Men, Black and Native American women, and LGBTQ Individuals at high risk of falling victim to online extortion through the publishing of explicit photos
According to a first-of-its-kind study in Victims & Offenders, during the pandemic men were twice as likely to fall victim to online extortionists threatening to publish explicit photos, videos, and information about them.
What is “sextortion”?
“Sextortion” is a form of extortion wherein a blackmailer uses the threat of publishing private images or videos online unless the victim meets their demands.
The survey of more than 2000 US adults illustrated that young people, Black and Native American women, and LGBTQ individuals were also at higher risk of cyber-crime related to sex – after men.
The pandemic resulted in daily life moving online, remote working and socialising become the norm. According to researchers, this period saw a dramatic increase in in FBI reports of sextortion.
The blackmailer can be anyone – a current or former partner, an online dating scammer or even a stranger who has hacked into a person’s photos or webcam.
Since the start of the pandemic, non-profit organisations, government institutions, and legal professionals in the US have also reported a substantial increase in technology facilitated sexual violence.
Closely linked to revenge porn
Sexual violence through technology can come in several forms, one that has gained a lot of attention over the fast couple of years is revenge porn. Revenge porn is described as- revealing or sexually explicit images or videos of a person posted on the internet, typically by a former sexual partner, without the consent of the subject to cause them distress or embarrassment.
There are a number of organisations (such as “Not your Porn” a UK based organisation) dedicated to both raising awareness about revenge porn and holding the porn industry accountable for hosting such harmful content on its website – however there have been a lot less attention and coverage surrounding ‘sextortion’.
Men at higher risk that women
Funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant awarded to Florida International University (FIU) and Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), the study asked 2,006 people if they had ever been a victim of sextortion, defined as “the act of threatening to expose a nude or sexually explicit image in order to get a person to do something such as send more nude or sexually explicit images, pay someone money or perform sexual acts.”
4.5% of men and 2.3% cent of women said they’d experienced sextortion since the start of the pandemic. This surprised the researchers, who expected women to be at greatest risk.
This surprised the researchers, who expected women to be at greatest risk.
“There are several reasons why US men more often reported being victims of sextortion during the pandemic than women,” says researcher Dr. Asia Eaton, an Associate Professor of Psychology at FIU and Head of Research for CCRI.
“Recent research has highlighted gender disparities in unpaid care work and household-related work since the start of the pandemic; it is possible that men had more time to spend online than women during the pandemic.”
Men’s tendency to be “less selective” than women when dating may also open them up to sextortion, added Dr Eaton, who notes men are more likely to be victims of online romance scams in general.
A noted racial disparity in sextortion
The results also revealed race and sexuality-related differences in rates of sextortion, with Black women, Native American women, and LGBTQ individuals also at higher risk of sextortion. It is also important to understand that these three groups are at a higher risk in general for other types of sexual violence and coercion.
Black and Native American women were around seven times more likely to be victims of sextortion than White women and rates in LGBTQ respondents were up to three times as high as in heterosexual individuals. The study also found that people who had experienced sexual violence from a partner before the pandemic were more likely to experience sextortion during the pandemic.
The study’s authors say that more work is needed to determine why the risk of sextortion varies with race, age, gender, and sexual orientation, as well as its impact on people’s wellbeing.
The researchers conclude that questions about technology-facilitated sexual violence should be added to tests used by clinical professionals to assist in identifying patients who are in abusive relationships before referring them for counselling and other helpful services.
Associate Professor Dr Eaton, throughout the research, said they pushed for “sex education programmes that teach about consent, pleasure, and healthy relationship communication and decision-making may reduce both in-person and technology-facilitated sexual violence.”
A more comprehensive syllabus in Sex Education could help prevent sexual violence in the future.
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