Sextortion: what is it and how to mitigate it

Sextortion — it’s a concept similar to sexting, but it doesn’t have quite the same meaning. And that’s because unlike sexting, sextortion is more sinister in nature.

In fact, according to the Cyberbully Research Centre, sextortion involves a party threatening another with the distribution of explicit, intimate or embarrassing images that are sexual in nature and without consent.

The biggest issue of sextortion, however, is that it occurs so the threatening party can receive more images, sexual acts, or even money.

To break it down, sextortion is a combination of sex and extortion — and it is a crime under Australian law.

Important Sextortion Facts

Sextortion, unfortunately, can occur in different ways. One way, is referred to as ‘revenge porn’ and stereotypically occurs post a non-amicable break-up, and is usually between sexual partners — but not always.

Revenge porn, however, has one difference to sextortion, and that’s in the detail that the images being threatened for release are ones taken initially with consent from the pictured person.

Interestingly, a University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Centre report showed that 60% of the victims in cases of sextortion know the perpetrator before threats begin. And that 40% of these victims met the perpetrator online.

But, sextortion scarily can occur on a much larger scale and therefore, be conducted by perpetrators that victims don’t know. A reported case of this was in 2011, where a sextortionist, Luis Mijangos, created malicious software which gave him access to “…all files, photos, and videos on infected computers” without the knowledge of victims (1).

Unfortunately, this topic is one that definitely strikes fear into the hearts of parents, guardians and carers, for we don’t want to ever see our children caught up in such a situation; but the truth is, we are role models to children and can help mitigate sextortion through one major avenue — open communication.

How To Mitigate Sextortion

The easiest and most effective way to mitigate sextortion is through open communication. It may seem like a ‘no brainer’, but it goes a long way.

Talking about these issues at length, and in a conversational way with children enables them to become aware of the risks associated with the digital world and the possible ways to recognise when they themselves are entering a risky situation.

Therefore, next time you talk to your child about these online risks, maybe try going beyond saying “just don’t do it” — and I know it may cause an awkward conversation, but it is an awkward conversation worth having.

The reality is, we may as well address ‘the elephant in the room’ which is sexting and the dangers that come with it. That way, we instil safe practices within our children.

Other steps you may consider taking to mitigate extortion include:

  • having discussions about safer sexting with young people (with emphasis on the responsibility we all hold not to redistribute sexually explicit material to anyone without consent)

  • advocating for programs that mobilise peers and other bystanders, and dissuade perpetrators

  • increasing awareness and support for victims

  • utilising antivirus software and having conversations about privacy and cyber safety, covering things such as: never clicking on spam emails, knowing how to recognise a reliable source, and what to do if you think your computer may be infected.

  • you may even consider using the Family Insights app to help educate your children on safe online practices.

For more information visit:

Thorn Not-for-profit — Information and Victim Support Website

Office of eSafety Commissioner — Deal with Sextortion

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