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What is Sextortion?

Jun 10, 2024
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Sextortion is an increasingly common form of online extortion and blackmail that has serious and long-term effects. Sextortion is a form of sexual exploitation in which someone uses technology, such as the internet, to coerce or manipulate another person into providing sexually explicit material, images, or videos. 

Then, the perpetrator uses it against them as blackmail, usually in the form of a demand for money. Sextortion can happen to anyone, regardless of their age, gender, location, or relationship status, but predators often target minors.

If you experienced sextortion, seek help from a sex abuse lawyer. At Edwards Henderson, our experienced attorneys provide the guidance and support needed to take a stand against sextortion. Contact us today to learn more about how we may be able to help you.

Key Takeaways

  • Sextortion refers to blackmail involving sexually explicit material.
  • Predators seek to manipulate victims into sending sexually explicit content to use against them, usually to demand money.
  • A sex abuse lawyer can help survivors of sextortion hold the perpetrator accountable and pursue justice.

What Does Sextortion Mean?

Sextortion is a horrifying crime that preys on vulnerable individuals, particularly children and adolescents, in the digital age. It occurs when predators disguise themselves as someone they are not and engage in online conversations with their targets. 

They build trust, manipulate, and eventually convince their targets to send sexually explicit images or videos of themselves. These predators then use this material to blackmail and extort their targets, demanding more explicit content, sexual favors, or even money.

According to the FBI, sextortion is a serious crime that can have devastating consequences. The threat of private and sensitive material distributed without consent isn’t only emotionally distressing but it can also have long-lasting effects on a person’s reputation, relationships, and mental health.

What is Child Sexual Abuse? 

Child sexual abuse is a devastating form of exploitation that affects many children and teenagers. Online grooming often goes hand in hand with sextortion and the exploitation of minors. 

Adults may manipulate minors into sending explicit photos or videos. These predators use these materials to blackmail survivors, demanding sexual acts or money in return for not sharing the content. 

In some cases, the predators may even arrange meetings for sexual activities. Childhood sexual abuse is a deeply concerning issue that requires immediate attention and action to protect vulnerable individuals. Adults can familiarize themselves with the signs of childhood sexual abuse and how to help prevent grooming online.

childhood sexual abuse attorney can help survivors pursue financial compensation needed for healing and provide guidance on what to do if you are being sextorted. 

How Does Sextortion Happen?

Sextortion occurs in a variety of ways, but it generally takes one of three forms: social media sextortion, dating app scams, and email phishing. 

Through social media, predators may create fake profiles, posing as attractive strangers to connect with trusting individuals. They use charm and manipulation to build trust and eventually convince people to send compromising content. A trusted and known figure, such as a coach, may also leverage social media to further their grooming and sexual abuse.

Dating app sextortion scams involve the creation of fake dating profiles to establish connections with unsuspecting individuals. These predators take advantage of the vulnerability that often accompanies online dating and exploit people for explicit material.

Once they have the initial material, predators escalate their demands by threatening to expose the material they claim they have or harm the individual, their loved ones, or things the target cares about. The sextortion scammer may also move conversations to encrypted messaging platforms that help them evade detection.

The sextortion email is another tactic to be aware of. Phishing sextortion emails are sent en masse to hundreds or thousands of email addresses. Scammers gain access to survivors’ email addresses and passwords through data breaches and send bulk emails claiming they have sensitive content. Abusers use the threat of exposing this material to extort survivors into complying with their demands.

Financial Sextortion 

Financial sextortion is a specific form of sextortion that focuses on exploiting others for financial gain. In these sextortion cases, abusers often pose as teenage girls or young women and target teenage boys. 

They manipulate people into sending explicit images or videos and threaten to expose the material unless a monetary payment is made. 

The financial aspect of the sextortion scam adds an additional layer of harm. Survivors may suffer not only from the emotional and psychological trauma but also from the financial consequences. 

Signs of Sextortion

Knowing the signs of sextortion to protect yourself and your loved ones from falling for this heinous crime. 

Red flags to look out for include:

Approach Tactics

  • Using friendly tactics, such as compliments or gifts, to develop a false rapport: Sextortionists often employ manipulation techniques that help them gain trust. They may shower the individual with compliments or offer gifts to establish a sense of closeness and vulnerability.
  • Contacting a child through multiple online profiles or accounts: Predators may use different online profiles or accounts to approach targets, especially minors. If you notice someone reaching out to your child from multiple sources, it could be a warning sign.

Information Requests

  • Asking for personal information about the child, friends, and family: Sextortionists often gather personal information about a person and their loved ones. They may inquire about their school, friends, family members, or even their daily routines.
  • Asking for seemingly harmless information, such as a regular photo, or offering gaming credit or virtual money in exchange for a photo: Sextortionists often start with seemingly innocent requests for a regular photo or harmless information. They may even entice with offers of gaming credits or virtual money in exchange for a photo. This is a tactic they use to escalate their demands over time.
  • Asking for intimate information, such as naked photos, bank information, and passwords: As sextortion progresses, predators may escalate their demands and start asking for more intimate information, such as naked photos, bank information, and passwords. This is a clear indication of sextortion. Never share intimate photos, bank information, or passwords with anyone you do not trust completely.


  • Recording explicit video chats or messages: If someone your child is conversing with online suddenly starts recording your video chats or asks for explicit messages, this is a sign of sextortion. These predators use these recordings as a form of leverage for blackmail.

Direct Threats

  • Threatening to commit suicide or expose harmful information, if the child refuses to send pictures, comply with sexual demands, or otherwise allow themselves to be sexually abused: Sextortionists often resort to extreme tactics to manipulate others. They may threaten to harm themselves or expose harmful information if their demands are not met. 

How Long Does Sextortion Last?

Sextortion can last for varying periods of time, from days to weeks, months, and even years. It ultimately depends on the intentions and persistence of the criminals involved. As long as they possess the explicit content, they have leverage and can continue manipulating and extorting. 

My Child is Being Sextorted. What Should I Do?

If you discover that your child is being sextorted, take immediate action to protect them from further harm. 

The steps below can help address the situation and support your child:

  • Monitor your child’s online activities and privacy settings: Stay actively involved in your child’s online life and ensure their privacy settings are properly configured. This helps prevent further contact and manipulation by the sextortionist.
  • Block the sexual abuser online: If you are aware of the identity of the sextortionist, block them from all communication channels and social media platforms. 
  • Gather evidence (screenshots of chats, journal entries, bank transfers, or information about the child sex abuser and enabling organization such as a school or treatment facility): Document any evidence of the sextortion, including screenshots of conversations, emails, or any other form of communication. Also, encourage your child to write down any relevant information, such as dates, times, and details of the incidents. This evidence can be crucial in supporting any legal actions you may pursue.
  • Report sextortion to the website or app, and lock all social media accounts of your child: Contact the website or app where the sextortion is taking place and report the incident. They may have protocols in place that address these situations and may assist in investigating and stopping the offender. Additionally, secure your child’s social media accounts by changing passwords and enabling privacy settings. You may also wish to call the FBI’s sextortion helpline.
  • Contact a child sex abuse lawyer: Seek legal guidance from an experienced child sexual abuse attorney. They can help you understand your rights, guide you through the legal process, and provide support to your child. They can also help you pursue legal action against the sextortionist and any enabling organizations, such as a school or treatment facility, if applicable.

How to Report Sextortion

If you or someone you know is a survivor of sextortion, report it immediately by contacting your local law enforcement agency or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). They have specialized units that handle cybercrimes and can guide you on how to proceed. Additionally, you can report the incident to the website or app where the sextortion took place. 

Gather any evidence you have, such as screenshots or messages, that support your report. Reporting sextortion is essential for holding the perpetrators accountable and protecting others. For more information on how to report sextortion and seek help, you can visit the FBI’s website or the ICE Cyber Crimes Center’s website.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the nation’s largest child protection organization, is another valuable resource. They have a CyberTipline that allows the public and electronic service providers to report suspected child sexual exploitation, including sextortion and online enticement. 

After reviewing a tip, NCMEC compiles a report available to the appropriate law enforcement agencies. They also provide support services for families, such as crisis intervention and local counseling referrals. 

Additionally, NCMEC has programs like Team HOPE, which connects families with peers who experienced similar situations, and NetSmartz, which helps children make safer choices online and addresses sextortion in age-appropriate ways. 

Get Help: Contact an Experienced Child Sexual Abuse Attorney Today

Survivors of sextortion can seek help from an experienced child sexual abuse attorney who can provide guidance and support as you navigate the legal process and seek justice. 

Edwards Henderson is a nationally recognized firm with a team of skilled sex abuse attorneys who can protect your rights and hold the defendant accountable. Contact us today for a free legal consultation if your family needs help navigating this difficult situation. 

Article Sources

  1. What is Sextortion?
  2. Children and Grooming / Online Predators
  3. Sextortion
  4. Electronic Tip Form
  5. Cyber Crimes Center (C3)
  6. Reporting CyberTip
  7. Report Incident
  8. Team HOPE
  9. NetSmartz Home

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