Internet Safety

Sextortion

What is sextortion?

Simply put, sextortion is blackmail. It’s when someone threatens to send a sexual image or video of you to other people if you don’t pay them or provide more sexual content.

Who sextorts youth?

Sextortion can occur when sexual images/videos are first shared with a known peer (often within a dating relationship) and then that material is used to sextort the youth for additional sexual images/videos.

Sextortion more commonly occurs when users who are unknown to the youth. The youth is coerced or groomed into sharing a sexual picture/video of themselves and that picture/video is then used to extort the child for further material.

There are also situations where adults looking to exploit/harm a child will screen capture live-streamed sessions of the person they are targeting (this can happen to both adults and youth). These individuals, known as cappers, record and capture the live stream without the knowledge of the youth/adult.

Through our work in Project Arachnid, and operating Cybertip.ca, we are generally witnessing three types of sextortion:

  1. Those who sextort tweens/teens for additional sexual images/videos

    Once the offender has convinced the tween/teen to remove their clothes or engage in a sex act, the offender threatens to share the material online and/or with family/friends if the youth doesn’t comply with sending more nudes.

  2. Those who sextort tweens/teens for money

    The money is commonly requested to be sent through a specified account using services like Western Union or Moneygram, among others.

  3. Those who don’t use sextortion but rather capture the image/video and move onto their next target

    These offenders typically do not tell the tween/teens they have screen captured a sexual image/video. Rather, they either ignore or block the tween/teens once they have their content and move on to target another child. The objective appears to be the sharing and popularity that comes from other cappers and encouragement to obtain new content.

What is the process that leads to sextortion?

The conversations between tweens/teens and offenders that lead to sextortion are often initiated on platforms such as Facebook®, Instagram®, Google Hangouts®, Snapchat®, TikTok™, or other video hosting or streaming platforms, online games with chat components. Once contact has been made and they have established a connection with the tween/teen, the offender may move the tween/teen to another platform or another feature of the same platform for more private conversations.

Common tactics involving teenage boys being sextorted:

In a situation involving a capper, they will ask the teen boy to move the communication to another platform, like Skype®, or might ask to do a video call on the same service. Here the cappers commonly use a pre-recorded bait video of a teenage girl taking off their clothes or engaged in sex acts and request the teen do the same over live stream. Once the offender has convinced the teenage boy to remove his clothes or engage in a sex act, the threats begin almost immediately by notifying the youth the communication was recorded. These conversations can progress in the matter of minutes.

Common tactics involving teenage girls being sextorted:

Based on reports to Cybertip.ca, girls tend to be groomed by offenders for a prolonged period. The offender will build a girl’s trust using different tactics that lead up to the request(s) for sexual images/videos. Some of these control tactics include, isolating the teen/tween from their support network (like family and friends), building an unhealthy romantic relationship that can create dependency on the offender, career opportunities, such as modelling, threatening self-harm or suicide if the teenage girl talks about moving on, and/or the exchange of their own sexually explicit material to normalize the behaviour.

Once a sexual image/video is sent, the offender uses the material to further extort material from the teenage girl, uses the material as a weapon to prevent them from going to safe adult, or threatens to post/distribute the material if they do not continue to communicate with the user/capper. The offender’s messages often progress to being violent/aggressive in nature against teenage girls.

Other tactics used by offenders in sextortion:

  • Taking screenshots of the teen’s friends list and sending the screenshot indicating the picture/video will be released to the family and friends in the list if they do not pay a sum of money or share additional images/videos.
  • Creating fake accounts on video hosting sites, such as YouTube or Dailymotion, and either post the video privately and send the link to the teen, or threatens to post the video to the account publically.
  • In some situations, the teen will attempt to bargain with the capper to bring down the amount being requested. If the teen continues to communicate with the capper, the threats continue, with deadlines on when more images/videos or payments need to be sent.

What are some of the warning signs?

  • Everything happens quickly: This includes asking for images or going on live chat immediately. They may also immediately start asking personal information such as where you live, your school, or any personal information they may later use against you.
  • Chatting becomes sexual: Whether it is innuendos, jokes, or questions, the discussion turns sexual which can include professing strong feelings in a very short time span. A common tactic used on teen boys is pretending to be a teenage girl that asks the boy to live stream themselves masturbating.
  • Attention bombing: This means making contact numerous times a day and being persistent about it. This can be misinterpreted by a teen as caring/loving versus controlling behaviour.
  • Using threats: Making the youth uncomfortable and/or using threats as a way to get information. This can include saying they will harm their parents, animals, message friends — anything that might invoke fear, embarrassment, and shame if the youth doesn’t comply with the requests.
  • Provides inconsistent information: Things don’t add up between what they are posting/sharing and what you are being told while chatting. For example, the user states they are 15 years old and send a picture of someone that looks older.

Are you a victim of sextortion? This is what you need to know

Stay calm and don’t panic. Immediately report what has happened to Cybertip.ca or contact police in your jurisdiction. If it is happening to you, the person is more than likely doing the same thing to others and this needs to be reported to the proper authorities.

Immediately stop all communication. Deactivate (but don’t delete) any of the accounts you are using to communicate with the individual. Pay attention to any of the other accounts you may have linked to as the user may attempt to contact you there as well.

DO NOT comply with the threat. In other words, never pay money and never send additional nudes. Your situation will NOT get better by doing either of these things. If you have paid money, check to see if it has been collected and, if not, quickly cancel the payment.

Keep the correspondence. Keep information such as the user’s username(s), Facebook page, Skype ID and Western Union details (if payment has been requested through one of these services), a copy of the communications, along with any images and/or videos that were sent.

Speak to a safe adult about what is happening. Remember that you are not alone. Reach out to a safe adult so they can help you get through this situation. Dealing with sextortion is too big to manage on your own.

Report it! Report to Cybertip.ca or call your local law enforcement agency and ask to speak with an investigator who works in child exploitation.

Getting help

If you are under 18 years of age and want to speak with a counsellor who can help you, go to Kids Help Phone.