Sextortion Victims Are Not Guilty of Bribery

On this blog, I have repeatedly called for the anticorruption community to put greater emphasis on fighting sexual corruption around the world. I have argued that a police officer demanding sex in order to perform (or not perform) an official function is a form of bribery; in a few cases, officials have been charged with and convicted of bribery or official misconduct for sexual corruption.

Characterizing this sort of sexual coercion as bribery, however, raises a potential problem: In typical monetary corruption cases, it is possible to prosecute the bribe giver as well as the bribe receiver. Does that mean that the private citizen (almost always a woman) from whom sexual favors are extorted by a public official could be deemed to have “paid” an unlawful bribe? Unfortunately, the idea of charging victims of sexual corruption with bribery is not too far-fetched. In one New York case, two police officers demanded sex from a female motorist if she wanted to avoid arrest (for drugs found in her car); at the officers’ trial, the jury was instructed that the woman was an accomplice as a matter of law to bribe receiving. The appellate court wrote that the test for whether the woman can be considered an accomplice is whether she “theoretically could have been convicted of any crime based on at least some of the same facts that must be proven in order to convict the defendant.” And because the woman in this case acquiesced to the officers’ demands, she met the definition of an accomplice to bribe receiving. (She was not charged, but according to the court she could have been.)

Thus one potential concern with heeding the call to treat so-called “sextortion” as a corruption offense (that is, soliciting a bribe) is that it could lead to greater use of anti-bribery laws to charge the women from whom sex is extorted. (For example, suppose an American businesswoman had sexual relations with a foreign procurement officer as a quid pro quo for receiving a government contract; the businesswoman in this case could conceivably be charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.) It will be crucial to ensure that this never happens. This can be accomplished through a generous interpretation of coercion as a defense to bribery, informed by the existing American jurisprudence on sexual harassment in the employment setting.

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