Wondering what to do if you’re a victim of a sextortion scam — whether it be one run by bots and malware or a predator who targeted you specifically? Or are you a parent wondering how to protect your child who’s being blackmailed? When it comes to sextortion, there are specific steps you should take to ensure your or your child’s safety.
Before Bringing in the Authorities
Due to naivete or a fear of being caught, young people are often the main victims of sextortion scams. If you’re a parent of a teen who has been in contact with a sextortionist, you should have an in-depth conversation to fully understand what information they have already given their attacker.
“After this conversation, parents need to start preserving evidence,” Ashleigh Diserio, Behavioral Consultant and Founder of Ashleigh Diserio Consulting tells Parentology. She adds that “evidence” can mean anything from text messages to screenshots of where photos may already be appearing online. “There might be some evidence parents want to delete due to the nature of the content, but don’t delete anything,” she says. “All the evidence needs to be provided to law enforcement.”
If a loved one is a victim of sextortion, Diserio Recommends:
- Try to keep your face neutral. Even the slightest hint of shock, awe, or disgust that is seen on an adult’s face can stop the child from revealing details or feeling supported.
- Remain nonjudgmental when speaking with your child during this process. Children who have a supportive adult they can turn to fare better than children who feel humiliated or shamed.
- Reinforce that your child will get through this.
- Ask your child if they feel safe. If the answer is no, find out what you can do to make your child feel safe. The safer they feel during this process, the better they will fare.
If Your Teen Has Sent Photos
If your teen has sent either money or photos a sextortionist requested, you should call the authorities. These scams run rampant and are often unreported out of fear or embarrassment. Legal authorities can help you find justice, help prevent others from falling victim to the same crimes, and assist victims in finding the emotional and psychological resources they may need to recover.
However, don’t call 911. Instead, Diserio says you should call your local police department’s non-emergency line to make your initial report.
What You Can Expect
Make sure to have all the evidence collected for police to review during the initial interview, which Diserio says can take place either at your home or at the police station, depending on local protocols. If they decide to pursue your case, your child may be expected to testify in court. This will depend on things like the type of evidence collected, and the process of each district or federal court.
“Certain jurisdictions might video record the child’s statement and play the recording in court to spare the child from having to be present during the court proceedings,” she explains.
Whether or not your child’s case will be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or felony will also vary by local statutes and jurisdictions. “If there is evidence of sexual exploitation of children, those cases could potentially be prosecuted at the federal level,” she says. “Sentencing is typical light in cases prosecuted at the state level, so it is better if cases can be prosecuted at the federal level.”
If your local law enforcement does not seem to want to pursue your child’s case — something that happens more often when the predator is a peer instead of an adult — Diserio says to reach out to different jurisdictions to see if another law enforcement team may be willing to take up your investigation.
If you or a loved one is a victim of sextortion, Diserio Suggests:
- Asking law enforcement professionals if they plan to send preservation letters, or to obtain subpoenas and warrants, in order to preserve forensic evidence.
- Offering them your child’s electronic devices for a forensic examination.
- Providing a full picture of what occurred and asking what crimes it might fit under. This helps law enforcement tie various crimes together, like: unlawful distribution of private or sexual images to others or online, violation of privacy, video voyeurism, disorderly conduct, cyberstalking, impersonation, hacking, and harassment.
- Being patient. These cases can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.
Do Not Share Evidence
It is essential that you never forward any of the explicit photos of your child to your phone, or another adult’s phone.
“Once the images are on an adult’s phone, it is considered child porn, and that adult can be prosecuted,” Diserio explains, adding that she has seen cases where parents have sent photos used in sextortion cases to educators or other adults to let them know what was occurring. “Once that photo is in someone else’s hands, it is considered child porn, and the person who sent it can also be convicted of distributing child porn.”
What Comes Next
The traumatic effects of sextortion on children can be severe.
“Children can be paralyzed by the potential social repercussions of sextortion,” she says. “They may get teased or bullied at school, lose friends, or quit extracurricular activities.” Diserio recommends addressing these issues and concerns with your child’s school as well as making sure that your child has access to mental health assistance.
“Oftentimes, these situations can have devastating emotional effects on victims. Leaving issues unresolved can lead to mental turmoil or PTSD.”
What to Do if You’re a Victim of Sextortion – Sources
Ashleigh Diserio, Behavioral Consultant and Founder of Ashleigh Diserio Consulting