Fighting back against sextortion


Just a few weeks ago at a press conference, I was humbled and proud to stand alongside fierce advocates for our children, including a local family who suffered a horrific tragedy a few short years ago because of sextortion. I was joined at the press conference by Sheriff Jeff Balzer, our legislators, and members of our Delaware County community to introduce Braden’s Law.

The impetus behind the creation of Braden’s Law was the tragic loss of Olentangy High School student Braden Markus, who took his own life in October 2021, a mere 27 minutes after falling victim to online sextortion.

With the internet at our fingertips in a variety of devices like smart phones, tablets, and social media, so too is the world. And the world is full of dangerous people waiting to prey upon our community and our kids. Sextortion statistics are drastically rising every year, and these are just the crimes we know about. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploiting Children, more than 26,000 reports for financial extortion were made to the center in 2023, which is a 149% increase in just one year. Similarly, from October 2021 to March 2023, the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations received more than 13,000 reports of financial sextortion of minors — most of the victims were boys — and from those investigations, we know at least 20 suicides resulted because these young people were preyed upon online. And again, it is worth repeating, these are just the ones we know about.

These online predators research our kids to learn about them by looking at online pictures, posts, and social media accounts. Then these same predators lie to our kids and community to gain their trust so that when the predators ask for a nude or sexual image, the victim complies. Once the predator receives that image, the predator demands money, more images, and sometimes even sexual favors from the child victim. The predator threatens the child with promises of releasing the image publicly, by sending the image to the child’s school and friends and family.

Out of this tragedy though, and because of the bravery of the Markus family, we fight back. With the introduction and eventual passage of Braden’s law, we can and will be triumphant against the evil that exists in the world and lurks in the background online to terrorize our kids and community.

Braden’s Law will help to arm prosecutors and law enforcement with another tool to protect our community and our kids. Braden’s Law undoubtedly will save lives and provide a better legal framework for law enforcement and prosecutors to combat this new age online predator that sits behind a screen. It is simply overdue that the law catches up with technology and internet predators who try to dim the light of so many of our children with their threats and disgusting behavior.

Braden’s Law, with its accompanying penalties and potential lengthy prison sentences, demonstrates how serious Ohioans take online predators who search and attack our kids. We don’t care if you’re sitting behind a phone or a computer screen, we will find you, we will prosecute you, and we will put you in prison.

I’m proud to report since the press conference, Braden’s Law is moving quickly through the legislature. With any luck, Braden’s Law will be on the governor’s desk for signature to become an official law soon.

But for anyone who is being victimized by sextortion, please know this, help is available. There are many community advocates and partners who can help you in these moments of crises. You are not alone.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or emotional distress, call or text 988 for 24/7 confidential support through the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You may also reach immediate support through their online chat at

Melissa A. Schiffel is the Delaware County prosecutor.

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