What is sextortion?
Sextortion is the act of threatening to share nude or explicit images, usually to blackmail someone for money, gift cards, or additional explicit images.
In a 2018 University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire study surveying middle school and high school students, one in twenty surveyed teens reported being a victim of sextortion.
Who does it affect?
Anyone can be a victim of sextortion, but children and teens are targeted most frequently. Males are targeted more often than females.
Why should parents be concerned?
Between 2019-2021, the number of reports involving sextortion have more than doubled.
Sextortion can have devastating effects on young victims from all walks of life, and it is easy to become a victim. In 2022, a Montana teen took his own life after becoming a victim of sextortion.
What apps and platforms are being used?
Social media, messaging apps, dating apps, streaming apps, games, and virtually any other online application can be used for sextortion. In some cases, a perpetrator uses malware to get access to your files or control your web camera. In others, they might gain your trust by pretending to be someone else and trick you into sharing an image or video voluntarily.
How to protect and talk with your teen?
Talk with your children and teens, and advise them to be cautious when it comes to how much trust they extend to others. Parents and other adults who work with teens should encourage a culture of skepticism about the sharing of sexual content online.
The FBI has identified six things to know and discuss with your children:
1. Be selective about what you share online. If your social media accounts are open to everyone, a predator may be able to figure out a lot of information about you.
2. Be wary of anyone you encounter for the first time online. Block or ignore messages from strangers.
3. Be aware that people can pretend to be anything or anyone online. Videos and photos are not proof that people are who they claim to be. Images can be altered or stolen. In some cases, predators have even taken over the social media accounts of their victims.
4. Be suspicious if you meet someone on one game or app and this person asks you to start talking on a different platform.
5. Be in the know. Any content you create online—whether it is a text message, photo, or video—can be made public. Once you send something, you don’t have any control over where it goes next.
6. Be willing to ask for help. If you are getting messages or requests online that don’t seem right, block the sender, report the behavior to the site administrator, or go to an adult. If you have been victimized online, tell someone.
More tips for talking with your teen can be found at https://www.missingkids.org/netsmartz/topics/sextortion.
Deleting explicit photos
Once shared online, an image or video can never be truly removed. But the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has a service to help you find and delete explicit images that you might have shared.
Reporting suspected sextortion
If you become a victim, stop all contact with the perpetrator; block them and report them to law enforcement; do not delete any communications to/from them; and do not pay them. Paying them only leads to a demand for more money.
You can submit a tip to The Montana Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (MICACTF) at 406-444-6681 or by visiting https://mticac.org/contact-program-coordinator/.
Other reporting and support resources include:
- National Crisis Hotline - Call 988 or text 4HOPE to 741741 or visit https://www.crisistextline.org/ for access to a trained counselor.
- THORN - Text THORN 741741 for access to a trained counselor or visit https://www.stopsextortion.com/.
- Request victim and/or family support at [email protected].
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children - https://www.missingkids.org/theissues/sextortion#overview.
- Montana Department of Justice - https://dojmt.gov/sextortion/.
This situation can feel really confusing, and the criminals count on you feeling too unsure, scared, or embarrassed to tell someone. If you learn friends, classmates, or family members are being victimized, listen to them with kindness and understanding. Tell them you are sorry this is happening to them and that you want to help. Let them know that they are the victim of a crime and have not done anything wrong. Encourage them to ask for help and see if you can help them identify a trusted adult to tell.