The Tragic Truth of Sextortion

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National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Hotline: 1-800-843-5678
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           Text HELP or INFO to 233733
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call or Text 988

While viewing my Instagram stories (follow me @youngpatriotrising), I came across an article from Fight The New Drug's story. The article is fairly recent (published on September 6th). In this article, the author shared the heartbreaking story of Amanda Todd, a victim of sextortion. What she went through was horrible, and in the end, after she was relentlessly bullied and humiliated, she committed suicide. Sextortion is a serious issue, and it's really impacting our children. 

Let's start out with a definition of sextortion. It's literally how it sounds! Sex + extortion. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, sextortion is defined as "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." Basically, an adult manipulates a minor into sending them a nude or sexually explicit photo (i.e. performing a sexual act), because that child or teenager trusts that adult. 

What are the statistics surrounding sextortion? Here are a few, provided by Fight The New Drug:
  • 1 in 4 victims of sextortion were under the age of 13 (found in a study conducted by THORN and Crimes Against Children Research Center at UNH).
  • The same study found that over 50% of sextortion cases took place on social media.
  • During the pandemic, men were more likely to be victims of sextortion than women.
  • The porn industry fosters, fuels, and perpetuates sextortion.
  • Sextortion scams became popular during COVID. Evil, manipulative individuals tricked others into believing that they had explicit photos/videos of them and would use it against them.
The fact that children are the main victims of sextortion is a scary reality. It's not so easy to claim, "Children should know the meaning of 'stranger danger.'" We live in a technological era, where we see what other people have and envy them. Society has given our youth a warped viewpoint of what happiness and success means. This is why they will accept messages from strangers. To make matters worse, children or teenagers are afraid to tell their family of their sextortion. In the same study conducted by UNH and THORN, "79% of participants said fear of getting in trouble stopped them from telling a family member or friend."

I also want to share the connection sextortion has to human trafficking. Traffickers will claim to have explicit pictures/videos of their victim (which could be the truth or a lie), threatening to share these pictures or videos with a victim's friends and family and/or post online. After being extorted, that person is in debt to the trafficker, and may be forced to sell their body to "repay their debt" to avoid the shame. In the story of Theresa Flores, author of The Slave Across The Street, her trafficking experience started after her rapist's cousins took pictures of her being raped (the images appeared as if she was simply having sex). Because her parents were strict Catholics, Theresa was terrified of them learning the truth, so she did whatever the cousins wanted. She was sold, raped, and severely beaten every night for two years before escaping this world. Just another horrifying example of how dangerous sextortion can be.

This is extremely damaging to someone's mental health. The duress this places you under is immense. In many cases, this leads an individual to do something dangerous or even deadly. Such was the case with Amanda Todd and Tevan Tobler. Both of these healthy and happy teenagers were victims of sextortion, and took their life as a result of what they went through. It's extremely saddening to read, but even more upsetting that this crime is so prevalent. 

What can be done? Because this is happening in our time. If we don't protect our children, someone will exploit them. I hate to sound so doom-and-gloom, but that is our current reality. If you should find yourself or someone you know (child or adult), keep this list saved
  1. Know the red flags. This is probably one of the best ways to prevent extortion. Knowledge really is power. Some of the signs of a potential extorter for sex include the following: flattery, sending gifts, offer for modeling gig, asking for personal information, isolation, secretive conversations, requests for sexual photos, threats. How many times have you been messaged by a random account asking for you to be their sugar baby? Prime example!
  2. Stay calm. Do not blame yourself, your child, or anyone except the abuser. The only person to blame is the extorter. He or she knew what they were doing to you. Don't shift blame. Do not get angry. Be understanding of the situation, because it's very delicate. If this is your child, and the photos are being shared at the school (which could lead to bullying), your child's mental state is in shambles. Getting angry could hurt them more.
  3. Record everything for evidence. Take screenshots, document messages and timestamps, save their username. Anything that can count as evidence to get this person will be useful.
  4. Get counseling. Don't say "I'm fine." Don't believe your child or your friend if they claim to be okay. It won't hurt talking to a psychiatrist or counselor over what happened.
We live in scary times, but that doesn't mean we have to sit back and wait for it to happen. Parents, I cannot emphasize enough to talk to your children and teens. This could happen to any of us. Like I say about human trafficking, awareness and education is key to fighting this issue!

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