Following death of Ohio teen, Republican lawmakers propose crackdown on “sextortion”

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — Republican lawmakers have introduced bills that would boost the punishment in Ohio for people who ask others to share explicit photos online, and then use those pics to blackmail them.

A crowd gathers at a high school athletics field to watch a press conference.
A photo of the press conference at Olentangy High School – where Braden Markus was a student – announcing the introduction of Braden’s Law. [ | Facebook]
The bill is named for Braden Markus, a 15-year-old from Delaware County who died by suicide in October 2021 after sending pics by request to someone on Instagram he thought was a girl. That person demanded $1,800 to keep the photos hidden, and Braden took his life 27 minutes later.

“In Ohio, there really aren’t any penalties for sextortion or utilization of one’s own photos against them,” said Sen. Andrew Brenner (R-Delaware).

Brenner said his bill, along with a similar one in the House, would make sextortion a felony with prison time. He said it would put money into a crime victims fund to help victims get counseling. Brenner added would grant immunity to victims who share the images, and would give digital access rights to the parents of deceased minors.

“The other part of the bill basically just goes after those criminal elements which we hope will be used as a deterrent for people considering doing this, especially against minors, which the bill has a special focus on,” Brenner said.

One of the bill’s House sponsors, Rep. Brian Lorenz (R-Powell), said in a statement on his official House website: “Braden was a bright student that was manipulated and pushed to the point where he felt he had no other option but to end his life. We can never let something like this happen again in Ohio and we must make sexual extortionist think twice before committing this crime in our state.”

The FBI says 19 minors are targeted with sextortion schemes each day, and there have been at least 20 deaths by suicide since Braden died.

If you or anyone you know is in crisis, the National Suicide Hotline can be reached by dialing 988.