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Sextortion Survey Insights: The Latest from Survivors

October 25, 2018

4 Minute Read

In October 2017, Thorn launched a second wave of our sextortion survey to more closely examine the experiences of minors. A previous Thorn survey, found sextortion experiences to be diverse, but stem primarily from an aggrieved romantic partner or online stranger. Respondents reported wide use of technology but few felt the response by platforms to be sufficient. Finally, the 2016 report underscored the serious nature of the threats involved in these cases and the need for increased awareness among all stakeholders to combat sextortion.

The second wave of the survey reaffirmed these findings and shed additional light on the experiences of minors, the hurdles to reporting, and where online these victims are targeted. We heard from nearly 2,100 teens and young adults who’d experienced sextortion.

Sextortion is happening to kids and teens.

  • One quarter of incidents happened to kids 12 and younger, and 60% of this group met their offender online.
  • Two thirds of respondents were women threatened when they were younger than 16.
  • Young men are also being threatened, though more frequently for money than females who are more likely to be targeted for additional explicit images/videos.

Online victims are more likely to be threatened sooner.

Victims who met their perpetrator online are often targeted on platforms they frequent.  This group reported that first contact typically comes in the form of a friend request.

  • 60% were threatened within two weeks of initial contact, vs 14% of those who know the perpetrator face-to-face.
  • 47% of both online and face-to-face victims experienced threats daily.

Most victims are embarrassed or ashamed and would prefer to handle the situation on their own.

More than half of our survey respondents attempted to block person or comply with demands in hopes of getting away from the offender.

  • 64% of victims blocked offenders from contacting them, 45% reported that the contact didn’t stop after blocking.
  • For those who complied with demands (62%), in 64% of cases the threats did not stop — in fact, 68% reported the threats changed by becoming more frequent.

“It was easy, it was just unhelpful. I blocked and blocked and more accounts just popped up.” – Female, 16 when threatened

If they do report, they are much more likely to talk to someone they know than to a website or law enforcement. Nearly two-thirds did disclose their experience — typically to a friend (54%). Only 1/4 reported to a website and only 17% reported to law enforcement.

“While it was happening, I went to a close friend and told her everything. She helped me through it , and I begged her not to tell anyone. She stuck by me and hugged me through my tears.”  – Female, under 12 when threatened

Sextortion is an emerging threat and we are grateful to be able to build upon our existing research to provide even more insight into how it happens – especially among minors. We are grateful to the survivors who help provide that insight. They speak for themselves in much of both the original report and the second wave. With such a large percentage disclosing their situation for the first time, our findings shed light on their untold experiences. We are incredibly grateful to the respondents for equipping us, and our partners, with better knowledge to combat sextortion.

If you’re experiencing sextortion, remember: you’re not alone. The good news is that you can handle this, you’re going to be okay. So, take a few deep breaths and check out some resources here.

If you need help now, text “THORN” to 741741, and a trained Crisis Text Line counselor will be there to support you anonymously.

Originally published: October 25, 2018

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