By Jeremy Saland, who is barred in New York and who focuses in criminal defense with over 16 years of experience in sex crimes cases.
“Sextortion”, an amalgam of sexual extortion, is the term for a relatively new form of blackmail involving webcam exposure where victims, who are found on social media sites, are exploited by being convinced to expose themselves to people who are using false identities.
They are coerced by being told that unless they pay the blackmailer, their pictures and videos will be shared with their families and friends.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) in the U.K., who protect the public from organized crime, have reported that the number of these cases have increased from 385 in 2015 to 864 in 2016 — a huge increase in cases.
Further, these victims are often underage; although criminals using sextortion blackmail usually target men between 21 and 30 years old, the NCA says that a “substantial portion” of victims are ages 11-20 years old. In addition, four suicides have been linked to these blackmails in 2015.
Although only reported in the news in the U.S. since 2009, there is similar data supporting targeting a younger demographic. 71 percent of sextortion victims in the U.S. are younger than 18, and a full 91 percent of this class are exploited using social media.
Although many of the U.K. crimes were linked to criminal networks in the Ivory Coast, Morocco and the Philippines, in the U.S. the blackmailers are always individual men working alone, sometimes targeting hundreds of victims.
The blackmailers find their victims on popular social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Skype and others.
We must be vigilant as a society, but also as individuals, in protecting our younger generations from these situations where strangers have access to children and young adults online.
Social media sites are a part of our everyday lives, but just as playgrounds can be dangerous when a stranger interacts with children, so are these online meeting places. Where a potential victim might see a friend, the reality in the form of sextortion can be a lot scarier.