The IAWJ coined the term “sextortion” to describe a pervasive, but often ignored, form of sexual exploitation and corruption that occurs when people in positions of authority – whether government officials, judges, educators, law enforcement personnel, or employers – seek to extort sexual favors in exchange for something within their power to grant or withhold. In effect, sextortion is a form of corruption in which sex, rather than money, is the currency of the bribe.
Through the generous support of the government of the Netherlands, the IAWJ and its partner associations of women judges in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Philippines, and Tanzania
undertook a three-year program to explore how sextortion manifests itself, assess the adequacy of existing legal frameworks to address it, develop informational materials, and educate the justice sector, key stakeholders, and general public about sextortion. These efforts culminated in the development of an International Sextortion Toolkit and brochure, distributed to IAWJ member judges attending the IAWJ Biennial International Conference in London in 2012.
Sextortion is a global problem with far-reaching implications for gender equity, democratic governance, economic development, and peace and stability. Women around the world confront sextortion in virtually all aspects of life, hindering their access to government services, education, employment, justice, and the marketplace. However, the anti-corruption community focuses on financial impropriety and pays scant attention to corruption in which sex is the bribe demanded. Ignoring the gendered aspects of corruption masks its disproportionate impact on women’s lives and the attendant human and social costs. To make sextortion visible and end impunity, we need to raise awareness and reshape the way we think, talk, collect and analyze data, and formulate anti-corruption strategies.
Legal frameworks differ around the world, so legal analysis is a critical starting point for addressing sextortion. With support from Thomson Reuters Foundation and its global pro bono legal network, TrustLaw Connect, the IAWJ conducted a comparative study of laws that might be used to prosecute sextortion in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Kenya, Mexico, Taiwan, Uganda, and the United Kingdom. The final report on “Combating Sextortion” was launched with a panel discussion at the Thomson Reuters office in New York City on April 10, 2015.
Changing attitudes and behavior is never easy, but it begins, quite literally, by spreading the word – sextortion. The IAWJ and its members have worked to raise awareness about sextortion at both the international and national levels, and within both the women’s rights and anti-corruption communities. In 2011-2013, this included three panels and a side event held in conjunction with meetings of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York City and a presentation at the 2013 Trust Women Conference in London. In 2015, the IAWJ led a session on Sextortion: Where Corruption and Sexual Exploitation Meet, at the 16th International Anti-Corruption Conference held in Malaysia, and gave a presentation at the Anti-Corruption Workshop for Pacific Civil Society Organizations, organized by UNODC and UNDP in Fiji. Sextortion has also been a topic at IAWJ Biennial and Regional Conferences, and the focus of conferences and seminars in Nigeria, Argentina, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, Tanzania, the Philippines, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In June 2016, the IAWJ collaborated with the American University Washington College of Law and American Society of International Law to present a panel on sextortion in Washington, DC.
Naming sextortion is the first step towards changing the discriminatory attitudes that allow this conduct to go largely unchallenged. However, we need to continue raising awareness about sextortion, so that countries around the world can take steps to shame the perpetrators and provide justice for the victims.