What is sextortion?
Sextortion is a type of blackmail used to describe an individual threatening to distribute one’s sexual images or videos unless they provide more sexual images or videos, send the blackmailer money, or do what the blackmailer says. Perpetrators will often target those under the age of 18, but sextortion can happen to anyone.
According to Cybertip.ca (Canada’s tipline for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children), they found that when the gender of a survivor was known that 91% of sextortion survivors were male.
How does sextortion happen?
Perpetrators of sextortion often create a fake social media accounts pretending to be someone that is a similar age to the person they are targeting. They will often use Instagram to first contact the person and then move the conversation to Snapchat, where they will then manipulate them into sending sexual images or videos.
Strategies perpetrators may use to manipulate people into sending sexual content include:
- Sending sexual images or videos first that they pretend are of themselves to then ask for images or videos in return;
- Hacking into someone’s social media accounts by sending links to external sites to get the passwords;
- “Sugar Daddy scams,” where they say they will pay money for the sexual images or videos; and
- Modelling opportunities, where perpetrators will request sexualized content with the promise of receiving a modelling job.
Once perpetrators receive these images or videos, they will then resort to threats and blackmail, demanding money or more sexualized content.
Common threats perpetrators may use include:
- Threatening to share the sexual image/video with a school or many schools;
- Threatening to share the sexual image/video with family and friends;
- Creating fake newspaper articles to make it appear as though they have published the sexual content;
- Threatening to share the sexual image/video with newspapers, news outlets, or TV stations; and
- Threatening to hack the victim’s social media.
If someone is sextorting you:
- Stop all communication with the perpetrator.
- Save a copy of any images you sent, take screenshots of messages and the person’s profile, including their username.
- Deactivate (but don’t delete) your accounts that you are using to communicate with the individual.
- DO NOT comply with any of the threats, as this usually only leads to them demanding more money or images/videos in the future.
- Speak to a safe adult or support person about what is happening. Remember that you are not alone. Reach out to a support person so they can help you get through this situation.
- Report it to cybertip.ca or to your local police. Sextortion is a crime even if they never end up sharing your images.
Sextortion happens to many youth and adults, and you are not alone. This is absolutely a type of sexualized violence, and many of the impacts can be the same. Please know that you are welcome to access our counselling services, that what happened to you is important and impactful, and that you are not to blame in any way. Contact us to book an appointment or speak with a counsellor.
Tips for Caregivers
Talk openly with youth and children about:
- Online safety, privacy, establishing boundaries, healthy relationships and consent;
- Not giving in to pressure and breaking off communication if they feel threatened or uncomfortable;
- How it is always okay to come to you or another safe adult, even if they think they’ve made a mistake;
- Only adding people/followers they know in real life and encourage them to block random/unknown users who add them; and
- How you will be supportive and help them. Talking to children and youth about how they can always come to you for help if something has happened without fear of getting in trouble or losing their device is important!
Educate Them On:
- Not clicking links or websites that are sent through direct messages especially from people they do not know;
- How to limit the amount of information about themselves in their profiles and what is private information;
- The social media apps they are using and how secure they actually are or aren’t;
- How to have a private and secure social media accounts, such as how to change privacy settings and how to create strong passwords;
- Resources such as Cybertip.ca and NeedHelpNow.ca just in case they are worried and do not want to come to you. Our resource, Sexualized Violence Prevention and Intervention for Youth: A Guide for Teachers, Caregivers, and Support Workers, may also be helpful for you.