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Exposing and Preventing Sextortion in the Judiciary

By Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro

Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro served as the first female Chief Justice for the Supreme Court of the Philippines and is the former President of the International Association of Women Judges. Before serving on the Supreme Court, she had previously served as a Justice of the Sandiganbayan (specialized anti-corruption court) in the Philippines. Chief Justice Leonardo de Castro recently shared her views on raising awareness of sextortion in the judiciary with UNODC as part of the Organization’s on-going work on promoting judicial integrity. All opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author as an external expert and do not necessarily reflect the official position of UNODC.

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"Sextortion, as defined by the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), is the abuse of power to obtain a sexual benefit or advantage. As such, it is a form of corruption in which sex, rather than money, is the currency of the bribe. It is not limited to certain countries or sectors, and can be found wherever those entrusted with power lack integrity and try to sexually exploit those who are vulnerable and dependent on their power.

The IAWJ has succinctly explained the principle underlying sextortion as follows: what distinguishes sextortion from other types of sexually abusive conduct is that it has both a sexual component and a corruption component. The sexual component of sextortion arises from a request - whether implicit or explicit - to engage in any kind of unwanted sexual activity, ranging from sexual intercourse to exposing private body parts. The corruption component stems from the person demanding the sexual favor occupying a position of authority, which they abuse by seeking to exact, or by accepting, a sexual favor in exchange for exercising the power entrusted to them. In other words, the perpetrator exercises their authority for their own gain.

It is important to recognize that sextortion violates fundamental ethical standards, because even if an act may not technically constitute a violation of a penal law, people in authority should still not misuse their power by seducing subordinates and individuals over whom they exercise authority, or by enticing them to grant them sexual favors.

The main barrier to the effective fight against sextortion is the victims' fear of exposing perpetrators, fearing possible reprisals which could include a demotion, the withholding of benefits, or even the loss of their job. Moreover, lawyers may refuse to represent the victims of judges for similar reasons, fearing it may adversely affect their practice of law before the courts.

 

One method of combatting sextortion is incorporating this matter (and other gender-related issues) into judicial training. For instance, our gender sensitivity trainings, conducted by the Committee on Gender Responsiveness in the Judiciary, include lectures and workshops on sextortion. The law in the Philippines mandates all governmental institutions to devote 5% of their budget to the mainstreaming of gender issues in their programs and projects. Therefore, there is legal basis to use gender funds for training and information dissemination about the evils of sextortion, the remedies against it, and its eradication.

In the Philippines, an additional training on sextortion was conducted as part of a three-year project (Stopping the Abuse of Power through Sexual Exploitation) undertaken by the Philippine Women Judges Association (PWJA), in collaboration with the IAWJ and with support from the Government of the Netherlands. The project had a two-fold mission: the preparation of a country report addressing sextortion in public institutions, and the development and implementation of a toolkit to train personnel from those public institutions on issues of sextortion.

During the implementation of the training package, members of the judiciary were trained on the statutory framework, the institutional and budgetary frameworks, and the system for receiving complaints and for protecting complainants in sextortion cases. A similar project was also implemented by the Women Judges Associations in Tanzania and in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In the implementation of their project, the PWJA conducted multi-sectoral consultations in several major cities and municipalities which were attended by all the actors of the justice system. As a result, the term "sextortion" is now widely used in the Philippines to describe acts comprised within its definition. Recently, through my decision in a case filed against a lawyer, sextortion has found its way into Philippine jurisprudence as well; the lawyer was disbarred, after having been found guilty of sextortion of his subordinate in a government institution.

Raising awareness by introducing the term into public dialogue, and by holding perpetrators accountable, will help us on the path to ending sextortion in the judiciary."