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Does Utah’s sextortion law fall short of protecting all victims?

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Utah led the way as one of the first states in the country to enact criminal sextortion laws, but does the law fall short of protecting all victims?

ABC4’s Brittany Johnson has been looking into Gabe Ryan Gilbert’s case. Gilbert was charged with five counts of aggravated sexual extortion of a child and four counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.

Prosecutors say Gilbert extorted girls well before the age of 18 and there are more than 50 victims.

Prosecutors tell ABC4 News that many of these victims will never see any justice because Gilbert was a minor when he committed most of the crimes. Under Utah’s current Cyber Exploitation law, prosecutors cannot charge anyone under the age of 18 who commits “sextortion.”

“There is a whole swath of victims, potentially, who could receive a measure of justice and we are not going to be able to give them a measure of justice because the perpetrator happens to be under the age of 18,” explained Sim Gill, Salt Lake County District Attorney.

Sim Gill prosecutes these cases.

“What I remember being told by one of our folks when this was going on was, well, kids will be kids or boys will be boys, but I don’t find that a very satisfying answer when it comes to this kind of behavior.”

Research shows underage females are much more likely to be “sextorted” by someone in their peer group.

The Salt Lake County DA’s Office supported the original version of the bill which labeled the act a crime, but many state lawmakers refused to pass the bill without the addition of the age requirement.

In an email obtained by ABC4 News, Gill’s office requested that the bill’s sponsor, Senator Curt Bramble (R) Provo, draft an additional bill that would prohibit minors from committing sextortion.

A portion of that emails read, “Our office’s objective is not to saddle minors with felonies, but we do want to help all victims of sextortion and we hope that some judicial intervention in cases where a juvenile sexually extorts another juvenile will prevent more serious offenses when those juveniles become adults.”

“Juvenile activity is different than a predator with mal intent going after someone in a sextortion case. That’s what we were focused on. As we look back on it, in hindsight, some of our statutes, you can prosecute youth as an adult, given certain egregious or aggravating circumstances. This is something that we probably ought to look at, applying something similar in this case,” Senator Bramble told Johnson during a phone interview.

A bill that would allow the prosecution of minors who commit sextortion has yet to be drafted.

“I think that everybody who is interested in protecting victims would recognize that it’s a simple fix and would welcome an opportunity to correct this in a way, where we can deliver a measure of justice to all our citizens, not to just some of our citizens,” said Gill.

Internet Crimes Against Children:

Report child pornography to law enforcement by contacting the ICAC Tip Line at 801.281.1211 or your local law enforcement agency.

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Glen Mills

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For this Beetdigger and Ute it’s an honor to be doing what he loves in his home state! Glen is an award-winning journalist, who joined the ABC4 Utah team in June 2013. You can catch him anchoring ABC4 Utah News at 4 Monday through Friday. He also serves as our Senior Political Correspondent, keeping you up to date on issues that impact your life at the city, state and national level. His political reports run throughout the week, and he hosts Inside Utah Politics, Sunday mornings at 8. The Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has recognized Glen as the best government and military television reporter in the state. Before returning home to Utah, he spent 11 1/2 years developing his journalism skills in other states. He held various on-air and management positions at KPVI in Pocatello, Idaho, WGBA in Green Bay, Wisconsin and KKCO in Grand Junction, Colorado during that time.. Read More...

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