Sextortion has increased dramatically since the pandemic began. What is sextortion? It is a form of sexual exploitation that involves coercing a minor by using, or threatening to use images/videos that the victim has sent the trafficker. The trafficker then demands additional images/videos that are sexual in nature.
Children and young adults have not reached the level of maturity needed to perceive the many tricks traffickers use to lure children into their trap. Our lifestyles have made the phone and computers a wide open door for the trafficker. Luring victims is a full time job for them, that they have perfected the art of sounding like a teenager and acting as if they attend a school nearby, and they often have many scams going on at the same time to lure as many children as possible into the web of sextortion.
How Does Sextortion Work?
- Victims are targeted and images are acquired through a you-show-me-I’ll-show-you type of scenario. It will start out innocent with non-graphic photos and move on from there after the trafficker has gained the victim’s trust.
- The trafficker then demonstrates control over the victim with statements such as, “I know where you live,” “I’m going to post your images,” making threats to harm family or friends unless the victim complies with all demands, etc. They will often hack to assume control of a victim’s computer to gain access or control the computer’s webcam to obtain images and videos.
- Victims are compliant and further demands follow, or victims are not compliant and images are distributed instantly. Long-term emotional and/or psychological trauma can occur through sextortion.
There are many signs of this trafficking to be aware of including, alienation from family and friends, a drop in grades or pulling out from typical activities, elevated anxiety, fear, depression or unexplained anger, a rush to leave a situation. For example, the child needs to be online at a specific time and suddenly leaves the dinner table. (This is a very short list of behavioral changes that can be noticed.)
Our children must be taught about the dangers of talking to strangers online. If they do not personally know the person then it is a stranger. Discourage private time with the phone and computer – keep the computer in a central place for the whole family to share. Never share passwords with anyone – a trusted friend can easily become an enemy. Warn about the dangers of sending photos/images online as these images are there forever, even if they are deleted. Adults should educate themselves about computer/phone security, and about the games, sites their child is using. Don’t be afraid to talk to adults and children about this – it happens EVERYWHERE!
Additional resources about sextortion and other forms of trafficking can be found at https://www.unitas.ngo/.