When we were all kids, our parents would tell us not to open the door to strangers, but in today’s world, that door is everywhere: computers, tablets, gaming systems, and cellphones.
Sextortion is a form of child sexual exploitation when a child has shared an image with someone, they thought they knew or trusted, but in many cases, they are targeted by an individual they met online who obtained a sexual image from the child through deceit, coercion, or some other method. The individuals then threaten or blackmail to release the photos publicly if they don’t get additional sexual content, sexual activity or money from the child.
Sextortion can start on any online environment where young people feel most comfortable—using common social media sites, gaming sites, or video chat applications that feel familiar and safe.
The FBI has also seen an increase in financial sextortion cases targeting minor victims in the U.S. In these social environments, online predators often use fake female accounts and target minor males between 14 to 17 years old, but the FBI has interviewed victims as young as 10 years old.
In financial sextortion, the offender threatens to release the compromising sexual material unless the victim sends money and/or gift cards. The amount requested varies, and the offender often releases the victim’s sexually explicit material regardless of whether or not they receive payment. This increasing threat has resulted in an alarming number of deaths by suicide.
What if you or your child is a victim?
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has outlined steps parents and young people can take if they or their child are a victim of sextortion, including:
- Remember, the predator is to blame, not your child or you.
- Get help before deciding whether to pay money or otherwise comply with the predator. Cooperating or paying rarely stops the blackmail and continued harassment.
- Report the predator’s account via the platform’s safety feature.
- Block the predator and do not delete the profile or messages because that can be helpful to law enforcement in identifying and stopping them.
- Let NCMEC help get explicit images of you off the internet.
- Visit missingkids.org/IsYourExplicitContentOutThere to learn how to notify companies yourself or visit cybertipline.org to report for help with the process.
- Ask for help. This can be a very complex problem and may require help from adults or law enforcement.
- If you don’t feel that you have adults in your corner, you can reach out to NCMEC for support at email@example.com or call NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST.
- Take a moment to learn how sextortion works and how to talk to your children about it. Information, resources, and conversation guides are available at fbi.gov/sextortion.
If this has happened to you or your child, it may feel overwhelming or like there is no way out, but there is hope. Our agents see these cases a lot and have helped thousands of young people. Our goals are to stop the harassment, arrest the person behind the crime, and help you or your child get the support you need. Talking about this can feel impossible, but please remember this, we are here to help, call us (915) 832-5000.
Jeffrey R. Downey
Special Agent in Charge, FBI El Paso