Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sextortion - When Predators Blackmail Our Teens and Preteens

Direct grooming of minors to send digital images or engage in cybersex: While in the early days of the Web sexual predators didn’t have options when they were targeting minors for sexual activities, they can now do almost as much virtually as they can in real life. Webcam cybersexual encounters, posed still images or videos of sexual activities can often satisfy the sexual predator without them having to risk being seen in real life. And the added security they perceive by hiding behind a cellphone, game device or video monitor means more adults are willing to risk predatorial behavior. They do not fear being caught.

In surveys conducted by WiredSafety’s Teenangels in Westchester, NY (an affluent and connected suburb of Manhattan), 71% of the teen girls polled said they used their webcams in the privacy of their bedrooms. Not surprisingly, 22% said that they regretted something they had done on their webcam. Young people are far more willing to take and share sexual and nude images with others than meet an Internet “friend” in real life. This makes them easier targets for sexual exploitation online. And, for at least the beginning of the “relationship”, sexual images and webcam communications may suffice.

“Sexting” (where one person takes a sexual or nude image to share with another, often via messaging) is becoming more and more common. While the statistics vary, WiredSafety estimates that between 10% and 18% of sexually active teens have taken and shared a nude or sexual image. A survey conducted by WiredSafety’s Teenangels in early 2010 showed that 6% of the preteens polled had taken and shared at least one sexually provocative, nude, partially nude or sexual image with someone else. (They tend to share it more broadly than their older counterparts, seeking the romantic attention of groups of high school teens (such as the football team).)

Often, the lack of a face-to-face real life meeting makes the teen or preteen more comfortable. They may pose in bras when not old enough to wear them, or think they are playing the next top model for a Victoria Secret ad.

A puzzling (but teenage) explanation to their willingness to engage in cybersexual conduct was received in one of WiredSafety’s surveys - “I won’t have sex with someone until I am married. Even though I engage in “cybersex”, but don’t go all the way!”

(WiredSafety’s founder and WiredTrust’s Managing Director, Parry Aftab often responds to this with “Does that mean she wasn’t using punctuation?”)

As with the traditional types of sexual predator ploys, authority, fear and threats may be used when grooming doesn’t suffice to coerce the minor into engaging in more and more revealing and sexually explicit conduct online. In 2000, a young girl from Nashville, Tennessee found herself threatened into engaging in webcam sexual activities following her having given They may start by suggesting that the victim wear “sexier” clothing, bathing suits, skimpy, underwear, lingerie or other less threatening clothing. Eventually the demands escalate in both frequency and in sexually exploitive ways. Once the minor starts down that slippery slope, they are often blackmailed into going further rather than risk exposure to their parents, the public, classmates or the police.

While appearing much less dangerous than offline sexual meetings, the images and videos they share can make them the target of many other sexual predators for years to come. This is especially true when minors engage in sexting that isn’t well-known but gets into the hands of a sexual predator. The media-adopted term for blackmailing minors (and adults) into engaging in actual or webcam sexual activities, or being forced to pose for sexual or nude images or videos is “sextortion.”[

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