretending to be friends or peers on social networking sites. Once in possession of these compromising images, the perpetrators contact their victim and threaten to post images online or send them to friends or parents, unless the victim engages in sexual conduct or sends additional sexually explicit videos or images. Faced with this threat, the victim – often a teenager or young adult – complies with the perpetrator’s demands. Sexual extortion has devastating consequences for victims; in nearly one-third of cases analyzed by the FBI in a 2016 report, one or more victims attempted suicide.

Orrick’s work securing legislation reflects the firm’s commitment to pro bono efforts. The American Lawyer ranked us #9 for pro bono work in the U.S. among the top 200 law firms, and #6 internationally.

Ann’s role in securing the legislation was highlighted in various media reports, including The American Lawyer, the Daily Journal and San Jose Mercury News. The American Lawyer story can be found here (subscription required).

In addition to Ann, the Orrick team working on the sextortion initiative includes partners Greg Scott and Jeremy Kudon; of counsel Sherry Haus, Scott Ward and Kay Winfree; associates Suman Tatapudy, Mike Wood, Nick Green and Kate Owen; and public policy advisor Erica Sechrist.