You may have seen posts on our Instagram page about online enticement and sextortion. Because of the response of people wanting to learn more, we thought it would be best to do a deep dive on what sextortion is, what professionals and law enforcement are seeing, and what you need to know as community members, caregivers, youth, and service providers.
According to the National Center on Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), sextortion is “a form of child sexual exploitation where children are threatened or blackmailed, most often with the possibility of sharing with the public a nude or sexual images of them, by a person who demands additional sexual content, sexual activity or money from the child.”
NCMEC reports that between the years of 2019 and 2021, the number of reports involving sextortion more than doubled. Specifically, the majority of those targeted are teenage boys and the primary type is financial sextortion where the offender demands money from the child.
Perhaps, this is no surprise to you as you might have seen more news articles and stories done recently on male identifying youth who have been victimized by sextortion that resulted in tragic outcomes.
It may also be that you have heard of the latest issue surrounding sextortion and AI imaging or AI deep fakes. The FBI released a statement back in June about predators and offenders using artificial intelligence to target victims for the purposes of sextortion schemes. They state that they continue “to receive reports from victims, including minor children and non-consenting adults, whose photos or videos were altered into explicit content. The photos or videos are then publicly circulated on social media or pornographic websites, for the purpose of harassing victims or sextortion schemes” (Federal Bureau Investigation, 2023).
So what can be done?
First, be mindful about what you are posting online. Use discretion when posting images, videos, and personal content online, especially that of children. Malicious actors are out there looking for those whose images can be used to create explicit images using AI.
Second, update your privacy settings on social media. Keep your friends list and profile where you post more personal things private. Update your passwords frequently, enable multi factor authentication, and turn on notifications for any login attempts.
Third, educate your kids about these realities in ways that are age appropriate. If you need assistance, NCMEC’s NetSmartz provides games, animated videos, and other activities to help empower children to make safer choices when it comes to their online presence.
Fourth, per the FBI, “run frequent online searches of you and your children’s information (e.g., full name, address, phone number, etc.) to help identify the exposure and spread of personal information on the internet” (Federal Bureau Investigation, 2023), In addition to this, they recommend that you try to do a reverse image search to locate any pictures or photos of you or your loved ones that could be circulating on the internet. (DISCLAIMER: Do not try to find pictures on any type of compromising websites. Leave that to the professionals.)
Fifth, be cautious whenever someone asks you to send any type of content over the internet, text, or app messaging – even if that person appears to be trustworthy. Remember that predators and scammers can be good at creating fake profiles and making things seem real. Also remember that content is able to be recorded, screenshotted, manipulated, and further shared without your permission or consent.
Sixth, if someone is trying to target you and is asking for or demanding money, do not give them any money. Remember that there is absolutely no guarantee that they will not take your money AND also further exploit images of you. If you are ever in a situation where someone is threatening you, there are important steps you can take. We will discuss them below.
If you believe you are the victim of sextortion or related schemes, please record all information regarding the incident (e.g., usernames, email addresses, websites or names of platforms used for communication, photos, videos, etc.) and immediately report it to:
- FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov
- FBI Field Office [www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices or 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324)]
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children [1-800-THE LOST or www.cybertipline.org]
NCMEC analysts partner with different organizations to find explicit images online and take them down. They will advocate for you on your behalf and do the heavy lifting so that you do not have to. To provide some more comfort in their success and capabilities, in 2021, NCMEC was able to have images taken down within 27 hours after sending notices to companies.
Finally, please remember that none of what has happened is your fault. You are a victim of a heinous crime and we know that it can be scary. It is important during this time to find support. NCMEC provides supportive services for victims and families by providing crisis intervention and local counseling referrals to appropriate professionals. They also have a support group program called Team Hope where you can find peer support from others who have experienced similar situations.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you or someone you know is in need of referral advocacy or resources from the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Resource Network, please call or text our CareLine at (414) 485-5370. Our CareLine is available Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm CST.