Since 2009, the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) has been working to raise awareness about a sexualized form of corruption that the IAWJ calls “sextortion.” Sextortion occurs when people in positions of power – government officials, judges, educators, law enforcement personnel, border guards, employers, or others – extort sexual favours, instead of money, in return for something that is within their power to grant or withhold, such as a visa, favourable court decision, good grade, dismissal of a traffic ticket, passage across a border, overtime at work, etc. Though such abuses of power for purposes of sexual exploitation might be prosecuted as corruption, sexual harassment, or even rape, too often they are not prosecuted at all.
The IAWJ would like to see anti-sextortion efforts institutionalized within the civil service by incorporating sextortion in government standards of conduct and accountability and judicial codes of ethics.
Strategies for accomplishing this include:
- Review and make specific recommendations with respect to codes of government accountability and ethical standards, identifying gaps and clarifying that sextortion violates those rules and standards.
- Develop curricula modules and other targeted tools for the training that those entrusted with power receive about their professional and ethical obligations.
- Integrate sextortion materials into training developed at the national level for civil servants, judges, court employees, police, and law enforcement personnel.
One of the biggest contributors to impunity for sextortion is that people often do not see it as corruption. When a District Attorney in Wisconsin barraged a domestic violence victim with text messages proposing a sexual relationship, the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) initially found that, although inappropriate, the communication did not appear to involve professional misconduct. Would the same conclusion have been reached if the request had been for money? Months later, after the texts became public and there was a public outcry, the ethics inquiry was reopened and OLR found 11 possible violations. When a person who has been pressured for sex by a government official or other authority seeks help, it matters greatly whether the person from whom she seeks redress sees sextortion as a legal wrong.
The IAWJ’s vision for change is that cases like this, whether they take place in rich countries like the USA or poor ones, will not fall through doctrinal cracks. Officials charged with attorney discipline – or police discipline, or any other professional codes or rules of conduct – will not turn a blind eye to this kind of abuse of power. Thus, the most important action that can be taken to affect sextortion is to get people to recognize it as an unlawful and unethical abuse of entrusted power.