It’s no secret that the internet is a hazard especially for children and teenagers. Now there’s a more specific threat aimed at our young people and many parents don’t even know that it exists.
A study released by Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is now shedding light on what the United States Department of Justice calls “sextortion.” The Department says it is the “most important” cyber danger facing kids with more minor victims per offender than all other child sexual exploitation offenses.
Sextortion is a serious crime where someone threatens to distribute nude or compromising images for gain, usually financial, relational, or sexual (i.e., wanting more images or contact). Sextortion cases for financial reasons targeting teens, according to former Internet Crimes Against Children Commander Joe Laramie, are on the rise and are often perpetrated by organized crime operating outside the country.
The FBI has reported a “huge increase” in sextortion scams targeting teens, especially boys 14 to 17. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, 5% of teens have been the target of sextortion, and only one-third told their parents. The research center also reported that “males were significantly more likely to have experienced sextortion (both as a victim and as an offender),” and adolescents who identified as non-heterosexual were more than twice as likely to be victims. Sextortion cases, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, “tend to have more minor victims per offender than all other child sexual exploitation offenses.”
A 2017 study conducted by the Crimes Against Children Research Center found that “almost 60% of respondents who were minors when sextortion occurred knew perpetrators in person, often as romantic partners. Most knowingly provided images to perpetrators (75%), but also felt pressured to do so (67%).” These incidents, according to the researchers, “often co-occurred with teen dating violence.” Unlike revenge porn, “these weren’t just episodes of trying to humiliate. These were episodes where something was being demanded: money, sex, more pictures, a return to the relationship,” said Crimes Against Children Research Center Director David Finkelhor.
What might be most concerning to parents is that researchers discovered that few victims reported the situation to a parent or another adult, leaving them to face it alone. Shame and embarrassment, along with a fear of being punished can get in the way of a teen revealing the information to a parent.
Incidents of sextortion could trigger or exacerbate feelings related to anxiety, depression, cutting, a reluctance to go to school and even suicide.
There are keys a parent should know to head off or help a teen facing sextortion:
- Always build an open line of communication that is light on judgment and blame
- Express to the teen the importance of exposing the perpetrator, in part because he/she may be one of many victims
- Understand the world of social media romantic connections
- Educate the teen about boundaries and problems related to sharing any suggestive photographs
More information can be found at cyberbullying.org.