An American man who taught English in China has been sentenced by a U.S. court to 42 years in prison for trying to blackmail a 12-year-old former student into sending him sexual images.
Curtis Baldwin, a 48-year-old from Missouri, worked as an English language teacher in China. After he returned to the U.S. in 2019, he allegedly messaged the student on WeChat, telling her he had footage of her engaged in “sexually explicit conduct,” according to a news release from the U.S. attorney’s office.
Prosecutors did not specify what the footage contained. “Sexually explicit conduct” officially includes sexual intercourse, masturbation, and exposure of the genitals.
Baldwin then threatened to post the compromising video online unless she sent him additional images and a video of herself engaged in such conduct, the news release said.
The crime was among a rising number of abuse of minors enabled by internet messaging apps that global law enforcement has struggled to stem. The FBI said in 2019 it was seeing an increase in so-called online sextortion cases, which involved an adult convincing a minor to share sexual pictures or perform sexual acts on a webcam.
Baldwin’s threats came to light when the girl’s father saw the WeChat messages and reported them to the language tutoring school, EF Education First, where Baldwin worked. The school relayed the information to the FBI, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Following a search of Baldwin’s home in March last year, federal agents found in his laptop sexually-explicit videos of his former underage female students in China, which were produced by the teacher. They also found a pornographic video titled “My First Project,” created by Baldwin of a minor female in his home city Springfield.
In October, Baldwin pleaded guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of a minor and one count of receiving and distributing child pornography.
The court on Friday sentenced Baldwin to 41 years and eight months in federal prison without parole, and he was ordered to spend the rest of his life on supervised release, the press release said.
In China, sexual abuse in schools has come under increasing public attention, with a number of people publicly accusing their teachers of sexual misconduct as part of the global #MeToo movement.
Some internet users have cited the long jail term received by Baldwin in criticizing China’s relatively lenient penalties for perpetrators of sexual abuse.
For example, a man in the southern province of Guangdong was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison this year for posing as a child star recruiter and filming nude videos of a 12-year-old girl through online “interviews.”
Last year, an educator in the southeastern province of Fujian received a 11-month jail term after he was accused of molesting a girl at a tutoring school he co-founded.
Under China’s criminal law, those convicted of molesting minors are usually subject to a maximum prison term of five years. A sentence longer than five years is applicable to people accused of assaulting multiple children, committing the crime in public, or causing “severe consequences” such as injuries.
After Baldwin’s case was made public last year, his former employer EF Education First said the school had installed surveillance cameras inside all classrooms and kept recordings of online classes to ensure the safety of students.
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