Traditionally, we think of child sexual abuse as an abuser coercing an underage individual into having an inappropriate relationship with them, either because the predator has an attraction to children or because they use the sexual relationship with the child as a means of control and power. However, in recent years, a new form of sexual abuse has appeared in online spaces, where many perpetrators have alternative motives.
It’s called sextortion and countless kids and young teens are dealing with it across the United States –and for some, it’s had devastating consequences for them and their families.
What is sextortion?
Sextortion occurs when perpetrators disguise themselves as someone they’re not and chat with kids or adolescents online. Typically, the perpetrator convinces the child or adolescent to send them sexually explicit messages, pictures or videos. Then, the perpetrator threatens to publish the sexually explicit content unless the child gives them something in return, like money, gift cards or other items. In other cases, perpetrators may threaten physical violence if kids try to tell authorities or refuse to send more images or videos.
It can cause significant harm to kids, teens and families
While sextortion can happen to anyone, many states are seeing a trend among young teens. The FBI says they’ve seen a significant uptick in sextortion cases involving adolescents. Many who were tricked into engaging with abusers have felt extreme shame, fear and embarrassment over what happened, so much so that some didn’t want to tell their parents. Many thought they couldn’t escape their situation because the perpetrator published their photos or became worried because abusers kept demanding ransom payments beyond what they could afford. Sadly, some of these teens felt so hopeless about their situation that it led them to take their own lives.
If you, your child, or someone you love is at risk of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Line by dialing 988.
Survivors shouldn’t have to live with consequences long-term
Kids can be impressionable and vulnerable at any age. And not every mistake deserves a lifetime of consequences – especially when abusers mislead smart and otherwise responsible children. Educating kids about sextortion can help them recognize and avoid it. However, if it still happens, parents can take legal action against a sextortion perpetrator and seek justice for the harm they’ve caused.