14-year-old from Chapin charged with sexual extortion under new ‘Gavin’s Law’

For the first time, deputies in Lexington County have charged someone under a new law criminalizing sexual extortion in South Carolina.

The defendant is a 14-year-old boy from Chapin who allegedly threatened to release doctored nude images of a female classmate, according to a statement issued Friday by the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department.

The boy, whose name is not being released because he is under the age of 18, was arrested and released to the custody of his parents. He will appear in Lexington County Family Court at a later date, according to a statement released by law enforcement.

“Based on interviews with the students involved, someone took the face of a female classmate and digitally edited other nude images to make it look like the female was depicted in the images,” Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said. “We worked with school district officials to get to the bottom of this and determined a charge of sexual extortion against one student was warranted because he threatened to publicly share the images.”

If convicted, the teen faces a charge of misdemeanor sexual extortion under the new law.

Koon has said it doesn’t matter that the images were not real.

“This issue is something we are taking very seriously,” Koon said. “With today’s technology, it’s all too easy to prey on innocent people. Those who try this should know ‘Gavin’s Law’ is a tool for us to charge anyone who intimidates or blackmails another person with explicit images, whether real or fake.”

Gavin’s Law was named in memory of Gavin Guffey, 17, a Rock Hill teen who took his own life after becoming the victim of an online sexual extortion scheme.

Gavin Guffey, the son of Rep. Brandon Guffey, R-York, sent illicit photos of himself to someone he believed to be a college-aged woman. After the pictures were exchanged, Guffey said Gavin and his family were extorted for money, which eventually led to his death.

After his son’s death, Brandon Guffey campaigned to pass the law, which makes the act of blackmailing someone with sexually explicit photos of themselves a felony offense. It is punishable by up to five years on a first offense and up to 20 years on a third offense.

The new law considers it an aggravated felony if the victim is a minor or vulnerable adult, or suffers great bodily injury or death as a result of the extortion.

“We have to do all we can to stop this,” McMaster said at the bill signing this summer. “Some of these criminals, they have to learn the hard way.”

Penalties under Gavin’s Law are significantly reduced if the defendant is a minor. In addition to being downgraded to misdemeanor sexual extortion, the defendant must be sentenced by the family court, according to the law.

The court may order as a condition of sentencing behavioral health counseling from an appropriate agency or provider, according to the new law.

An earlier version of the bill included a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence, however this was opposed by Guffey.

“The last thing that I wanted, just as my son made the mistake of sending the image, is another 17-year-old looking at 15 years in jail because he said or did something stupid,” Guffey said, “I don’t believe in taking any kid’s life away over something like that.”

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