A relatively new phrase on the sex crime scene is sextortion, and more and more teens are on the victim list, say authorities. Sextortion starts when someone – typically a teen – sends out pictures from a cell phone or over the Internet of themselves partially clothed, called “sexting.” When blackmailers or pornographers find the photos, they can make email demands that the teen keep sending out photos, or demand more revealing pornographic images, using the threat of sending the teens’ photos out to family and friends all over the Internet if the teen declines.
It’s difficult to estimate exactly how many cases of sextortion with teens exist, but law officials believe it is happening at a more rapid pace in numerous states. Federal authorities continue to investigate and prosecute offenders in what is called a destructive sexual exploitation cycle.
Some cases, including in Alabama, where a 24-year old male was sent to prison for 18 years after confessing to using threats to get naked photos of at least 50 women in three states, are garnering national attention for the problem.
Offenders are getting more creative in their approaches to get elicit photos of girls, including one Wisconsin case where a teen pretended to be a female on a social media network in order to get classmates to send naked pictures of themselves via cell phone. The photos became a tool for blackmail in exchange for sex acts.
Other sextortion offenders have broken into private computers and then used threats of sending out naked pictures of the computers’ owners if they didn’t agree to more photos. Webcams can also be hacked into illegally, say authorities, and capture illicit photos.
Parents, law enforcement officials and school personnel are encouraged to discuss this threat with teens, making sure they understand that nothing is truly private when it appears on the Web. Experts also say many teens may not realize that they can’t retract a photo of themselves once it has been published anywhere online. The same is true for photos they send of themselves on a cell phone — offenders can use relatively simple means to put these pictures on Web sites without consent.
Attorneys and advocates say teens may be victimized because they will take a blackmailer’s threats and intimidations seriously and will be too afraid of the consequences to ask someone to step in and help. A teens’ peers can also be involved in sextortion, especially if a relationship has ended. In some cases, teens have blackmailed an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend by threatening to post illicit pictures on the Internet.
According to the law, a teen who takes nude photos of another teen, and even if a teen sends his or her own nude photos out via a cell phone or over the Internet, they can be prosecuted on grounds of child pornography or be added to the nation’s registry of sex offenders.
If parents suspect sextortion is happening to their teen, authorities can trace email conversations and chat room activity to help stop the crime. Having straightforward conversations with their teen about the dangers of taking or sending sexual photos of themselves before the photos ever take place is the best approach, say experts and law officials.