Sextortion and sexting are very closely related, even if you’ve never heard of the former.
When teens sext (trade indecent photos of themselves via text), its consequences are almost always bad. In most states, if a minor takes an indecent photo of him/herself, even if never sent, it constitutes the creation of child pornography.
But, combine the act of sending a nude photo with coercion from a malicious person, and you have a horrible situation that has a sinister name.
What is Sextortion?
Sextortion happens when a person uses coercion to obtain sexual photos, videos, money, or even sex from a victim. Many times, the targets are pre-teens and teens, and they’re not always girls– boys can also be victims. Perpetrators are often current, former or wannabe romantic or sexual partners attempting to harass, embarrass and control victims. Imagine your teenage son or daughter receiving a text message like this:
What would your son or daughter do? Does he or she have the tools and the wisdom to handle a message like this?
Sextortion Happened Right Here in Grand Rapids
Early one morning back in July 2016, I received a text from a friend who is very familiar with my Internet safety work at Protect Young Eyes. She said it was urgent that we spoke, and so I called her on my way to work.
She shared that the night before, her 13-year old son Bryce [name changed] had sent a nude photo of himself to a stranger on Kik. This stranger had randomly reached out to her son through the messaging app and started a friendly conversation. The messages quickly turned mean, and the person threatened to hurt Bryce’s family if he didn’t send a nude photo. Bryce froze with fear and sent a photo that he knew was wrong, but he just reacted. Next, the stranger told Bryce that if he didn’t give his mom’s credit card number, he was going to post the photo on multiple social media platforms.
At this point, Bryce wised up and went a told mom what was happening.
Mom and I discussed next steps. Kik had to go (no kid should be using this app anyway). We got law enforcement involved. It wasn’t fun. Even though all the doors to the house were locked, one rogue app allowed a stranger to have access to her son.
Findings from a Survey of 1,631 Victims of Sextortion
In June 2016, The University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center with Janis Wolak and David Finkelhor partnered with a nonprofit organization called Thorn to explore sextortion, and just released a detailed report of their findings. The results of this study are frightening and fascinating.
The study intentional sought out self-identifying victims of sextortion through Twitter and Facebook ads. The survey participants were from a wide-range of demographics by targeting ads to specific types of people. The result was a group of 1,631 individuals comprised of 84% women, 14% men and 2% who selected the choice of “Other.”
Almost half (46%) were minors when the sextortion began.
The infographics below summarize a few significant findings.
The types of additional information requested from the perpetrators was varied, but fell into the following percentages:
- Additional sexual photographs or videos from the victim – 51%
- For the victim to stay in or return to a relationship with the perpetrator – 42%
- To tell the respondent how to look or what to do in pictures or videos – 28%
- To meet the respondent in person (usually for sexual activity) – 26%
- To meet the respondent online for sexual activity – 24%
- To tell the respondent to hurt them – 10%
- To blackmail the respondent for money – 9%
- To make the respondent take sexual images of someone else – 7%
Obviously, based on the percentages, certain respondents were victims of multiple requests.
3 Things Parents Can do to Prevent Sextorton
The situation I dealt with in real life and the results of the Sextortion study give parents three primary takeaways:
Sextortion Prevention Tip #1: Control night Internet use.
It’s a fact – kids take more digital risks at night.
I realize that this creep could have used Kik at any time of day to solicit the photo from Bryce. But, there’s something about being all alone at night that causes a decrease in the ability to discern right and wrong. I can’t explain it, other than knowing from personal experience that Internet temptation lurked heavier at night.
Parents, what are the rules in your home for when the Internet is used? Are devices turned in at night? Are there rules about Internet usage in bedrooms? (take note: kids usually make a lot of bad Internet decisions in their bedrooms).
Remember, where kids use technology often dictates how they use technology. And, we believe bedrooms are one of the places that kids really shouldn’t be online.
Related post: 5 Worst Places for Kids to be Online
Sextortion Prevention Tip #2: Control the apps your kids have.
At Protect Young Eyes, we spend a lot of time staying current on the latest apps, because we know that’s where kids spend most of their time. Parents really need to review their kid’s smart devices often to make sure they understand what apps are being used and also have measures in place to restrict app downloads. It’s much easier to do this on Apple’s devices than on Android, but it’s possible on both.
Sextortion Prevention Tip #3: Talk to your kids about porn and predators.
Giving a kid a smartphone without having discussed certain risks would be like giving a 14-year old the keys to a Corvette and just hoping he doesn’t kill himself. Or like taking your son who is learning to ride a bike to the top of the tallest hill in the neighborhood and pushing. Neither makes any sense.
In the digital age, there’s no such thing as passive parenting. Mom and dad can’t get away with “a talk,” but instead, must have consistent and persistent talks about all the tough things. Does your kid have the right tools to know what to do when someone asks for nude photos? Maybe show them bulleted list of request items above and ask, “what would you do if someone asked you for [fill in the blank]?”
Related Post: Prepare Your Kids for Predators
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Bonus Tip: Use Bark!
One of the best ways to protect your kids from sextortion is to use a monitoring tool like Bark. This amazing app will alert parents when certain words are used. It’s smart algorithm acts as a constant parental eye on a child’s digital activity. Check them out today!
*Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. We constantly test products to make sure we only recommend solutions that we trust with our own families.