Albany Times Union: Sexual Extortion is a Form of Corruption

Albany Times-Union: read it HERE and below. (Published May 2021)

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s political fate will almost certainly be resolved in the political arena. But regardless of what happens there, let’s not lose sight of the bigger issue that the allegations of his sexual misbehavior expose: corruption. And let us not think this is confined to New York.

Investigations may or may not reveal that Cuomo’s reportedly aggressive workplace behavior toward women meets a legal standard of sexual harassment or even assault, but let’s stop searching in all the wrong places. His reportedly lascivious behavior has every indicator of sextortion — and if what’s been reported is true, that’s corruption.

Corruption is a cultural construct that embodies a set of actions society considers unethical, specifically, actions that involve the intentional abuse of power. Not all corruption is technically “illegal,” but all corruption is unethical.

If a government housing official leans on a contractor to proffer a financial “gift” in exchange for a needed permit, we call that extortion. If a boss requests that a subordinate run personal errands like doing the groceries or walking the dog in exchange for career advancement, we know that’s corruption. But if that same official suggests that a sexual “favor” will produce the needed permit, or that same boss promotes only women who wear short skirts and accept his lingering hands on their upper thighs, we struggle to achieve an adequate response, crippled by the ambivalence of our current legal framework and societal norms.

It’s time to rethink our approach. These acts are all forms of sexual extortion and are a clear form of corruption. Sexual extortion — or sextortion — is when those entrusted with power use it to sexually exploit those dependent on that power. It is just as harmful as financial corruption for our society, and often more personally harmful for those extorted, affecting their mental and physical health, careers, and more. Sextortion has long happened in the shadows, kept that way by social and cultural norms and the absence of effective legal frameworks. Whether in Albany or around the country, sextortion is perpetrated on those less powerful. Around the globe, sextortion often becomes a form of currency used against those with fewer social rights to bodily autonomy — women, subordinates, refugees, the young, the marginalized, and the vulnerable.


Wherever sexual exploitation exists, we must call it out for what it is — corruption — and treat it as such. We need new legal definitions and robust frameworks to permit prosecution, safe and efficient reporting mechanisms, media attention, and public awareness campaigns. We strive to reduce and prevent “white-collar,” typically financial, corruption. It is time we shift our social and cultural norms, our legal standards, and our workplace behaviors to eliminate another age-old form of corruption, sextortion.


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