The following post is written by the team at That’s Not Cool, an initiative from Futures Without Violence dedicated to preventing teen dating violence and digital dating abuse, and working to build healthy teen relationships online.
It’s never easy when a friend is going through a tough time, but when the situation at hand involves sextortion, taking care of them and yourself is especially challenging. This is because it’s rarely obvious what to do when someone is using your friend’s intimate images to blackmail them. Of course you don’t want your friend to have to give in to the sextortionist’s demands, but what the sextortionist is threatening might seem even worse. Or maybe you try to convince your friend to get help, but they’re completely unwilling to listen. All of this pressure can take a serious toll – not just on your friend but on you as well.
As challenging as this situation is, there are resources out there that can help. Below we’ve compiled a guide for how to navigate the many challenges and emotions that come with helping a friend who is being sextorted. So relax, take a deep breath, and read on – you got this!
“I’m worried for my friend’s safety.”
1. If your friend is in immediate danger, call 911. If you need non-emergency help, you can always text “THORN” to 741741 and a counselor from Crisis Text Line will help you figure out what to do.
2. Do not attempt to give your friend legal advice, as the laws surrounding sextortion of a minor vary state by state. In some states, your friend could even get in legal trouble for taking nude pictures of themselves. For legal advice, please refer to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative website.
3. A great way to help keep your friend safe is to work with them to create a safety plan – an outline of where to go, what to bring, and who to rely on if and when they choose to leave an abusive situation. This is an important step because cutting off ties with an abuser is hard, and can be dangerous for your friend. For more details on creating a safety plan, refer to this guide from That’s Not Cool.
“I don’t know whether, when, or how to talk about this with my friend”
1. The best time to talk about sextortion with your friends is before it happens! Tell two close friends today that they can count on you if something like sextortion ever happens to them. Say:
“You need to know that if someone ever tries to use an intimate photo of you to get you to do something you don’t want to do – I will be here for you, I won’t judge you, and we will figure it out together.”
2. If something seems off, always always always check in. These convos can be hard, but if there’s even a tiny chance that something’s not quite right with your friend, it’s worth it to speak up. Say:
“I think it’s great that you found a relationship with someone you trust, but I was surprised to find out you’re sending them intimate photos. How do you feel about that aspect of your relationship?”
3. Remember, non-judgmental support is the number one thing they need from you right now. Instead of shaming or scolding them, try some of these phrases, courtesy of Break The Cycle:
- It’s not your fault.
- I want you to be safe.
- You deserve to be treated with respect.
- I’m glad you told me.
- I’m here for you. What do you need?
4. Know that you can’t make someone get help. If your friend decides not to exit the situation, the best thing you can do is remain compassionate and supportive. Provide them with available resources as well as a space that allows them to feel safe in a moment of crisis.
“I’m feeling overwhelmed.”
1. If you’re not sure what to do, or if you just need someone to support you through the taxing struggle of helping a friend in need, you can always talk to a Crisis Text Line counselor by texting “THORN” to 741741.
2. Remember to practice self-care. It’s easy to forget to check in with how you’re doing when you’re so wrapped up in helping a friend, but you can’t possibly take care of someone else if you aren’t taking care of yourself. Rely on loved ones for emotional support, do activities you enjoy to clear your mind, and make extra sure to get enough sleep and exercise.
3. Even if it feels like there’s nothing you can do, know that just by being there and supporting your friend, you’re already doing a lot. <3
For more on That’s Not Cool and their efforts to prevent teen dating violence, visit thatsnotcool.com.