With the popularity and increasing use of social networking, messaging apps and online dating, the exchange of explicit material is much more common: this gives rise to Sextortion.
In addition, webcams make it easier for people to record themselves or secretly record themselves. Let´s discover what is sextortion and how to protect ourselves.
With the prevalence of sextortion crimes, it is important for everyone to know where they stand. In this publication, we explain what sextortion is, what to do if you are a victim of sextortion and how to prevent going through such a situation.
What is Sextortion? Differences with sexting and grooming
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The first thing we must clarify is that when we talk about sextortion, we are not talking about sexting which refers to the sending of sexual or erotic content without necessarily incurring a crime, since it can be a way for a couple to live and enjoy their relationship, as long as it is done without harming any of the parties.
Nor are we talking about grooming, a practice where an adult tries to gain the trust of a minor to send such content (sexting) and satisfy their pedophilic needs. To do so, they often impersonate other minors and this can lead to sextortion.
According to Wikipedia, sextortion is a form of sexual exploitation in which a person is induced or blackmailed – usually through Internet messaging applications – with an image or video of themselves naked or performing sexual acts.
Extortionists usually communicate with victims through fake profiles on social networks under the guise of good intentions. The victim is coerced to have sexual relations with someone, deliver more sexual or erotic images, money or some other consideration, under the threat of disseminating the original images if he or she does not agree to the extortionist’s demands.
The threats are far from inactive. In fact, an alarming 45% of perpetrators carried out these threats.
The meaning of sextortion is similar to online blackmail scams, except that instead of demanding money, the blackmailer demands that the victim participates in sexual acts, such as posing for nude photographs or masturbating in front of a webcam.
The most common form of sextortion is executed through social networks. Sextortionists befriend their future victims through text messages and/or online messages. Once trust becomes stronger between the two parties, they encourage their victims to send nude photos or videos. They then use those photos in the form of blackmail to force their victims to create more images according to their infamous specifications.
Consequences of Sextortion
The most immediate and obvious consequences of a sextortion attempt are psychological: restlessness, severe anxiety and depression, panic attacks, agoraphobia, isolation…
On the other hand, there are the consequences derived from, on the one hand, the demands made by the criminal, which may entail serious economic, physical, integrity and sexual rights damages, etc.; and, on the other hand, the consequences of the fact that the criminal may have a negative impact on his or her health.
The victim’s threats, which usually consist of disseminating the image or intimate video in the context of blackmail, add to the effect of the initial psychological damage.
All this not only affects the victim directly, who of course is the one who suffers the most, but also harms and splashes his family and friends.
Therefore, those who are victims of sextortion suffer various consequences:
- Sextortion can have severe psychological consequences, including anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and social isolation.
- Victims may face significant economic, physical, and sexual rights damages, including demands for money, sexual favors, or other forms of compensation.
- Criminals may use the threat of public humiliation by disseminating intimate images or videos to coerce victims into complying with their demands, leading to loss of privacy, reputation, and dignity.
- Sextortion not only affects the victim but can also harm their family and friends, creating a ripple effect of emotional distress and social stigma.
- Victims who comply with the demands of the criminal may face ongoing harassment and trauma.
- The consequences of sextortion can vary depending on the frequency, intensity, and duration of the crime.
- Sextortion is often part of a larger strategy of bullying or grooming, particularly of minors, and is a form of gender-based cyber violence.
- Proactive measures to prevent sextortion and provide support and resources to victims are crucial.
It is worth mentioning that the consequences can be wide and varied depending on the form, frequency and periodicity with which the sextortion is performed.
This is often part of a strategy whose ultimate goal is bullying. bullying grooming – the practice of deliberately establishing friendly ties with a child by an adult – or cyberbullying of minors. It is also a form of gender-based cyber violence.
How to prevent Sextortion in general and Sextortion by WhatsApp? Safety tips
As simple as it may seem to avoid being immersed in such a context, it is surprising how many people accidentally get caught in this type of situation. And now more than ever, if we take into account the number of relationships that are established through social networks and online dating sites.
Here are some tips that can be very useful to prevent sextortion.
- Be suspicious when something seems too good. We all want to believe that true love exists, but if a suitor seems too good to be true, chances are he or she is someone who is somehow out to rip you off or take advantage of you. We are not telling you to distrust even your shadow, but to be smart and try to think more rationally and less emotionally if the type of encounters you are having are through the screen.
- Background check. It may sound very “Sherlock Holmes” but, if you have any doubts about the person you are talking to, it doesn’t hurt to dig a little deeper to find out who he really is. This is something that is the order of the day, so you shouldn’t feel bad about doing it. Be aware that many scammers create fake profiles to lure their victims. Seek information and, even if everything appears to be correct, stay alert.
- Never send intimate videos or photos. This is something we always emphasize when dealing with topics of this type, but we must raise awareness of the importance of avoiding sending intimate images or videos that may compromise you in front of someone you do not fully trust. Similarly, you should avoid saving intimate photos or videos on your Internet-connected devices. If you are tricked into downloading certain types of malware, you could be giving criminals full access to all this data.
- Use strong passwords. A common situation in sextortion victims is that they are attacked after an account has been hacked. The offender can use images or videos stored within the account, which can reach your contacts if they follow through on their threats. You should protect all your accounts with strong passwords, trying to use a different password for each account.
- Do not open attachments from people you do not know. Most email platforms and messaging systems have fairly decent spam filters. However, there may be some emails that slip through the cracks. If you receive a message from someone you don’t know, make sure you don’t open any attachments, as this is an easy way for hackers to infect your device with malware that could allow them to control it at will. Similarly, you should avoid following links in emails unless you are sure where they come from. These can lead to fake websites that ask you to enter personal data that can then be used to hack into your real accounts.
- Turn off or cover cameras when not in use. Probably no one has control over your webcam or microphone, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. It is always best to turn off or cover the camera and turn off the microphone when not in use. If you are concerned that you may have malware installed on your computer, you can use malware removal tools. It is also prudent to use antivirus software, although it is not guaranteed to detect and block all forms of malware. You can find more articles about this on the blog.
- Monitor your child’s online activity. Minors can also become victims of sextortion. If you are a parent, you will obviously want to protect your child from the psychological and even physical harm that can result from sextortion. If your children use the Internet, it is important that they are aware of its risks. When the time is right, it is a good idea to monitor their online activity or at least have an open conversation about it and take steps to help them protect their privacy. Most importantly, let them know that they should inform you or another trusted adult if they are involved in a suspected case of sextortion.
- Encrypt your devices. If you store any sensitive information on your device, whether it is work documents or explicit personal images or videos, you should consider encrypting your device. This means that if someone were to get their hands on your computer or mobile device, they would not be able to retrieve the encrypted information without the password or PIN lock or similar.
- Use a VPN. A virtual private network (VPN) encrypts your Internet traffic and channels it through an intermediary server. Encrypted traffic is unreadable to anyone who intercepts it. This means that if a hacker is spying on your Internet traffic he will not be able to discover any information.
What to do if you are a victim of Sextortion?
If you are a victim of sextortion, we tell you what to do. We recommend that you follow these steps to stop the abuse.
- Tell someone close to you. We know it is not easy to admit that you have been a victim of the manipulative tactics of an anonymous criminal. It is very likely that you are worried that your friends or family will not understand how you got into this situation, or you are afraid that the offender will make good on his threat to post those compromising images online, but keep in mind that you are a victim of someone who is relying on your silence to continue the aggression. Do not grant him that power.
- Stop all contact with the abuser. The mere thought of ignoring him may cause you to panic, not least because you may begin to wonder whether, in the absence of attention from you, he will decide to contact family or friends. But, at the same time that you consider this hypothetical situation, we advise you to also consider whether continuing to give in to blackmail is the best idea.
- Do not delete anything. Evidence of these facts is absolutely necessary to measure the extent and duration of these facts. You may feel the need to get rid of all that data, and delete all your accounts, text messages, emails and other channels through which your stalker has kept in contact with you, but we strongly advise you not to do so. Keep it all, it’s the best proof you have.
- Tell the police. It is important to involve the police from the very beginning. Although it is not included as such in the Spanish Penal Code, and for the moment not in other countries either, sextortion is a crime. Unfortunately, the frequency with which this type of act occurs will increase the need for legislative reform.
- Talk to a lawyer. The police may not have the resources, time or understanding to address your situation. Be sure to talk to a lawyer who understands how sextortionists behave and will help you through the process.
In recent months, cases of sextortion have skyrocketed in Spain.
Avast, an antivirus software and security suite from Czech firm Avast Software, blocked more than half a million such cyberattacks worldwide. With these numbers, it is clear that we must do everything possible to keep ourselves protected against possible attacks and continue to work together so that no one has to suffer a situation of this type.
In view of the data and the fact that these situations are apparently becoming more and more frequent in our society, do you think that sextortion is a crime that should be included in the Penal Code? Leave us your comment and tell us what you think about what is sextortion. We are looking forward to reading you!