Sextortion is a form of online blackmail in which a perpetrator threatens to release sexually explicit material, images, or videos of an individual unless they comply with their demands, which can range from payment of money to performing sexual acts. The perpetrators often obtain the explicit material through hacking or social engineering, such as pretending to be someone else online or using phishing tactics to access the victim’s accounts.
Sextortion is a serious crime that can have devastating consequences for its victims, including humiliation, reputational damage, and emotional trauma. Anyone who shares sexually explicit material or images online can be targeted for sextortion.
Sextortion is affecting our young people.
Young people and those more vulnerable, such as those with disabilities or those experiencing poverty, are particularly at risk.
What tactics do offenders use?
Offenders who engage in sextortion use a variety of tactics to manipulate individuals into releasing sexually explicit material. Some of the most common tactics include:
Impersonation: Offenders may impersonate someone the victim knows and trusts, such as a friend, family member, or romantic partner. They may create fake profiles on social media or dating sites to establish a connection with the victim and gain their trust.
Threats: Offenders may use threats of physical harm, blackmail, or social ruin to coerce the victim into complying with their demands. They may also threaten to share the sexually explicit material with the victim’s friends, family, or colleagues.
Flattery: Offenders may use flattery or compliments to gain the victim’s trust and encourage them to share sexually explicit material. They may also use promises of attention, affection, or even a romantic relationship to manipulate the victim.
Manipulation: Offenders may use emotional manipulation techniques, such as guilt or shame, to convince the victim to share sexually explicit material. They may also use peer pressure or coercion to make the victim feel they must comply.
It is important to remember that these tactics are all forms of manipulation and coercion, and victims of sextortion are not at fault for the offender’s actions. It is never acceptable for someone to use sexually explicit material as a means of control or manipulation.
Here are some warning signs of sextortion that you should be aware of:
Someone you don’t know or trust asks for sexually explicit material, images, or videos of you or someone else.
Someone you know or trust pressures you to share sexually explicit material or threatens to share them if you don’t comply with their demands.
You receive unsolicited messages or emails that contain sexually explicit material or requests for such material.
You notice that someone has taken control of your social media or email accounts or that your personal information has been compromised.
You receive threats of physical harm, blackmail, or social ruin if you don’t comply with the offender’s demands.
You feel like you are being manipulated or coerced into sharing sexually explicit material or complying with the offender’s demands.
You notice that your online interactions are becoming increasingly sexual or inappropriate.
If you notice any warning signs, seek help and support immediately because sextortion is a serious crime. This may include contacting law enforcement, reporting the offender to the relevant social media or online platform, or seeking support from a mental health professional or another trusted advisor.
What should you do if you believe you are a victim of sextortion?
It’s essential to take immediate action to protect yourself. Here are some steps you can take:
Stop communicating with the person attempting to extort you: Refrain from engaging in any further conversation or interaction with the person trying to blackmail you. Remember that nothing prevents them from targeting you again once you have complied with their demands.
Document the evidence: Keep any messages, emails, or other communications you have received from the offender. Take screenshots of any threatening messages or sexually explicit material they have sent you. Share screenshots with a trusted friend, then delete them from your device to avoid accidentally reliving the experience in the future.
Report the incident: Contact the police through 105 or contact Netsafe to explore other options.
Report the content to the platform (e.g., Facebook, Snapchat, PornHub) it is on and request that the content is removed.
Seek support: It’s critical to seek support from a trusted friend, family member, or counsellor to help you cope with the situation’s emotional impact. You are not alone, and there is help.
Consider seeking professional help: If you are experiencing significant distress, consider seeking professional help from a therapist or counsellor who can provide guidance and support.
What should parents be on the lookout for?
Parents should be aware of the following signs that their child may be at risk of sextortion:
Excessive secrecy: If your child is spending an unusual amount of time alone or being secretive about their online activities, it may be a sign that they are engaging in risky behaviour.
Receiving gifts or money: If your child suddenly starts receiving gifts or money from an unknown source, it may be a sign that they are being targeted for sextortion.
Changes in behaviour: If your child’s behaviour suddenly changes, such as becoming withdrawn, anxious, or depressed, it may be a sign that something is wrong.
Increased use of technology: If your child is spending an excessive amount of time on their phone, computer, or other electronic devices, it may be a sign that they are engaging in risky online behaviour.
New online relationships: If your child is suddenly making new online friends or romantic partners, it is important to be vigilant and monitor their interactions to ensure that they are not being targeted for sextortion.
Requests for sexually explicit material: If your child is being asked to share sexually explicit material, images, or videos online, it is vital to intervene and provide guidance and support.
Sexualised conversations: Introducing sexualised conversations could be a red flag that someone is attempting to engage in sextortion.
Asked to switch platforms: This could be a warning sign if someone you or your child meets on one app and then encourages you to continue the conversation on a different platform.
Suspicious behaviour to be on the lookout for
Avoiding revealing their identity: If someone is avoiding video calls or chats and claims that their webcam or microphone is not working, it could be a sign that they are trying to hide their true identity.
Language and grammar Inconsistencies: Inconsistencies in a person’s profile or language, or signs that English is not their first language, could indicate they aren’t who they say they are and are potentially trying to hide something.
How can you help your children stay safe?
STOP, BLOCK & TALK®
One way to help keep your children safe online is to remind them about the digital safety strategy called STOP, BLOCK & TALK®.
For instance, if your child is asked for personal information, they should STOP interacting with the person, BLOCK themselves from sharing personal information, and TALK to you or another trusted adult about what happened.
It’s essential to reinforce these safety guidelines regularly and age-appropriately. Remind your children little and often about how to stay safe online and encourage them to come to you if they ever feel unsure or uneasy about an online interaction.
More tips to help your children stay safe online
Never share personal information online: Make sure your child knows not to share personal information such as their full name, address, school, or phone number with anyone they meet online.
Be cautious when making new online connections: Teach your child to be wary of making new online connections and to get to know someone before sharing personal information or engaging in sexual conversations.
Don’t send sexually explicit material: Explain to your child that they should never send sexually explicit material, images, or videos to anyone online, even if they think they can trust that person. Once they share the image, they have no control over what the person will do with it.
Be mindful of what you post online: Help your child understand that anything they post online, including photos and videos, can be used against them if they fall victim to sextortion.
Report any suspicious activity: Encourage your child to report suspicious or uncomfortable interactions to a trusted adult or the platform where the exchange occurred.
Use privacy and security settings: Show your child how to use privacy and security settings to protect their personal information and limit who can see their online activity. For help, search a parent's guide to [name of app].
Trust your instincts: Tell your child to trust their instincts and to stop communicating with anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable or pressured.
It’s also important to have an effective, open and ongoing dialogue with your child about online safety and to make sure they feel comfortable coming to you with any concerns or questions.
Normalising conversations about their digital activity and who they interact with keeps your kids safe online. Start by asking them about the games and social media apps they use. Even games like Roblox have chat features.
Be proactive by checking the privacy settings on each app your child uses and ensure their accounts are private. You can also search for “A parent’s guide to [name of app]” to learn about the safest ways to use the app.
If your child comes to you with concerns or has experienced an uncomfortable situation online, it’s crucial to have their back and offer support. Let them know who their trusted adults are, and ensure they do not feel ashamed for coming forward. Normalising these conversations and offering a supportive environment can encourage open communication and help keep your child safe online.
Want to talk to your child about sextortion? Here are a few conversation starters
"Have you heard about sextortion before? Do you know what it means?"
"What kind of apps or websites do you use to communicate with your friends online? Have you ever felt uncomfortable while using them?"
"What would you do if someone you met online asked you for a revealing photo or video of yourself?"
"What would you do if someone threatened to share a private photo or video of you unless you did what they asked?"
"What do you think are some ways to stay safe online and avoid situations like sextortion?"
"If you ever feel uncomfortable or threatened online, who would you talk to for help?"
"Do you know what information you should keep private when using social media and other online platforms?"
"How would you feel if a revealing photo or video of you was shared without your permission? How do you think you would react?"
"If you received a message from someone you didn't know that made you uncomfortable, would you tell an adult or keep it to yourself?"
"What do you think are some warning signs of a potential sextortion scam?"
written with the aid of AI