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Prosecutors: 'Sextortion' Cases Targeting Young Women At Alarming Rate

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – It's extortion with a cruel twist. Prosecutors now use the word "sextortion" to describe a type of crime targeting young women at an alarming rate.

Now Sacramento's District Attorney has opened its first cyber unit to focus on sextortion cases and others like it.

It was a secret Aria Barker was too afraid to tell anyone.

"He was threatening to send them to my mom, to my entire family that he could find on Facebook," Barker said.

Court documents show the criminal case that led to a conviction: a blackmailer with naked photos of her as teen. She had sent them to an ex years earlier. If she didn't send more, he threatened the photos would go public.

"He was threatening to put them on revenge porn websites, which he did anyway," Barker said.

Sacramento prosecutor James Wax calls it a classic case of sextortion.

"What happens in just about every case is they get more graphic photos, and then they just use that as further leverage to continue to harass the person and extort them," Wax said.

Inside the Sacramento District Attorney's office headquarters, Wax is the first prosecutor assigned to run the new cyber unit. He filed the case that put Barker's sextortion blackmailer – former American River College student Chris Hirtzel – in prison.

"The type of individuals that do this do it to hundreds, if not thousands, of victims. That's what we're seeing," Wax said. "The suspects tend to be not very socially adapted. They may be unsuccessful in their own relationships."

Wax says he's filed 50 cases in his new cyber unit this year – heinous crimes committed without any physical contact.

"Those cases even, if they don't result in actual physical contact, carry serious consequences," Wax said.

The new focus by the Sacramento DA may be the spotlight that could help victims speak out.

"It makes girls feel like it's not your fault. You're not alone," Bark said. "Because that was my big problem … I felt that it was my fault."

Barker's blackmailer will have to register as a sex offender and spend more than four years in prison.

Prosecutor Wax says part of their cyber unit includes going to schools and educating students about the dangers of taking intimate photos and sharing them with anyone.

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