What is Sextortion? A Prevention and Response Guide for Families

Blog Feature - Sextortion (updated)

What is Sextortion? A Prevention and Response Guide for Families

Sextortion is on the Rise

Within the past three weeks, I’ve had two different families reach out to me with dire sextortion situations. In both cases, these were older kids! Ages 17 and 18, respectively. In other words, sextortion isn’t just a young kid issue.

Here is a summary of one of the messages: was the message I received related to an 18-year-old who was sextorted:
  • A stranger approached him on Discord, videoed him in sex acts, then told him to pay or she’d post his video on Instagram and email all his friends.
  • He paid a few hundred dollars, all he had, but they wanted more.
  • He asked his mom for help and she paid a few hundred more. The bad guys still want more.

What would you do in this situation? Fortunately, in both of these cases, parents intervened before more damage was done. But sadly, that isn’t always the case. Our founder has also had interaction with families whose children have died by suicide because of the extreme pressure exerted on them, with threats of embarrassment. Jordan DeMay from Marquette, MI is a well-known case. He is one of over a dozen young men who have been victims of this horrible crime.

What is Sextortion?

Here are common steps in a sextortion scheme:

  • ➡️ Perpetrator sends an anonymous DM to hundreds of teens, looking for responses, using fake accounts. Sometimes grooming happens over an extended period, earning trust. There’s a promise of an exchange of some kind, most often “You send me something explicit of you and I’ll send something from me.”
  • ➡️ Eventually, some teens send a nude photo/video.
  • ➡️ The perp then demands money with threats to share the photo/video with family and friends.
  • ➡️ The abuser exerts extreme pressure and manipulation on the child.
  • ➡️ Outcomes: The child sends money, does nothing, or in some cases, takes their own life.

Data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children during 2022 cases makes it more tangible:
✔️93% of the VICTIMS are males.
✔️Abusers are most often out of Ivory Coast and Nigeria. Driven by an appetite for extreme violence and complete disregard for your child. Rewarded if a child commits suicide.
✔️1800% increase in NCMEC reported cases in 2022 compared to 2021.
✔️Victims are most often ages 15-17.
✔️51% of victims were sextorted through Instagram.
✔️31% of victims through Snapchat.

In other words, sextortion is an exercise in coercion. Imagine your teenage son or daughter receiving a text message like this (this is the actual exchange between “Dani,” a man who extorted Jordan DeMay from Marquette, MI. Jordan ended up dying by a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his bedroom):

Text exchange between men and Jordan Demay during sextortion scheme.

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 to a Friend

Early one morning, I received a text from a friend who is very familiar with my Internet safety work at Protect Young Eyes. She said we needed to speak urgently, 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 social media. This stranger had randomly reached out to her son via DM (direct message) and started a friendly conversation. The messages quickly turned to 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 woke up and told Mom what was happening.

Mom and I discussed the next steps. We got law enforcement involved. It wasn’t fun. Even though all physical doors to the house were locked, it was a digital doorway that gave a bad player access to her son. Or, consider this quote from John DeMay, Jordan’s father:

“My son was smart. He was a good student. He was a great athlete,” John DeMay, Jordan’s father, told Fox News Digital in a previous interview. “Someone came to his bedroom at 3 in the morning and murdered him through Instagram when we were all sleeping at night, and we had zero chance to stop it.

Thorn Surveyed 2097 Sextortion Survivors

Thorn reported a sextortion survey that closely examines the experiences of minors. Here are a few of their findings:

  • Approximately 60% of participants were ages 13 and younger when threatened, and slightly more than 50% of participants aged 14, did not know their offender offline.
  • Conversely, teenage participants ranging in age from 15-17 were the most likely (57%) participants to be threatened by an offender they knew offline.
  • Across the sample, threats were made frequently, with nearly half (47%) of participants reporting being threatened daily, and repeatedly, with more than half (52%) of participants reporting receiving threats between 1 and 9 times per day.
  • In nearly 1 in 3 cases, offenders carried out or attempted to carry out threats against the victim. Threats were more often carried out when the offender and victim knew each other in person (38% of the time) compared to those who knew the perpetrator online (20% of the time).

This screenshot from the Thorn study is a wake-up call to parents and caregivers to swing the doors of conversation wide open so that shame is crushed:

Thorn Sextortion Infographic - PYE blog post

Why Do Good Kids Fall Victims to Sextortion?

These are all good kids. But this issue preys on young brains. Here’s why teens are particularly vulnerable to sextortion:

  • The limbic system is particularly active in adolescent brains. It’s the emotional and arousal response region. It often responds faster than the more rational brakes of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex).
  • In a graphic, here’s how the brain might respond to a sextortion scheme:
A slide from our caregiver presentation on Mental Health, Tech, & Teens

Ten Steps Parents Can Take to Prevent Sextortion:

If a child has an internet-connected device and social media, it’s impossible to fully eliminate the risk of sextortion. But there are steps you can take to lower the risk of occurrence, including the following:

  1. Remind them you’re safe. Often. Does your child know that no matter what happens, even if they are tricked into sending a naked photo of themselves, that you are always a safe person to come to? If you’re not sure, make it known.
  2. Have ridiculously honest chats with your tweens and teens about this issue. Say things out loud that grab their attention and make them think (engaging that front part of the brain) about the gravity of the situation. Phrases like, “Son, listen, don’t ever send a picture of your penis to someone. No dick pics. Got it?” I know it’s crass, but you need their full attention.
  3. Parent with Calm
  4. Zero technology in rooms. Use monitoring software if necessary – like Apple’s Screen Time, Android’s Family Link, or paid solutions like Bark. To prevent access to burner devices (old iPhones, Androids that still work on WiFi), ensure you have a home router that prevents unrecognized devices from using the WiFi. We recommend Gryphon (if routers are confusing, no problem, we’ve written a helpful guide).
  5. Turn of WiFi at night. Every internet connected device can be essentially disabled at night by turning off the WiFi. Our Ultimate Router Guide explains everything you need to know about your home WiFi.
  6. Use Downtime at night. This is a setting for iOS devices that helps control access and notifications for a set time. Our iOS Guide shows you to enable it! (Start at Step 13 for Downtime Set-Up)
  7. Delay Social Media. We’ve been saying this for years! Delay is the way. We suggest waiting until high school for a smartphone, and 16 for social media. Young, developing brains simply aren’t ready for the mature content that’s so easy to be exposed to.
  8. Use device parental controls. Another layer of protection lies within the device itself. Most devices offer controls, some are better than others. Consider our collection of devices to find the one you want to make safer.
  9. Use in-app parental controls. Be fully aware of the apps they are using. Full access to the App Stores to download different messaging apps probably isn’t necessary. In both Screen Time (iPhone) and Family Link (Android), parents can approve app downloads. Consider visiting our collection of app reviews to set specific controls for the app in question.
  10. Remind them you’re safe. Often. 

A great way to continue to prevent the risk of sextortion is to practice. Practice, practice, practice different sextortion scenarios. All of them should direct them back to you and you promise to remain calm. Consider watching the THORN video below with your kids. Also, Thorn has a sextortion counseling line, which can help de-escalate a potential sextortion situation. Just have your child text the word Thorn to 741741 – maybe program this in their phone.

Here are two Instagram posts where we talk more about the direct, relational approach mentioned in #1 above:


**WAIT, Chris, my kid has already been the victim of sextortion, how should we respond?

Here are the steps we share with families:

  1. Stay Calm – Breathe. Your child needs to know two things in this very moment. The first thing they need to know is that they are going to be okay. Even though it doesn’t seem like it,  everything is going to be alright. Kids get tricked into believing this is worth ending their lives over, you need to stay calm and remind them of the truth. So, you must be calm, even though you might be freaking out! For the sake of your child and the situation, do your best to breathe and stay calm. Next, your child needs to know that they are okay with you. And that no matter what happens, including becoming a victim of sextortion, there is nothing that can change your love for them. Together as a family, you can do this!
  2. Stop all communication. The “bad guys” are often more talk than action. But when you’re stuck in the middle of it, that’s often very little consolation. Time is money, so if you ignore their pressures, they will often move on to the next person (although no one can guarantee this). Don’t respond to anything.
  3. Pay nothing. No matter what. They will threaten anything and everything for a chance at your money, but it won’t ever be enough. As a result, I often advise families NOT to pay money. No matter how much they threaten you.
  4. Capture all evidence. Take screenshots of chats, profiles, and anything else that might be useful if law enforcement gets involved.
  5. Report in-app. This step is not applicable if it occurred via texting. Here is an amazing list of “how to” for the major platforms from Darren Laur.
  6. Notify the police. Unfortunately, except for the worst situations, they don’t have many tools at their disposal to do much. It can be worth seeing if they can offer your family anything and to spread awareness. You may wish to seek out other legal services such as an attorney, and the police may know more about how that applies to your specific situation, as well as your state or country. But this decision is largely up to you.
  7. Block and Delete all messages. Block the account(s) from your followers and friends immediately. Delete the messages (make sure you have screenshots first!).
  8. Ignore all activity for a week. Blocking the account that made initial contact doesn’t always stop the harassment. They might continue to send messages or requests from other accounts, and may even contact you as the parent. Ignore any activity coming strangers for the next week.
  9. Enable Google Alerts, Consider Take-it-Down (NCMEC). For Google Alerts, visit google.com/alerts (Thank you, White Hatter Team for this suggestion) You will need a Gmail account to use this tool. In the Google Alerts search bar, type your name in quotation marks “John Smith”. By doing this, Google will search your full name every day and if the nude gets posted/reposted and tagged with your name on the visible web (the web we all use daily), Google will likely pick up on it and send you an alert to your Gmail account. If you get an alert, click on it and make sure it is you. If it is your nude, you will now know where it is being hosted online, and can then make an application to have it taken down as child sexual abuse material if you are under the age of 18. Take-it-Down is newer tool from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It might sound scary, but here you can upload the sensitive photo that was shared and NCMEC creates a digital fingerprint for the photo that will scan other sites and social media for the same image. If it finds it, it will automatically report it and hopefully “takes it down.”
  10. Change your phone number. It’s annoying to do, but it’s effective. This gives your child a fresh start with a new number that these people don’t have, which helps reduce stress and anxiety, while removing the risk of another encounter from these “bad guys.”

Final thoughts about sextortion.

For a child caught in the middle of this issue, it is terrifying. They need your calm. In our experience, during a situation like this, children need to know immediately that (1) they’re going to be okay, and (2) that you’re still okay with them.

“Chris, help! We have a tech emergency!”

That’s why we created The Table, our PYE membership where you can get immediate, emergency help, ask basic tech questions in our Tech Support space, become a specialist in YouTube setup, pornography education, or compulsive gaming, and interact with other, like-minded parents. Abby is there to take care of you! Join for 7 days free, try it out, and then stick around for $7/month or $70 for the year. I can’t wait to meet you at The Table!

The Table - Private Community from PYE

*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.

1 thought on “What is Sextortion? A Prevention and Response Guide for Families”

  1. Do you have a list of questions to ask your kid (like a script) if you think something’s wrong but aren’t sure what’s happening?

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