What is Sextortion? Everything You Need to Know

Words by
Morgan Wilcock

MAY 06, 2024

What is Sextortion? Everything You Need to Know

Warning: Reader Discretion Advised

The following content discusses sextortion, self-harm, suicide, and suicidal ideation. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.

“Mom, I need your help. I sent a naked picture to someone online and now they’re threatening me.” 

Parents who hear these words can experience a range of emotions, from fear to anger. However a parent might feel, it’s important to recognize their child has been victimized by a predator, and how they respond to the situation is crucial.

Unfortunately, sextortion (also called sexual blackmail) is more common than parents may think. Some simple tools can help parents and children to prevent this tragedy from happening, or if it does happen, find ways to heal and recover.

This guide can help families by sharing what you need to know about how sextortion takes place, what parents and kids can do to help prevent it, and how to heal after it happens.

Sextortion Meaning: What is Sextortion?

Sextortion is a combination of the words “sexual extortion.” It is when a perpetrator attempts to leverage sexually compromising photos of a person in exchange for money, more sexual content, imagery, or sexual favors. It includes some form of sexual blackmail, coercion, or violence.

Unfortunately, children are often the targets of sextortionists. The FBI warns of a dramatic increase in children being threatened to share sexually explicit images online, with boys ages 14-17 as the most common targets.

In 2022, law enforcement agencies received over 7,000 reports of online sextortion involving minors.

While it may seem like some kids provide explicit images or sexual acts willingly, it’s critical for parents to recognize that all sextorted children are victims.

Abusers often develop relationships with their victims through grooming, whereby children develop real-life or online relationships, and then are coerced to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do.

Once a predator has obtained sexual content from a victim, they will proceed to intimidate and threaten them to release the images or videos they’ve obtained. They may also post them online, or intentionally use family, or connections at work or school as a part of the blackmail.

Chart of how sextortionists threaten their victims

Parents can help their children recognize threats and teach them how to spot common sextortion scams.

Internet Sextortion vs Offline Sextortion

Today, internet sextortion is the most common form, although it can also occur in person. These two categories — online and offline sextortion — aren’t mutually exclusive, and the line between them can be blurred.

Offline sextortion occurs when the victim knows the offender in real life. It is often a form of dating violence where the abused and perpetrator are involved in a romantic relationship.

Most sextortion incidents do not occur . . . through secret recordings, hacking, or the stealing of images and video. Instead, targets tend to voluntarily provide the images.

—Dr. Justin W. Patchin, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Program, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Offline sextortion is particularly dangerous because those involved may not realize their relationship isn’t healthy or that they are being victimized.

how many sextortions happen online versus meeting their victim in person

Despite receiving less media attention, dating sextortion is more common. In 59% of sextortion cases, the victim knew the perpetrator in person and had a relationship with them when images were shared.

Online Sextortion: Digital Permanency

Internet sextortion is possible whenever a platform allows sharing photos or videos, or even if it just has a chat function.

Despite misgivings, many young people acquiesce because they trust their partner or don’t want to damage the relationship. Young people lack the experience to understand how they are being manipulated. They may believe that sending pictures to one person won’t hurt, not understanding the permanency of digital images — that once sent, they could potentially stay online forever.

Even if the photos don’t resurface, they might continue living on the platform. In 2014, for instance, 98,000 Snapchat photos were leaked by hackers. There is never a guarantee that private photos won’t become public.

Who’s At Risk? Vulnerable Populations

All children with access to the internet are at risk of falling victim to sextortion. Some predators are skilled, and a child’s brain is not fully developed enough to always protect themselves. Given the growing rates of sextortion, every parent should consider proactively addressing it with their child — regardless of whether the child is in a group of above-average risk.

Rise in Sextortion of Boys

Girls are more likely to experience dating violence and other forms of sexual abuse so many are surprised to find sextortion hurts boys at even higher rates. One report from the Internet Watch Foundation found boys are targeted by sextortion crime groups 91% of the time, with three in five reports involving 16 and 17-year-olds.

To compound the risks further, boys are significantly less likely than girls to tell their parents they are victims of sextortion. The FBI has recently warned parents of a dramatic increase in sextortion of young men over the past year.

Parents of boys, and the boys themselves, need to be aware that sextortion isn’t simply a crime against girls. Without this understanding, they will be less likely to recognize dangerous situations as they come.

Sextortion Against LGBTQ+ Youth

Additionally, young people in the LGBTQ+ community are at greater risk for sextortion. Research suggests this might be because these kids rely more on online communities for social support than their heterosexual peers. 

teen boy with sunshine over part of his face

This reliance is a key factor that has led 37% of LGBTQ+ minors to continue talking to someone online even after they were made to feel uncomfortable. Open conversations about how kids can set boundaries will serve as a protective factor against sextortion.

The Negative Effects of Sextortion on Adolescents

Sextortion victims are much more likely to experience health problems than non-victims. These negative impacts can last into adulthood.

In one longitudinal study, girls who had been abused by significant others were more likely to experience depression as they grew into adulthood and to smoke and abuse alcohol. Similarly, victimized boys were likelier to have antisocial behaviors and to use marijuana. As a whole, one in four victims use mental health support and report suicidal ideation more often than non-victims.

Despite the negative effects, there is still hope.

The Stakes Are High: Suicide By Shame

Devastatingly, there are reported cases of children and teens who have taken their own lives after being sexually blackmailed, sometimes within an hour of the initial contact by the predator.

Studies have also shown that “childhood sexual abuse appears to explain little or no unique variance in self-injurious behaviour,” meaning that unless kids already have the tendency to self-harm, suicidal behavior is unlikely after a sexually abusive encounter.

Kids may hide depression and suicidal ideation, so consistent conversation is vital to ensuring your child’s emotional safety.

How Sextortion Happens

There are myriad sextortion examples, and how predators target kids is constantly evolving. Preparing kids to recognize common tactics is an important defense against sextortion schemes. 

5 Ways Predators Lure Kids

Often, online predators obtain compromising images through fraudulent means. In 22% of all sextortion cases, the perpetrator acquired sexual images by deceit or without the victim’s consent. Any images or video obtained from a minor are considered to be child sex abuse material (CSAM).

5 ways predators lure kids: acting young, pretend hacker, promising gifts, clickbait, and fake modeling offer

1. Predators Pose as False Personas

Predators often pose as girls the same age as their targets or slightly older. They will send sexual content depicting the girls they are pretending to be and then ask victims to reciprocate. They might also use their persona to manipulate their targets into engaging in sexually explicit activities through a secretly recorded video chat. 

Sexual predators commonly operate using multiple online accounts and have victims in multiple states and countries.

2. Claiming to hack the child’s device

Abusers will claim to have already hacked a young person’s computer or phone and convince them they have compromising material, such as sexual photos.

The perpetrator will often include the child’s password as “evidence” of their hack in the threat.

Children are typically unaware that sextortionists can obtain passwords from data breaches ⏤ if a sextortionist has compromising materials, they will send that instead of the password as evidence.

hands typing on a laptop

When a kid sees their own password in a message from a stranger, it is disconcerting and can throw them off balance. The perpetrator uses this opportunity to pressure the child into sending actual photos, which they can then use for further acts of sextortion. 

Responding to this type of situation requires children to have the right skills. If they receive a request, they can learn to never reply and bring their device to a trusted adult. Caregivers and parents can screenshot the message and then report the incident to authorities, including school administrators.

3. Promising Gifts

The young person will get an email, social media message, or text offering them free products or services. This could be a music download, pornography, a popular computer game, a program that will enhance their social media presence, or anything else that might pique their interest. Clicking on the link then downloads malware. In the case of physical gifts, some predators are brazen enough to send packages to the child’s school or home.

This malware might damage their device, steal files, track keystrokes and mouse movements, or even allow the hacker to access their camera without them knowing it.

New sextortion scams and demands arise constantly: sextortion is an evolving form of abuse.

4. Getting a Child to Click on a Link

A “friend” will send the child a link to a video with a title like “I think you’re in this video!” or “I can’t believe you did this!” over social media. Clicking on the video takes them to a legitimate-looking login page requesting their username and password before they can view the content. 

The page is a dummy site, usually a blank page. Now, the hacker has their information and can access their account, looking for private messages, pictures, and other potentially compromising content.

Children need to be taught to be suspicious of any link that asks them for personal information. By looking at the URL, they can tell when a website is posing as their favorite social media site. These fake sites typically have suspicious-looking URLs that can serve as a clue that something is off.

When parents receive a text like this, it’s a great opportunity to show our kids and help build their digital literacy. These skills will help protect them.

5. Claiming to be from a Modeling Agency

An enthusiastic person contacts a child and claims to work at a modeling agency. The blackmailer promises the young person money, an opportunity to get into the industry, or the chance of becoming famous. In order to build a portfolio, the perpetrator will then ask for a few risqué pictures of the child, or will edit regular images of the child to make them sexually explicit (which has become increasingly easy with AI technology). 

Children are at a time in their development where most look for outside affirmations that they are attractive, so this tactic is effective because kids are especially vulnerable.

Parents can create a protective boundary for their family by teaching children to be cautious and intentional about what pictures and personal information they send to others or post online. If anyone they don’t know approaches them online asking for images of themselves, they should tell a trusted adult. 

Parents can also prevent their kids from being on social media until they are mature enough to navigate the dangers. If a teen is ready for social media, parents may still strongly encourage their children to make the social media accounts private.

Do Sextortionists Follow Through?

Most predators online do not follow through on threats. If they release the proof that sextortion has occurred, their risk of getting caught increases. If it’s a scam and they never had explicit content to begin with, then threats were empty and there is nothing for them to follow through with.

Should You Ignore Sextortion?

We can safely tell our children that most of the time, people online making these threats won’t follow through, so there’s no reason to do what they say. And should they make good on their threats, we will use all tools at our disposal to help them through this situation.

How Long Does Sextortion Last?

A typical sextortion scam lasts 60 days, but that is just an estimate and timelines can be shortened with the right response by you and your child. Your child’s chances of stopping the exploitation sooner increase when they reach out for help.

Many sextortionists are aware that they will draw the attention of the authorities in their country if they do take action.

Powell & Stebbins

How to Stop Sextortion

Kids and parents should remember to try to stay calm. For the most part, threats of sextortion can be safely ignored. However, if the predator persists, complying with their demands does not always stop the threats. On the contrary, compliance can increase and intensify the threats.

For 64% of victims who complied with threats, the demands did not stop. In fact, 68% reported an increase in threats after complying.

Make sure that kids are aware that scary threats of sextortion can be safely ignored, and if they’ve already complied, they can stop responding. Read on for more tips on how to recover after engaging with a sextortionist.

Where Does Sextortion Happen? Platform-Specific Suggestions

Sextortion can happen on any platform. Sometimes, predators threaten their victims across multiple apps at the same time. 

It’s also important to be aware that sextortionists are not always strangers on the internet. In fact, it’s more common to be sexually blackmailed by someone that a victim already knows than by a stranger. 

teen looking at phone with hand covering mouth

Perhaps a child sends a nude photo to a boyfriend thinking that he’ll keep it private. However, if the couple later gets into a fight, he could threaten to send the photos to others. 

Block and report attackers on all platforms and encourage your child’s friends to do the same. You may choose to deactivate your child’s accounts for a time but do not delete accounts (you don’t want to lose evidence). 

Below are tips for dealing with sextortion on email, Facebook, Whatsapp, and Instagram.

How Can I Deal with Email Sextortion?

Email sextortion is often a scam asking for money. Actors will claim to have sexual content of a victim or evidence of their involvement in an explicit activity, such as visiting an adult website. 

It is possible that scammers do not have any information about their victims to begin with, but are hoping to scare them into sending money.

Never click on a link in a phishing email as it may contain malware. A best practice is to ignore these requests, block them, and report them as spam.

How to Deal with Facebook Extortion

Threatening or forcing a person to share intimate videos or photos is against Facebook community standards. You can report a sextortionist by clicking on the three-dot icon in the upper-right corner of any post or profile.

How Can I Deal with Whatsapp Sextortion?

If your child is being sextorted on Whatsapp, blocking a contact will stop all status updates, calls, and messages from the predator on the app.

Here’s how to block on Whatsapp: 

  1. Open Whatsapp
  2. Tap the More Options icon ()
  3. Tap BLOCK or REPORT AND BLOCK

The report and block option will also alert Whatsapp of inappropriate activity. 

How Can I Deal with Instagram Sextortion?

Instagram has a “zero tolerance policy when . . . threatening to post intimate images of others.”

The profile of any sextortionist can be reported directly in the Instagram app. 

How to report on Instagram:

  1. Open Instagram
  2. Tap the three dots icon above the post
  3. Tap Report
  4. Follow the prompts

If you are scared for your child’s safety or need to report illegal activity, contact local law enforcement.

How Can You Prevent Sexual Blackmail?

Our greatest hope is that we’ll prevent this type of sexual extortion from ever happening in the first place. Although we cannot definitely prevent these crimes, as parents we can mitigate the risk by empowering our kids with the knowledge and tools to keep themselves safe.

We can also convey to our children that should they ever make a mistake online, they can come to us for help without fear.

6 B's to Combat Sextortion: be private, proactive, smart, alert, vocal, and kind to yourself

Children can avoid falling prey to sextortion by learning to never send nude or sexual images and videos of themselves to anyone — friend, acquaintance, or stranger. Parents can help their children understand the concept of digital permanence: that an image shared online lasts forever.

“The best thing [kids] can do is never have conversations, never share anything with anybody [on the internet] unless [they] absolutely know who they are.”

– Erin Burke, Unit Chief, Homeland Security Investigations

If your child is on social media, make sure that their account is set to private and that any stranger’s messages are immediately blocked. Keep multiplayer games private among your child’s real-life friends. These simple steps could lessen the chances of sexual blackmail as predators hunt for victims while gaming and on social media.

Engage in Frequent Communication

The best defense against sextortion is frequent communication that is open and honest. Sextortion, like all forms of sexual abuse, thrives in secrecy. Strong parent-child relationships combat this.

It can already be difficult to know how to talk with kids and teens about sexuality, so adding to the discussion the threat and prevalence of violent and coercive sexual behavior can feel overwhelming. However, conversations about these difficult conversations may be the key to preventing sextortion.

Parents can spot potential problems early on, offer support before issues escalate, and empower children to learn how to safely navigate the digital world.

We can provide a safe place to ask for help by having regular conversations about online safety and times we have gotten ourselves into dangerous situations. Kids will feel safer coming to us if they know we are flawed and have made our own mistakes.


Conversation Starters About Sextortion

  • Have you ever heard of sextortion? What do you know about it?
  • Do you think sextortion is a big deal?
  • Why do you think teenagers sext, especially if they aren’t comfortable with it?
  • Have any of your friends ever done this?
  • Has anyone ever asked you for sexual pictures? How did you respond?
  • How would you respond if you were being asked to sext?
  • How do you imagine I’d respond if you came to me for help?

4 Qualities That Help Parents Connect with Kids

Parents can assure children that even if they have made a big mistake, they can always talk to mom or dad to get help. With that assurance in mind, we hope that our kids will approach us when they’re curious about intimacy and that they’ll let us know when they feel threatened online. 

How can we nurture a relationship where our children feel comfortable divulging information that may be embarrassing or scary to them?

1. Perceived Parental Warmth

Communication between parents and children is well-researched, with many studies showing, “adolescents who are more likely to disclose information to their parents about their daily life are those who perceive their mothers or fathers as warm and responsive.”

Showing parental warmth could be as simple as smiling at children often, or as important as helping kids feel better after talking to you about something difficult. Demonstrating warmth and responsiveness can be done through small daily actions that show your kids that you love and care about them.

mother and daughter holding hands while talking

We can also always just ask our children the ways that they feel loved by us to guide behavior toward them so that we can be most effective in showing our love and affection for them. They may respond by giving examples like quality time spent together or physical touch. Conversations like this will help our child vocalize how to reach them.

2. Openness

A family climate that nurtures openness, specifically in communication, is very important to eliciting disclosure from teens.

We can show understanding by asking our child for their opinion during a family discussion, and then continue the discussion with curiosity rather than criticism. Kids living in a family with open communication also say that it’s easy for them to express their feelings since their parents are good listeners.

In this way, when the precedent for open communication has already been established in the home, children will feel more comfortable approaching us with information that is difficult to disclose.

3. Confidence

The more information your teen discloses to us and others over time, the higher their confidence will be in initiating interactions with parents.

If kids believe that they can divulge difficult or embarrassing information without being overly criticized or judged, they’re more likely to do so. 

They need to know that they will be heard and understood if they share something embarrassing. They flex the muscle of self-disclosure over time, conversation after conversation after conversation.

4. Reciprocal Interactions

We can build an environment where our children can come to us spontaneously, and there is value in asking children to share with us.

It’s important to facilitate discussions and encourage kids to divulge information by constantly reassuring them. It can be scary to say something personal to someone they trust, but it is also safe.

Reciprocal openness is important here as well; when children perceive that their parents are human and also make embarrassing decisions, they may feel more inclined to open up about their own pitfalls.

If your child isn’t currently disclosing information to us as frequently as we would like, that can change! We are all constantly evolving, and so there is hope for the relationship to evolve as well.

Empower Kids to Recognize Attempts at Sexual Blackmail

If your kids know what a message from a predator looks like, they’ll be far more likely to have the foresight to block them and alert you. Here are some questions to have your kids keep in mind to keep them on the lookout:

  • Have you ever started a conversation with a new friend online? How did it go? What did they say?
  • How do you know that you can trust someone online? How do you know that you’re talking to a friend? 
  • How often would a friend make you feel uncomfortable?
  • How would someone who cares about you talk to you online? How would someone who doesn’t care talk to you?
  • How can you know for sure that someone you have met online is safe?

Warn them that predators’ accounts are meticulously tailored to look like their peers’ accounts. Many predators will go so far as to befriend your child’s acquaintances on social media to build rapport, and name-dropping them to seem more legitimate. Predators will talk like a kid and use the same slang and terminology

Kids can be empowered to spot a predator by the way that they talk to them. Real friends would never induce discomfort or coerce them to do things they’re uncomfortable with. 

A good rule of thumb for your child is to never talk to someone online that they don’t personally know in real life.

Understand the Dangers of Sexting

Regardless of whether they are in a relationship, parents can teach their children about the dangers of sexting.
Besides being dangerous, sharing sexually explicit photos is also illegal. Whether the images are of your child or were only shared with other minors, exchanging sexual images of children can be considered child pornography distribution.


CSAM vs Child Pornography

Sexually explicit content of children has been coined “child pornography” in the past. However, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) and others have stopped using this verbiage, opting instead to refer to this material as Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM).

RAINN says, “While some of the pornography online depicts adults who have consented to be filmed, that’s never the case when the images depict children. Just as kids can’t legally consent to sex, they can’t consent to having images of their abuse recorded and distributed. Every explicit photo or video of a kid is actually evidence that the child has been a victim of sexual abuse.”

Teach Digital Media Literacy

Helping children develop digital media literacy skills can serve them well. Young people who understand digital permanency, who can recognize unreliable websites, and who know how to appropriately communicate online are less likely to be duped by online sextortionists. 

Help kids understand that photos and videos are no longer sufficient to prove the identity of an online user.

Safe Tech

Even responsible children may be manipulated into providing sexually explicit images by sextortionists. Modern technology can benefit families while avoiding risks at the same time. Safe tech is often the answer but “safe” is relative to your child and their maturity level.

Consider a tech in steps approach with your kids so they can ease into the world of digital communication. 

As kids are learning, devices without social media access can teach them essential digital media literacy skills, allow families to stay connected throughout the day, and help protect them from online predators.

There is Always a Way Out of Sextortion

Experts say that speaking to a trusted adult is one of the most important steps children can take to escape and recover from sextortion. Unfortunately, most kids don’t. 

Nearly half of girls (41.7%) and even fewer boys (28.6%) who endure sextortion tell their parents. While some of these juveniles will tell a different authority figure or at least a friend, 49% don’t tell anyone.

many kids dont talk about sextortion

There are several reasons for this. Most children who keep sextortion a secret are too embarrassed to ask for help (81%), while 68% are afraid of getting in trouble if they tell. Nearly half believe they can handle sextortion independently, while 26% fear adults can’t help them.

Some children are simply afraid to talk with their parents. They might rationalize that minimizing the incident will solve the problem. They may not realize the perpetrator probably won’t leave them alone, or that things might escalate.


Combatting the 4 Most Common Reasons Kids Hide Sextortion

  • Talk About Sex – Children feel less embarrassed when parents talk about healthy sexuality with them frequently and regularly. Curiosity about sex is natural. Encourage children to ask questions.
  • Show Unconditional Love and Support – While parents can insist that adolescents never take or share sexual images of themselves, stress that your teens will always be loved and supported no matter what.
  • Model How to Ask for Help There is nothing wrong with asking for help, and parents can be powerful examples of this. If appropriate, be transparent about your own personal struggles. Let them share some advice with you regarding work or skills they can help you learn.
  • Communicate How You Can Help – Become informed about how to support grooming and abuse victims. As part of your conversations about sextortion, describe exactly what you would do if a young person approached you for help.

We need to help our kids understand that we will always be able to help them and keep them safe, regardless of what they’ve done.

However, as hard as we try, we may not be able to prevent sexual blackmail. 

My Child Has Been Sextorted. Now What?

Learning that sexual abuse has happened to your child is a highly stressful and disruptive experience, so give yourself some grace if you’re feeling horror, frustration, disappointment, or despair.

Your child is very likely feeling the same thing, and actively sharing those emotions with your family can be vital to bonding through a painful time.

A Parent’s Story About Sextortion

We spoke with the father of a 16-year-old boy who was sextorted. He requested anonymity to protect his child’s privacy, but below are his own words, lightly edited for clarity:

“Initially I was very angry and felt like I had failed my child because of what he was doing or asked to do. This is not something that I felt would ever happen to me or that my child would think to do. After a day or two my anger turned to extreme sadness and feeling as if I was a failure. I had always thought I had taught my son to know what I felt was right and wrong.

The biggest piece of advice I would give to other parents in this situation is to always love your child. Kids, just like parents, make mistakes. This is the hardest thing to remember during the situation, but during — and after — kids need a parent’s love and support to get through tough times. 

Talk to your child and be open, not accusatory. Anytime we make a mistake, the last thing we want to hear is how we messed up. We want to know we have support from our loved ones, and kids are the same. Anger will be present but try your hardest to keep that at a minimum and remember to love your child.

One thing that helped my son and I was going to the police department together, filing a report and speaking to a detective. The detective was not particularly helpful because there was nothing that could be done. But by showing my son the severity of what had occurred, I think it helped bring the attention to him that he needed. 

And again, as mentioned above, love is the other thing that helped. [My son] is not growing up in the world I did, in regards to technology. There is so much more of it now and he, like others, was able to access it. Eliminating sexual contact is not always an option but speaking about it is important.

Limitations are put on phones all the time but kids are smarter than we are and work through things. When people told me, “well you need to watch your child with his phone,” it was degrading to me. I truly thought I had locked the phone down as much as I could.

Anger and frustration is a common feeling. I felt the same way. The important thing I had to remember was that I truly love my son and know he made a mistake. Respond with kindness and love. It is not always easy to be calm but kids will respond with less yelling and more love.

This is not an easy road and you cannot shut it out. Find someone to speak with about your frustration. Speak to your child about what you are feeling and listen to what they have to say. Do not sweep it under the rug. Sextortion is a very difficult thing to convict. Please do not give up even though it may be difficult, the smallest conviction or charge could make a huge difference.

Learn with your child and fight to protect your child. Never give up.”

Anger and frustration is a common feeling. I felt the same way. Respond with kindness and love. It is not always easy to be calm but kids will respond with less yelling and more love.

—Father of 16-year-old who was sextorted

Whether you approach your child with evidence that sextortion has occurred or they confide in you, the initial conversation with the victim can be a powerful first step to healing.

How Can I Help My Child Who Has Been Sextorted?

When kids have been victimized, it’s vital that they seek support from trusted individuals, like friends and family. Shame is a powerful obstacle to overcome, and there will be a tendency for victims to self-isolate and hide what has happened. 

teen boy with hands over his eyes

If your child finds themself in a sextortion situation, it is key that they understand that they are not alone. Whether they sent nudes or posted something suggestive online, being blackmailed is not your child’s fault, nor is it your fault as the parent. There is hope for a life after sexual blackmail.

What to Say and Do When You Find Out

The most important thing that you can do when your child has been a victim of any form of sexual abuse is show your support and love. 

Multiple studies indicate that parental intervention after the abuse has occurred can be as impactful as the abuse itself. This means that kids who feel support and concern from their parents will be much more likely to bounce back and recover.

Perhaps just as important as getting help for the victim is getting help for yourself. Studies indicate that parents need support just as much as their kids do and parents who seek help will be better equipped to help their child. Resources can be found at the end of this article.

Remove the Blame and Shame from Sextortion

The trauma of sextortion can stay with your child for months, if not years. Perhaps the most vital thing you can give to your child during this tender time is your trust and belief in them.

Reassure them as much as they need that being a victim has not minimized their value as a human being, or your love for them.

parents with hands on their son's shoulders

It’s absolutely normal to experience a wide range of emotions upon hearing that your child has been a victim of sextortion. As parents, we may even be inclined to blame our child, at least in part, for what’s happened.

A significant study reported that the majority of sexual blackmail victims were angry for “letting it happen” to them.

It could be easy to tell our kids that the sextortion would never have happened if they’d never sent the pictures in the first place. However, our children are likely already blaming themselves for what happened to them, believing they’ve brought it upon themselves. They need our absolute support in this situation.

Remember, the predator is to blame. Not your child, not you.

It is also helpful for a child to know that the mistake of sending the picture is not the same as the magnitude of the crime that was committed against them. If the child sees law enforcement involved, for example, they might consider their original mistake to be that monumental. However, they are really just an inexperienced child who made a mistake online. 

No one deserves to be taken advantage of, even if they made a mistake. A crime committed in response to naivety is no exception.

The perpetrator is accountable for manipulating our children into doing things they would never otherwise do. When we can be a source of comfort and safety rather than judgment, our kids have a far better chance of ultimate recovery and resilience.

There is no benefit to shaming a child in this situation.

Remove the Content 

Sexual blackmail through intimate photos online is especially traumatizing because the images can be shared online, making revictimization devastatingly common. Sadly, entire websites are dedicated to publishing photos obtained through coercion and without consent.

Our kids may go to school with their abusers and find that their friends and classmates are passing around their intimate photos through texts, online forums, and social media chats. Beyond dealing with the aftermath of the sextortion, it’s important to get all instances of the content removed from the internet. 

a broom

Take It Down is a revolutionary software program that can be used to remove sexually explicit photos or videos from the internet. Victims can submit their explicit photos to the secure website. The software will then recognize the “hash,” or digital fingerprint, of the photo and submit it to secure websites that have agreed to work with Take It Down to remove the photo from their site if and when it appears. Websites that work in compliance with Take It Down include Instagram, Facebook, Tiktok, OnlyFans, and more.

Through this program, victims don’t need to worry about their photos being stolen from them. The hash of the photo is kept on a secure list that is protected and maintained by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). The photo itself will stay hidden and protected once the hash has been obtained.

Victims can also flag the photo if it has been posted on social media and have it removed by the platform’s administrators for inappropriate content.

Is Sextortion a Crime?

Sextortion is definitely a crime; it is a form of sexual abuse that can be criminally prosecuted, so don’t hesitate to involve the authorities! The FBI urges victims to keep all recorded correspondence with the predator as evidence.

Even if the content is triggering or your child just wants it over with, you must keep the messages and give what you have to the authorities. It is also recommended that victims do not pay the blackmailer if they have obtained intimate content.

Block the predator and do not delete the profile or messages because that can be helpful to law enforcement in identifying and stopping them.

-FBI

Unfortunately, even if the crime has been reported and the user has been blocked, a predator may create new profiles to track down your child again and continue threatening them. This process of blocking, reporting, and collecting evidence may need to stay in place for quite some time until the perpetrator moves on to a new victim or is tracked down by authorities.

police car

The FBI sextortion resources found on their website are extremely helpful. Victims can report the crimes committed against them by visiting the FBI’s tip website or calling 1-800-CALL-FBI.

What Should I Do if I Already Paid a Sextortionist?

As mentioned before, your child might feel great shame from this mistake. It can be a traumatic experience, especially if a significant amount of money is involved. The top priority is getting your child on the path to recovery so even if the financial implications create a burden for you, be sure that doesn’t translate to additional shame and guilt for them.

If your child complies with a blackmailer’s financial threats, you may be able to cancel the money transfer if you move fast. Blackmailers usually ask for cryptocurrency or pick up a cash transfer within minutes, so they are harder to trace.

Regardless of whether you can recover your money, you can help by reporting the blackmailer to your bank or money transfer company and local authorities. If authorities can prosecute, some pickup locations have cameras that may help police identify the attacker.

Professional Support

Professional counseling from a licensed therapist can be a life-changing help during an experience like this, both for your child and yourself. There are also support groups and national resources available for victims of sexual blackmail and their families, most of which are completely free.

All you and your child want is to be free of sextortion and abuse. While victims may feel powerless, they can follow deliberate steps to reclaim their power over the abuser.

Some good counsel for your child at this time may be, “Remember this: you are the victim of a malicious abuser who is relying on your silence to continue the assault. You deserve to be freed from this.”

Each situation is different and may require adaptations of the suggested steps below.

What to do after sextortion has taken place

Sextortion is a terrifying experience for children and their families, but it is temporary and not your nor your child’s fault.

Can Sextortion Ruin Your Life? Life After Sextortion

Sextortion can be a traumatizing experience but it does not have the power to ruin your life. There is hope after sextortion. 

Children who deal with the trauma of sexual abuse may suffer from anxiety, depression, and even PTSD. However, it may be comforting to know that “most children and youth who have been abused do not go on to abuse others, and many live happy, healthy, successful lives.”

Being sexually blackmailed may seem like the end of the world, but sextortion survivors have proven over and over that it’s possible to lead a normal and happy life as a sextortion survivor. Kids are resilient, and they are capable of long-term recovery. This will be a difficult experience for you and your family, but there is hope.

How to Recover From Sextortion

Recovery from sextortion is possible. Sextortion is not your child’s fault.

The way you and your child feel right now will not be permanent. There is hope and healing ahead.

Always remember, your family is not alone and things will get better. Even if it feels like no one cares, there are people in your life who love you and want to help. 

As sextortion increases, resources for survivors become more available. A selection of resources is provided below. 

  • Without My Consent: Empowers victims of egregious online privacy violations by providing help in removing posted images, procuring physical safety, and finding criminal and civil remedies for victims free of charge
  • Cyber Civil Rights Initiative: Protects victims of online abuse through a 24-hour hotline and one-on-one victim support
  • Crisis Text Hotline = Text “HOME” to 741741: Connects teens to trained crisis counselors 24/7
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233): Helps victims of intimate partner violence (including teen dating violence) find helpful resources in their community
  • Love is Respect: Educates teens and their parents about teen relationships, including LGBTQ+ relationship violence, setting boundaries, ending negative relationships, and much more
  • Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN): Supports victims nationwide of a wide range of sexual abuse and assaults. Hotline = 1-800-HOPE
  • MaleSurvivor: Provides information on therapists, support groups, and other resources for male sexual abuse survivors
  • National Center for Missing & Exploited Children: Reports child sexual exploitation, including sextortion, to law enforcement agencies and provides excellent resources for abuse survivors. Tipline at https://report.cybertip.org or 1-800-843-5678.
  • Thorn: Helps children abused by sexual predators stop sextortion and recover

What Questions Do You Still Have?

We’re on a mission to empower families to connect safely in a digital age and free educational content is a pillar of that mission. We hope this information helps you and your family.

Did we miss anything? Do you still have questions? Do you have experiences you can share that will help other families?

Let us know in the comments.

Sharing stories and exchanging helpful resources creates a community where tragic crimes like sextortion struggle to survive.

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