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Sextortion on the rise as thousands of kids targeted for image-based blackmail

Thousands of Australian children are being targeted with “sextortion” attempts each year in a dramatic increase in the number of minors subject to image-based blackmail.

Nov 09, 2023, updated Nov 09, 2023
A person points on a tablet computer in Karlsruhe, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. The German government on Wednesday agreed on a strategy to boost the use of data for commercial purposes and signed a deal with state education authorities to fund laptops for teachers who have to work from home because of the virus lockdown. (Uli Deck/dpa via AP)

A person points on a tablet computer in Karlsruhe, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. The German government on Wednesday agreed on a strategy to boost the use of data for commercial purposes and signed a deal with state education authorities to fund laptops for teachers who have to work from home because of the virus lockdown. (Uli Deck/dpa via AP)

The Australian Federal Police says the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE), which it leads, has been receiving around 300 reports of sextortion targeting children every month.

The blackmail practice involves coercing an individual into sharing naked photos and videos online followed by threats to share the material publicly – or with the victim’s family and friends – unless payment is made.

To combat the trend, the centre is pairing with Kids Helpline, Facebook owner Meta and US youth sexual support organisation NoFiltr to create a web of support.

The partnership will include the release of information targeting 13- to 17-year-olds with support and advice such as where to seek help if targeted.

The AFP has previously said boys aged 15 to 17 were the most common targets of sextortion attempts and they were often asked to transfer funds to criminals offshore.

Late last year, the police agency said reports had swelled from one or two a month to dozens.

AFP acting commander for human exploitation Frank Rayner said young people needed to know what to look out for when it came to sextortion attempts.

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“There are some tell-tale signs of sextortion, including incoming friend requests from strangers or people pretending to be friends with your friends, sudden sexualised questions, conversations, or photos from a random profile asking for some in return,” he said.

“Sextortion can escalate in a matter of minutes, but remember it is not your fault and when you speak up we will believe and support you.”

Kids Helpline’s Tracey Adams said if parents found out their children were victims of sextortion it was important they stayed calm and sought help.

Prior cases show young people targeted by sextortion are at an increased risk of self-harm, highlighting the need for victims to be supported.

The AFP said people targeted by sextortion should immediately stop sending content, take screenshots to capture evidence and report any incidents to the ACCCE.

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