The eSafety Commissioner received 1700 reports of sexual extortion (or ‘sextortion’) in the first quarter of 2023, which is almost triple for the same period last year. Young people aged between 18 and 24 years are most likely to be targeted, with 90% of reports affecting males.
The Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) has also reported that 90% of its reports affect boys aged predominantly between 15 and 17 years, with some victims as young as 10 years.
What is sexual extortion?
Sexual extortion is a crime, and is a form of image-based abuse. It occurs when a person manipulates or coerces a victim into sending sexual images or videos of themselves and then threatens to share them with the victim’s friends, family and colleagues, unless their demands for payment are met.
Scammers often solicit intimate images from victims through ‘catfishing’, where scammers create fake social media profiles to initiate online relationships, encourage victims to trust them (including by sharing fake intimate images of themselves), and then encourage victims to share their own intimate images.
The eSafety Commissioner has reported that young men were most at risk in this context and that Snapchat or Instagram were the most common platforms used by scammers.
Other common scenarios include the scammer claiming that they have hacked a victim’s device to steal images, creating digitally altered images (or ‘deepfakes’), claiming that they have found intimate images of a victim, or within a grooming relationship or former relationship.
Scammers are incredibly manipulative and will continue to demand further payments from victims after the first payment has been made. It is common for scammers to be based internationally and request transfer of money into offshore accounts which makes it difficult to recuperate.
In addition to the financial impact on victims, sexual extortion can have a significant impact on a victim’s mental wellbeing. Victims have reported deep distress and shame in being scammed and fear in having their intimate images circulated to family and friends, and in some cases have self-harmed.
Responding to sexual extortion
Don’t pay anyone who has threatened to share intimate images of you or a child under your care and supervision. Instead:
1. Collect evidence
Collect evidence of your interactions with the scammer, including taking screenshots of your message threads (including their threats for payment), their username/s, user profile URL, and bank details.
If you have made a payment, get in touch with your financial institution or payment service (e.g. PayPal) immediately to see if they can cancel the payment.
2. Report the interactions
Report the interactions to:
- the Police, including the ACCCE if the victim is under 18 years;
- the platform or services the scammer has contacted you on; and
- the eSafety Commissioner, for assistance to take down intimate images shared without your consent.
3. Block the scammer
Once you have collected evidence and cease all contact with them. You should also review your security settings.
4. Reach out for support.
Sexual extortion is never the victim’s fault.
The best defence we have against sexual extortion is to raise awareness and empower young people to keep safe online. Spreading awareness, particularly amongst young men, is critical.
How can we help
Our Safeguarding team provides training and tailored resources to prepare your staff to support children and young people in your organisation who may be responding to threats of sexual extortion.
We also provide training for children and young people to equip them with the tools and techniques to keep themselves safe online.
Get in touch with Skye Rose or Melissa Elleray for a discussion about what resources will best support your organisation’s efforts in keeping children and young people safe.
Please contact us for more detailed and tailored help.
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