What Parents Need To Know About ‘Sextortion’

If you are a parent today and are raising a Gen Z or millennial you have to be a digital savvy parent. This is how you can stay relevant and know what is going on in the life of teenagers. Have you heard about sextortion? It is a worrisome trend that is making the rounds online. Below is what you need to know about Sextortion.

What is sextortion?

It is a type of online blackmail where people are tricked into performing sexual acts on webcam and then blackmailed to pay a sum of money in order to avoid images or videos being shared with friends and family on their social media contact lists.

Typically, the perpetrator has or pretends to have some compromising images or videos of the victim. They threaten to publish them online or share them with friends, family members, or colleagues if the victim doesn’t provide more material, engage in sexual acts, or hand over money.

Aside from the psychological and sometimes physical damage it imparts; a major problem with this crime is that many cases go unreported because victims are too embarrassed. According to reports, since 2011 at least five young men in the UK were victims of sextortion and committed suicide as a result (three of these were young people, and two were in the last two years).

instagram selfie / sextortion

How does sextortion work?

Offenders will attempt to befriend victims online by using a fake identity (often a young woman). They may send lots of ‘friend requests’ in the hope that someone will engage with them if they have mutual friends. They chat with the victim and then ask to speak on camera.

The offender aims to trick the person into performing a sexual act on camera, whilst recording the interaction. They will then threaten to share any sexual images/videos with the person’s friends and family unless the victim pays a sum of money via Paypal or other means.

Offenders put huge pressure on victims by demanding that money is paid within a short time period, for example within one hour, which can make the situation very intense and time-critical. Those who have been tricked often believe if they pay the sum of the money the situation will go away, but this is usually not the case.

Where does it happen and who do they target?

Financial extortion of this kind can happen on any site with a video function. Offenders do not target people because they know them. They reach out to many people and target anyone who falls victim anyone who they manage to trick into sexual activity, regardless of age or gender.

If the initial payment is not made, and the victim walks away, offenders often disengage as their motive is financial and not sexual. However, it is important to note that offenders with a specific sexual interest in children are likely to continue to seek contact with a child online.

What should parents do?
Communicate with your child

Talk to your children as much as you can about activities online. As parents, regularly ask your child about what they are viewing online and how they are feeling. It is important to emphasize that they should avoid getting naked on camera.

Talk to them about what they would do if someone blackmailed them. Young children may not understand the concept of blackmail. Try to explain that some people may try to trick them into doing things online in order to get money from them. Help them understand that with any form of blackmail, the best thing to do is walk away and seek help.

Let your child know that they can always come to you for help, and they will not be blamed, no matter what has happened. Ensure your child knows that you understand how embarrassing some situations may be, but they will not be in trouble for anything that happens online.

Responding to blackmail

Speak to your child about how to manage any money they have. Though blackmail can be scary, it is not advisable to pay someone to prevent something bad from happening. In many cases, the blackmail still continues after money is paid.

What to do if you are worried or blackmailed?

If your child is being blackmailed, contact the police. Support your child to disable their social media temporarily so they cannot be contacted by the offender. If you are worried about online financial extortion, there is support available: you or your child can report to CEOP using an online form.

Also, if anyone shares a video or image of your child; report it to the platform the video is on, using their online reporting process – a video can be blocked and an alert can be set up in case it resurfaces. You can also Block or Report any users who are blackmailing or threatening you.

[Read: How to Navigate Social Media with Your Child]

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