Maytinee Kramer/Assistant Opinion Director
Extortion and blackmail have been around for centuries, but with the rise of the Internet and advancing technology, they’ve now gone online. As a result, online ‘sextortion’ is on the rise and becoming more sophisticated.
According to an April 2016 report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Justice, this kind of online extortion is becoming one of the biggest dangers online, especially to teens and young adults.
Between 2014 and 2015, there was a 90 percent increase in the total number of reports; a pattern that has continued. Sextortion reports also increased 150 percent within the first several months of 2016.
The FBI defines sextortion as a form of harassment and “a serious crime that occurs when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money.”
The University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center partnered with nonprofit Thorn, a site that focuses on using tech innovation to fight the sexual exploitation of children online, and found that 54 percent of the victims who reported harassment were targeted on social networks, 41 percent on messaging and photo apps and 9 percent on dating apps.
Extortion plots usually occur in two ways. The first is trust-related. By tricking the victim into trusting them, the perpetrator convinces the victim into providing compromising photos or videos. The second is through installing malware into the victim’s computer, usually without his or her knowledge or consent.
The perpetrator can secretly shift the victim’s webcam or microphone, capturing and saving content. The perpetrator can then blackmail and extort money or other compromising material from the victim.
Other prowling platforms include popular social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Skype.
Sextortion can cause a range of negative outcomes, including hopelessness, fear, anxiety and depression. According to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline “about 1 in 3 children (31 percent; 4 percent of all sextortion reports) had engaged in self-harm, threatened suicide or attempted suicide as a result of the victimization.”
Thankfully though, Thorn is working with 25 major tech companies as part of a task force to raise awareness and build tech tools to detect, prevent and combat sextortion.
However, non-disclosure remains a big issue that society needs to overcome. Starting with parents, families should start having open conversations regarding these issues and create environments where children can come forward if something is happening to them online.
More importantly, if you’re a victim of sextortion, here are some pointers on how to proceed. First, be sure to contact your local police and internet service provider immediately and alert them of the situation. Second, no matter how embarrassed you might feel, make sure to preserve all the evidence. Third, don’t pay or give in to any of the perpetrator’s demands.
Instead of letting sextortion take over and ruin your life, take action. Reach out and seek help. Not only will it shed valuable light on this type of crime, but it can also help you find closure and move on.
The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of Panther Press Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.
Image retrieved from Flickr.