Teens Targeted: Lawmakers push for bipartisan legislation to combat sextortion cases
State and federal law enforcement agencies say there has been an increase in sextortion cases
Content warning: This story contains references to suicide. If you or someone you know are experiencing thoughts of suicide, contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling, texting or chatting 988. The original hotline number, 1-800-273-8255, is also open. Additional resources can be found at 988lifeline.org
(InvestigateTV) — Walker Montgomery’s life was cut short in December 2022, after the 16-year-old fell victim to a growing cybercrime known as sextortion. Now, his father, Brian Montgomery, is urging lawmakers to act.
“The number one avenue is putting regulation around tech companies and social media companies to help us regulate the traffic. Because we have to view kids in a different light than we do adults,” Montgomery said.
In Walker’s case, the star football athlete believed he had met a teenage girl on a popular social media platform. Their conversation started innocently enough, but soon the “girl” convinced Walker to participate in a sexual act on video chat.
“All the time, Walker didn’t know it, but he was being recorded. And at the end of that episode, they came back and said, ‘You’re going to give us $1,000 or we’re going to send this to everybody that you know,’” Montgomery said.
In a panic, Montgomery said, his son took his own life that same night.
State and federal law enforcement agencies say there has been an increase in cases like Walker’s, where children and teens are being coerced into sending sexually explicit images or videos online and then extorted for money.
That increase is part of the reason why lawmakers in the Senate are trying to strengthen the nation’s centralized reporting system for online child exploitation.
In June, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bipartisan bill sponsored by Georgia Democrat Sen. Jon Ossoff and Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn. The REPORT Act – short for Revising Existing Procedures on Reporting via Technology – would mandate social media platforms and other websites report any potential online exploitation or sex trafficking of children, which they are not currently required to do. The bill also would increase fines for companies that knowingly and willfully fail to report child sex abuse material on their website.
“Senator Blackburn and I have introduced bipartisan legislation to hold social media companies accountable to report the abuse of children using their platforms.” Ossoff told InvestigateTV. “I’ve also passed through the U.S. Senate a bipartisan bill with my Republican colleagues Senator (Chuck) Grassley called the Preventing Child Sex Abuse Act, which will empower federal prosecutors to go after criminals, predators who use digital technology, web cameras, and internet platforms to target children.”
Notably, the bill broadens the definition of “sexual activity” beyond literal physical contact to include virtual contact, like a webcam.
The REPORT Act also would modernize the national tipline run by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and would require evidence to be preserved for a longer period, giving law enforcement more time to investigate and prosecute crimes.
It’s legislation Brian Montgomery hopes is soon passed by Congress. He plans to continue to honor his son by traveling to D.C. to testify for stronger laws.
“Sextortion is just one avenue of the crimes that are originating through technology. We’re talking about an area of life now that is almost unregulated,” Montgomery said. “And so, should there be more in terms of task forces, in terms of law that are specific to sextortion and some other crimes? Yes. I think that’ll help. But the major area of concern, we’ve got social media companies, tech companies that are not held accountable at all.”
Copyright 2023 Gray Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.