Increasingly youth connect with others online — chatting with friends, sharing photos and videos, meeting new people, or gaming. While many online activities center around entertainment and fun, they are not without risk. In the past, we were likely warned about “stranger danger”, but socializing has changed in the digital age. It’s common for youth to meet new people online, and Thorn’s research reveals that they don’t see them as “strangers” even though they have never met in real life.
The redefining of “stranger” combined with the ability of bad actors to pretend to be someone else in digital spaces creates the perfect circumstance for someone to blackmail a young person with nude photos (a.k.a. sextortion).
Sextortion may start out friendly
In a previous post, we defined sextortion, but now let’s look at how sextortion happens and what to do if it happens to you.
Sextortion is a form of victimization that sometimes starts out friendly—a mutual online friend, a compliment in a DM, someone you know from an online game. The relationship may evolve over the course of days or weeks, or even months, as the blackmailer works to gain your trust. You may not realize what is happening at first. Requests for images and videos may gradually get more explicit or include promises of reciprocation (“I’ll show you, if you show me”). Once they have a nude or nearly nude photo or video of you, the threats and blackmail can begin. In 2017, our research found that 60% of victims surveyed were threatened within two weeks of initial contact, however we have heard of recent cases with threats occurring within a few hours after initial contact.
It is important to know that this is not your fault and you are not alone. To stop sextortion, take control of the situation and stop responding to messages immediately.
If you or your friends are being threatened or “blackmailed” online, here’s what you can do:
- Do not pay money or otherwise comply with the blackmailer. Cooperating or paying rarely stops their threats.
- Talk with someone you trust. Text “THORN” to 741-741 to confidentially speak with a trained counselor.
- Save everything. Block the blackmailer, but do not delete your profile or messages.
- Report sextortion to the platform. This removal guide has steps to make reports on many major platforms.
- Report sextortion to NCMEC’s Cybertipline at report.cybertip.org or takeitdown.ncmec.org
- Change all of your passwords.
- Remember that it will be ok, and there is hope to get to the other side.
Never pay the blackmailer
Do not pay blackmailer or otherwise comply with their demands. While it may seem like giving in will make the problem go away, often it just emboldens the blackmailer to continue and increase their demands.
If you already have given money: know that it will be ok.
Should I ignore sextortion?
Whether it’s in person or online, stop communicating with the blackmailer immediately, even if the threats continue. You might be confused or afraid, especially by their threats. Remember, if they’re treating you this way, they don’t really care about you. The longer you keep talking to them, the more likely they are to use that confusion, fear, and shame against you to get you to do what they want.
The sextortionist may make it challenging to ignore them by contacting you from several different accounts and on different platforms. A survey conducted by Thorn in 2017 revealed that 47% of victims experienced threats daily.
“Do sextortionists follow through?” is a question commonly asked by victims. The answer is, yes, sometimes. Research conducted by Thorn showed that about 45% of perpetrators carried out threats.
Telling someone you trust and reporting the situation is really important, not just to help stop the threats but also as a way to get support.
How to report sextortion on:
- For more guidance, this removal guide has steps to make reports on many major platforms.
Block the offending account but don’t delete any communications
Start by blocking the blackmailer. If online, block that person from all the accounts on which you’ve been talking to them. Keep in mind that some things might make it easy for them to keep finding you online, like using the same email address, phone number or having the same friends on any new accounts as you did before.
Just remember, don’t delete any communications or threats you may have from that person. The more information you can provide when you report them, the more likely this person can be stopped. This will help show someone what happened instead of just relying on your memory. Save texts, pictures, videos, websites, etc. You can take screenshots and save webpages as PDFs. Save everything just in case.
Our Thorn for Parents resource hub has age-appropriate information, conversation starters, and discussion guides for parents and trusted adults. Our best advice: Be there unconditionally. Give non-shaming and supportive messages to kids to help them know that it is never their fault if someone abuses them, betrays them, or tricks them online.
When you’re ready to have the conversation, start here:
- Sextortion: Online Coercion and Blackmail video
- Thorn for Parents: Sextortion Discussion Guide
- Stop Sextortion: Tips for Caregivers
- NoFiltr (youth resources)
- Stop Sextortion PSA
Let your kids know that sextortion can make people feel isolated and scared. Encourage them to reach out to their friends and let them know they’ll always have their back. Remember, you are not alone in this.
Originally published: October 31, 2017