What is Sextortion?

Sextortion is a form of sexual exploitation. It is basically blackmailing someone with the threat to expose sexual images in order to make a person do something. FBI.gov explains that, “Sextortion begins when a predator reaches out to a young person over a game, app, or social media account. Through deception, manipulation, money and gifts, or threats, the predator convinces the young person to produce an explicit video or image” (https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/stop-sextortion-youth-face-risk-online-090319). This could happen with a stranger met online, a hacker, as well as a past friend or romantic partner. This is considered a cybercrime, and could have very serious consequences. It is important to be aware of this issue, educate others, and know the possible precautions and solutions.

How many cases of sextrotion happen in a year?

The first in-depth study of sextortion was done by Benjamin Wittes, Cody Poplin, Clara Spera and Quinta Jurecic in 2016. They published a Brookings Institution report on sextortion, it noted that there were 78 perpetrators and more than 3,000 victims. In 2017, There were 1,304 cases reported to th National Crime Agency. A

report done by Katherine Kelley in 2018 noted that there were 124 additional alleged perpetrators, and thousands of additional victims. It is important to note that some victims would not be comfortable coming forward and reporting, so the exact number of cases is thought to be much higher.

How is it done?

Sextrortian can happen on any social media platform where people can meet and communicate. From the numbers noted of the perpetrators versus the number of victims, you may be wondering why there is such a huge gap. Although sextortion can happen in a personal relationship or a single stranger met online, hackers can target large groups of people. “The widespread popularity of social platforms such as Facebook and YouTube exponentially increases the potential number of views for disseminated material, and hacking allows perpetrators to target an extraordinary number of victims at rates that even the most prolific serial rapists would struggle to match” (https://www.lawfareblog.com/new-data-sextortion-124-additional-public-cases).

How do I prevent this?

  • Be careful about what you share online. If your account is available for everyone to see, you are at more of a risk. Having a private account where only approved friends and family are accepted can lower your risks.
  • Do not trust people you have never met online. If you get a message from a stranger, be wary, and do not believe 100% that you are talking to who they say they are. You can block or ignore messages from strangers.
  • Know that once you share or send something, it can’t be taken back. Anything you say or send online can be made public or sent to others. Don’t send explicit pictures or videos to anybody online.
  • Reach our if yo need help. If you are getting messages online that don’t seem right, tell somebody. You should block the stranger, report to the site administrator, or go to a trusted adult. Please don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

What to do?

  • If you are a minor, tell a trusted adult right away if you receive any threatening messages asking for pictures or videos.
  • If you or your child are ready to, reach out to the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI or report the crime online at tips.fbi.gov.
  • Report the behavior to the online administrator on whatever social media app or website it occurs on.
  • Block the person.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the first thing you would do if someone threatened you to send something sexual to them?
  2. Do you think you can “take back” something you said or sent someone online? Would deleting make it disappear forever?
  3. What are some things you could do to prevent sextortion from happening to yourself?


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