Sextortion scares me. When we launched our sextortion research survey last year, the number of responses from individuals who have experienced sextortion was shocking. Learning what victims went through was heartbreaking. I believe the internet is used by mostly good people for mostly good reasons, but I was seeing a pretty ugly side and wasn’t sure what I could do to help.

What happens in our digital world has real life impact.

Sextortion happens when one person threatens to expose a sexual image in order to make another person do something. Sometimes perpetrators want victims to return to a relationship. Often they want more images. Threats can occur both online or offline, but technology is usually involved in some capacity. These threats are real — our research showed that about 45% of perpetrators carried out threats.

“It felt like someone was not only invading my privacy, but also mentally (and almost physically) assaulting me when I saw the images go public.” – Female, 21, Thorn survey

Sextortion can have a devastating impact on victims, and it can happen to anyone. One in three surveyed didn’t tell anybody. One in eight moved because they feared for their safety. We gained valuable insight about this real life harm from over 1,600 victims and knew we needed to do something to help stop this threat. Our campaign is inspired by the voices of survivors, and we are incredibly grateful that they’ve trusted us with their stories.

Victims provided advice for those who have experienced sextortion.

We asked victims what they would say to others going through a similar situation. Three key pieces of advice:

  • Blame perpetrators, not yourself. Your trust was broken and that is not your fault.
  • Have perspective about the situation. Even if it feels like the end of the world, it is not.
  • Tell your family and friends so they can help you, and help protect others by talking about your experience.

“Reaching out is the best thing you can do. The people around you want what is best for you, they may be angry at first, but in the end, they will not love you any less… They might even gain some respect for your courage.” – Female, 18, Thorn survey

We want every single person to hear their advice and know the common ways sextortion happens so that they can recognize if situations start to feel off. We live in a digital world, and the realities of digital sexuality are complicated. When these situations happen, it is incredibly important to remember that it is not your fault. Having your trust broken is painful, and the people threatening you are the ones doing something wrong. Addressing sextortion is tough, but the more we raise awareness about the ways sextortion happens, the better.

What can you do?

We can all make a difference and that is really beautiful. Sextortion sucks, and people going through it are usually pretty scared to tell their friends. Luckily, you can help your friends even before they need it. Tell your closest friends today that you’ll be there for them no matter what. There is #noshame because we always put our #friendsfirst. And if you know someone going through this, support them. Show them our resources so that they can get the help they need.

“My mom told me it wouldn’t be the end of the world if it did happen and we would get through it.” – Female, 18, Thorn survey

Together we can all stand up to 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.