sextortion key on keyboard

Sextortion is a broad category of sexual exploitation which involves threats to expose a sexual image or video in order to coerce another person to do something, or for purposes of revenge. Revenge Porn is similar, but different in that its goal is public shame, rather than private control.

In an attempt to further understand sextortion, The University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center surveyed over 1600 people ages 18-25 who had been victims of sextortion. Here is a summary of what they found:

  • Respondents were 83% female, 14% male and 2% selected “other”
  • 46% were minors (under 17 years old) when the sextortion began
  • 60% knew the perpetrator in real life and 40% met their perpetrator online
  • In cases which began online, the perpetrator lied about who they were 55% of the time; lies about age, gender, being someone known to the victim
  • 70% of all victims reported knowingly giving a sexual image to the perpetrator
  • 72% did so because they thought they were in a relationship and 51% felt pressure or were made to feel bad
  • 45% of the victims reported pictures/videos images were recorded/copied unknowingly

What did the perpetrators want?

  • Additional sexual photographs/videos (51% of all respondents)
  • For the victim to stay in or go back to a relationship with the perpetrator (42%)
  • To tell the respondent how to look or what to do in pictures or videos (28%)
  • To meet the respondent in person for sex (26%)
  • To meet the respondent online for sexual activity (24%)
  • To tell the respondent to hurt themselves (10%)
  • To blackmail for money (9%)

In 44% of the cases, the perpetrator followed through with the threats made.

  • Stalked victims with repeated, unwanted online or cell phone contact (71%)
  • Sent sexual images of the victim to people they knew (45%)
  • Posted sexual images online (40%)
  • Hacked into online accounts that belonged to the victim (24%)
  • Created fake web pages/accounts that appeared to belong to the victim (15%)
  • Got them in trouble at school/work (37%)
  • Beat, raped or physically hurt them or attempted to (33%)
  • Harmed family, friends or pets or attempted to (12%)

45% of victims, due to shame, fear, or helplessness were too uncomfortable to confide in family or friends about the abuse. Remember, 46% of those surveyed were under the age of 17 when it started.

Every day we read stories of sextortion cases in the news. More parents are reportedly talking with their kids about how to be safer online, stranger danger, and privacy and information sharing, yet we continue to see case after case, day after day. Why is that?

Since the start of 2017:

January:  A Minnesota man admitted to a yearlong sextortion scheme that victimized 178 high school boys. The perpetrator posed as a young female and would swap pictures and videos with the young boys. The case is still under investigation but law enforcement officials suspect there could be another 220 young victims out there. The investigator on the case said, “It’s interesting when you talked to the kids: They really believed they were talking to a female.”

January:  A 14-Year-Old Texas boy extorted $28000 from his middle school teacher in order to keep their sexual relationship a secret.

February:  A California Man admitted to sextortion of underaged girls, using the app Kik to find his victims.  

Yesterday, March 7, 2017:  A 25 Year Old NY man admitted to sextortion charges and finding young victims using Kik and meetme.com.

Those are just 3 of the 14 sextortion cases involving children that came up while doing a quick search of the recent news. Fourteen cases in two and a half months? Something needs to change.

The conversations parents are having with their children don’t seem to be enough to challenge adolescent impulse control, invincible thinking, and naivety. Until children demonstrate the developmental maturity needed in order to see a threat and the problem-solving skills to respond appropriately, parents need to do more to protect them. As a parent, you simply cannot protect your child from what you don’t know.