AMU Law Enforcement Original Public Safety

Sextortion: A Growing Trend for Many Child and Adult Victims

There is a growing online trend called sextortion, and everyone should be aware of it, especially parents. According to Breitbart, sextortion has become the fastest-growing crime and the victims are often minors.

What Is Sextortion?

Sextortion occurs when a criminal obtains nude or sexually compromising images or videos of a victim. The criminal then makes demands for money or additional images, threatening to make the victim’s images or videos public if the demands are not met. Victims often comply because they do not want their reputations to be ruined.

Sextortion often involves a high degree of organization. According to Breitbart, a group called Yahoo Boys used social media platforms such as Instagram® and Snapchat® to recruit victims, then posted their sextortion scams on TikTok® and YouTube®.

The Yahoo Boys also posted scam training videos and guides to aid other scammers in sextortion. One video even provided a step-by-step guide to explain how to threaten victims and compel them to send payments.

Related: Is a TikTok Ban Coming to the United States?

How Sextortion Occurs

Commonly, a criminal will post a fake online identity to collect victims and gain their trust. Many teenagers fall victim to this type of criminal, believing that they are communicating with someone of their own age who wants a personal relationship.

The criminal will express caring, provide false promises and convince victims to let down their guard down, similar to the way victims are groomed in sex trafficking. Then, the requests for sexual images or videos begin.

Sadly, many teenagers and even adults provide these sexually explicit images or videos. Later, the perpetrator blackmails the victims by demanding money or more sexual content.

People who post or live-stream nude content are not the only ones at risk. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), criminals hack into electronic devices such as laptops, using malware to access files and gain control of the computer. They can then access the  device’s camera and microphone without the victim’s knowledge.

After hacking into a victim’s computer, the criminal might brag, sometimes falsely, that he already has sexually compromising images or videos of the victim. Victims are told that their reputation will be destroyed if additional content is not sent, and some victims comply with the threat.

Related: Grooming: How Traffickers Lure Children and Victimize Them

Financial Sextortion

In financial sextortion, the criminal commonly receives sexually explicit content from a child and threatens the child if money or gift cards are not sent. In these cases, the sexually explicit content is often released regardless of whether the victim pays, according to the Department of Defense.

The shame suffered by the victim has resulted in a startling increase in suicides. According to the Florida Times-Union, Lucas Michael Chansler coerced 350 girls across the U.S. and in the U.K., pretending to be a 15- or 16-year-old teenager.

Chansler’s victims were between the ages of 13 to 18, and he used 100 different identities. A few of his victims attempted suicide.

Impact of Social Media

Social media is undoubtedly one of the most prolific ways that perpetrators discover both sex trafficking and sextortion victims by. A study by Bark Technologies found that that the top five social media platforms flagged for severe sexual content were:

  • Kik®
  • Tumblr®
  • X (formerly Twitter)®
  • Discord®
  • Instagram

Bark Technologies also found that predators tell their victims how to hide any explicit photos from their parents. Apps that look unassuming – such as a calculator app – can be used to hide this type of illegal content.

Many victims fear reporting sextortion because they are afraid of getting into trouble with both their parents and law enforcement. But even if victims voluntarily sent someone else explicit images or videos, they are still victims.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children offers a service called Take It Down. The Take It Down service tries to remove sexually explicit content from the internet for victims who were under 18 when the content was posted. Victims can even remain anonymous and use this service.

Protecting Children from Online Predators

There are important steps that family members and caregivers can take to protect their children from sextortion. The first step is to warn teenagers and children about the presence of online criminals, who will attempt to coerce and exploit them.

Parents can also:

  • Warn their kids of the dangers of sharing any questionable images or videos with anyone
  • Tell children to keep explicit images off a phone or computer that could be hacked
  • Monitor their children’s social media and internet use
  • Discuss online safety
  • Express the importance of using complex passwords that would be difficult for hackers to guess
  • Tell children to not accept friend requests from people they don’t know personally

At regular intervals, parents should spot-check their children’s phones, tablets, laptops, and other electronic devices for explicit content and confirm privacy settings. Parents should also encourage their children to talk to them whenever something is wrong.

Hacking Can Occur with Many Electronic Devices

Any electronic device with internet connectivity can be hacked. These electronic devices include:

  • In-house security cameras
  • Nanny cameras
  • Baby monitors
  • Smart televisions

It’s also essential to update the software of these electronic devices when needed. For instance, U.S. News and World Report suggests that the software on in-house cameras needs to be periodically updated to reduce the risk of hacking, because many home security cameras don’t get automatic software updates. These upgrades can be obtained through the security camera’s mobile app.

Education Is a Useful Way to Fight Sextortion

Education is one of the best ways to fight sextortion. Encourage children and teenagers to avoid sending explicit content to online strangers and to block anyone who demands such content. If sextortion does occur, report it to law enforcement as soon as possible so that criminals can be arrested.

Instagram is a registered trademark of Instagram, LLC.

Snapchat is a registered trademark of Snap, Inc.

TikTok is a registered trademark of Bytedance, Ltd.

YouTube is a registered trademark of Google, LLC.

Kik is a registered trademark of Kik Interactive, Inc.

Tumblr is a registered trademark of Tumblr, Inc.

X is a registered trademark of the X Corporation.

Discord is a registered trademark of Discord, Inc.

Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor in the School of Security and Global Studies and has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. For more information on Jarrod and links to his social media and website, check out

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