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Sextortion – Blackmail on the Internet

3 minutes reading time
11-17 years
Social Media
Foto: pexels.com/Luis Fernando Germinare

“I have nude photos of you. If you don’t want me to send them to your whole class, transfer €500 to this account by tomorrow!” When supposedly private recordings or information are suddenly used to blackmail someone, we talk about sextortion. And this can affect virtually all Internet users.

What does sextortion mean?

Sextortion is made up of “sex” and the English “extortion”, meaning blackmail. The term describes an Internet phenomenon in which users are blackmailed with nude pictures or videos. In doing so, the blackmailers proceed in two different ways:

  • Sometimes stolen contact information is used to pressure someone. Then suddenly an email reaches the unsuspecting victim. It says that the PC has been hacked and embarrassing pictures or videos have been stolen. So that these are not spread, one should transfer money. Often the perpetrators actually have no pictures or videos at all. But because they know many contact details, the mails seem very personal and therefore also threatening.
  • Even more frequently, sextortion arises from supposedly harmless contacts: Two people get to know each other on dating platforms, in social media or in games. A nice chat turns into more and finally one person lets himself be persuaded to send nude pictures of himself. Once the pictures or videos are on the way, however, the sound suddenly changes. The previously sympathetic acquaintance now demands money and threatens to publish the pictures otherwise.

Who can be affected by sextortion?

The blackmailers in sextortion cases work with their victims’ sense of shame. The people concerned want to avoid at all costs that their most intimate pictures are shared uncontrolled online with a huge audience. Many often do not resist blackmail out of fear and shame. At the same time sextortion can affect everyone.

Because the perpetrators seek contact via common messengers and social media platforms, where there is generally a lot of communication between them, there is often no suspicion when contact is first made. Blackmailers often take a long time to gain the trust of their victims.

Mostly young men are the target of sextortion – but there are also increasing cases of women being blackmailed. Sometimes even children are threatened.

In some cases, it is not money that is demanded, but further sexual acts – then the crime is not only extortion, but also sexual assault or even rape.

How can you protect yourself and your child?

The best precaution against cybercrime is always: knowledge and caution. Inform yourself about communication risks on the Internet and educate your child in this regard. Stay in conversation with your child about their online actions and encourage them to be vigilant. Create a trusting basis for conversation and encourage your child to confide in you or an adult caregiver if he or she is being harassed. Make it clear to him that it is not your child who has done something wrong, but the perpetrator. Discuss the following rules with your child as needed:

  • Protect personal data. Always close or mask webcams when they are not in use.
  • It is best not to respond at all to e-mails with strange or threatening content – even if the sender appears to know your name and sounds very credible at first glance.
  • The same applies to acquaintances on the Internet: It’s better to be a little too careful! You should never send nude pictures to a person you only know from chat. No matter how much she pleads, cajoles or even threatens.
  • Unpleasant contact in social media, mails and messengers can be reported and blocked. For information and help on sexual harassment online, see our article Cybergrooming.

Sextortion help and advice

If it is already too late, you can take action: Sextortion is a criminal offense and should be reported to the police. The more people who report such cases and the more screenshots there are to document the extortion, the greater the chance that perpetrators will be caught. The people affected are not to blame. But if they do not defend themselves out of fear and shame, they only protect the perpetrators! Seek help and advice, for example here:

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