More than five years after it was originally proposed by then-Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton), a bill establishing the crime of “sexual extortion” passed the Senate Judiciary Committee today on a unanimous vote.
Sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho (R-Franklin) and State Sen. Fred Madden (D-Washington), the bill would specifically make it a third-degree crime to coerce a victim into acquiescing to sexual requests by threatening to release sexual images of the victim, or by threatening the victim’s “person, property, or reputation.” The offense would become a second-degree crime if the victim is a minor.
Using sexual images as blackmail to receive money or other conventional forms of payment – which fits into a more traditional understanding of extortion – is already covered under existing law, Madden said.
“Sexual extortion doesn’t fit squarely within New Jersey’s criminal laws,” testified Jennifer Becker, an attorney at the women’s defense fund Legal Momentum, at today’s hearing. “S653 is critical to ensuring that the laws in New Jersey keep pace with the manner in which perpetrators are abusing victims.”
The vote in committee today was uncontroversial, but it was also the first time the bill had ever come for a vote at all; though it has been introduced in one or both houses of the legislature four sessions in a row, the bill had never previously gotten a committee hearing. Asked why that may have been, Madden said he wasn’t sure.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Madden said. “I’m on the Judiciary Committee now, and maybe that helped. I don’t judge why [the bill] went up, I just thank the chairman [State Sen. Brian Stack] for his interest in it. It’s overdue… I can’t speak to the actions or inactions of other senators or why they would not post the bill.”
Stack is new to the committee chairmanship as of this year, succeeding State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden), who now serves as Senate President. Madden said he intends on pushing the Senate to vote on the bill at this Thursday’s voting session; as Senate President, Scutari has control over what bills are and aren’t posted in the full Senate.
An identical bill in the Assembly has been introduced by Assemblywoman Aura Dunn (R-Mendham); her once-partner on the bill, former Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood), left the legislature this year. The Assembly bill was referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee and has yet to move forward from there.