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Sextortion

Overview

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. This crime may happen when a child has shared an image with someone they thought they knew or trusted, but in many cases they are targeted by an individual they met online who obtained a sexual image from the child through deceit, coercion, or some other method. In many cases, the blackmailers may have stolen or taken images of another person and they are communicating through a fake account. The blackmailer may have sent images as well.

NCMEC has seen a dramatic increase in sextortion cases being reported to our CyberTipline, especially financial sextortion where the offender demands money from the child. Teenage boys have been the most common targets in these recent cases.

If this has happened to you, it may feel overwhelming or like there is no way out, but there is hope. Know that you are not alone and NCMEC is here to help.

What to Do

If you or a friend have experienced sextortion, there are some steps you can take now to make things better. 

  • Remember, the blackmailer is to blame, not you. Even if you made a choice you regret, what they are doing is a crime. 
  • Get help before deciding whether to pay money or otherwise comply with the blackmailer. Cooperating or paying rarely stops the blackmail. 

  • REPORT the account via the platform’s safety feature  

  • BLOCK the suspect but DO NOT DELETE your profile or messages because that can be helpful in stopping the blackmailer.

  • Let NCMEC help get images of you down. Visit MissingKids.org/IsYourExplicitContentOutThere to learn how to notify companies yourself or visit cybertipline.org to report to us for help with the process.  
  • Ask for help. The problems can be very complex and require help from adults or professionals. If you don’t feel that you have adults in your corner, you can reach out to NCMEC for support at gethelp@ncmec.org or you can call us at 1-800-THELOST.

Red Flags

Those involved in the sextortion of children often:

  • Approach a child on social media after using it to learn about the child’s interests, friends, school, family, etc.
  • Move quickly and ask for nudes immediately after following or friending a child on a social media platform. 
  • Intentionally move their communications with the child from one online platform to another (e.g., moving from social media to private video chat or messaging apps)
  • Use tactics to coerce a child, including:
  • Reciprocation (“I’ll show you, if you show me”)
  • Pretending to work for a modeling agency to obtain sexual images of the child
  • Developing a bond with the child by establishing a friendship/romantic relationship 
  • Using multiple false online identities to contact a child  
  • Pretending to be younger and/or a member of the opposite sex 
  • Accessing the child’s online account without authorization and stealing sexual images or videos of the child
  • Threatening to create sexual images or videos of the child using digital-editing tools

By the Numbers

Since 2016, the CyberTipline has received 262,573 reports of Online Enticement, the category that includes sextortion.

Between 2019 and 2021, the number of reports involving sextortion more than doubled.

In an earlier analysis, the dominant motive of offenders was to get more explicit images of a child, but in reports from early 2022, 79% of the offenders were seeking money.

What NCMEC is Doing About it

Creating a Place to Report

NCMEC’s CyberTipline® provides the public and electronic service providers with the ability to report multiple forms of suspected child sexual exploitation, including sextortion and online enticement. After NCMEC’s review is completed, all information in a CyberTipline report is made available to the appropriate law enforcement agency. To make a CyberTipline Report, visit report.cybertip.org.

Helping Victims Take Back Control

Is a sexually explicit image of you or your child out there? Learn how to contact the internet service providers and platforms to help mitigate the spread of the image or how NCMEC can help in that process. 

Is your explicit content out there 

Preventing Abuse Through Education

NCMEC’s digital citizenship and safety program, NetSmartz, is an innovative educational program that utilizes games, animated videos, classroom-based lesson plans, activities, and much more to help empower children to make safer choices online. 

This program addresses the issue of sextortion in age-appropriate ways. Examples of resources include videos and discussion guides and a poster for educators, school resources officers, counselors and others who work with children to display. 

Learn more at MissingKids.org/NetSmartz/Sextortion.

Supporting Victims & Families

For families with a missing or sexually exploited child, NCMEC provides support services like crisis intervention and local counseling referrals to appropriate professionals. Our Team HOPE program connects families with peers who have had similar experiences and can offer coping skills and compassion.