A Massachusetts man is on trial. His crime? Stalking. But, it’s probably not what you think. The 48-year-old was chatting and sharing photos with a 16-year-old girl, and these chats and photos were “sexual in nature.” The pair met on social media, and when the girl asked to stop these exchanges, the man threatened to send the shared photos to her friends. This is a case of sextortion.
The Definition of Sextortion
Sextortion is a type of sexting that can have serious consequences. Sexting, of course, at a basic level, is the sharing of nude or sexually explicit photos and chat, usually from one cell phone to another or on social media. The practice is legal when done between consenting adults, but when those under 18 are involved, child pornography and sexual exploitation laws come into play.
Sextortion usually refers to the act of extorting someone by using digital photos that are sex-related. The party doing the extorting will usually demand something like property, money, sex, or another service from the victim. If the victim doesn’t meet the demands, the one doing the extorting threatens that they will share or distribute the sexually explicit photos.
What Can You Do If You are Being Sextorted?
If you believe that you are being sextorted, there are some things that you can do depending on the conditions. First, if you are under 18, you are protected by child pornography and child sexual exploitation laws will come into play. If you are over the age of 18, you might be protected by various laws including stalking, sexual harassment, extortion, or wiretapping.
For those who are under 18, the first thing to do is tell a parent or adult. However, keep in mind that some people are “mandated reporters,” such as teachers. This means that they are required by law to report any instance of sexual victimization of anyone under the age of 18. Keep in mind charges in some cases can be brought against anyone involved, even hypothetically, whether they are guilty of a crime, or not. I’ve seen cases where two 15 year olds consented to sending each other sexting pics and each of them were charged, and each were victims, even though they consented, but were under age. So, it’s better to work directly with a parent or other close adult.
Your Options for Sextortion Help
You have a number of options when seeking out help for sextortion:
- Contact a Crisis Hotline – There are crisis hotlines and chat services available that will allow you to remain anonymous during this process. Usually, these organizations will refer you to local people who can help.
- Contact a Victim Advocate – Many counties, police stations, and crisis centers have victim advocates and social workers available for these situations. These people can help you put together a plan and get a protection order against the person who is threatening you.
- Contact a Legal Aid Organization – Simply doing a Google search will help you to find a local legal aid organization. In this case, just search “legal assistance” or “legal aid.”
- Reach Out to a Lawyer – If you have a case and have gotten legal advice and evidence, you can contact a lawyer. They will help you to remove any photos that have been posted online.
- Contact the Police – File a report by contacting local law enforcement.
- Tell a School Counselor – You will get the wheels turning when telling a school counselor. Remember, they are required by law to report the incident.
Advice for the Parents of Victims
Many young people are reluctant to tell adults about sextortion and sexting for several reasons. They might believe they will make the situation worse or they might believe that they will be judged. Some might also believe that they will face criminal actions, too.
If your child does tell you about possible sextortion, make sure that they know you are there for them no matter what. With this type of loving and supportive communication, you will be able to deal with this situation as a team.
Ask your child to tell you their side of the story, and then take it from there. You might want to communicate with people you both have trust in. This way you can fill the gaps. You might also consider contacting any social media services where photos were shared, such as Facebook. They will usually help. It is also a good idea to contact a victim advocate, as they know what type of evidence to look for that can be used in court. Finally, make sure to report the person via social media, which will help to block the accused account.
Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.