CyberSafe: “Sextortion” is the fastest growing cyberthreat to children

Cyber Safe

The U.S. Department of Justice has called “sextortion” the most important and fastest-growing cyberthreat to children

Sextortion involves a teen voluntarily sending an explicit image of themselves to someone, Often a boyfriend or girlfriend or someone they are romantically interested in. The person receiving the image then threatens to share it if their demands are not met.

A recent survey at the University of Florida Atlantic and Wisconsin-Eau Claire of more than 5,000 teens found a surprising number of teens. It found one out of every 20 reported that someone has threatened to share intimate or embarrassing images of them that are sexual in nature if they did not provide things like additional images, sexual acts or money.

Five percent of 12-17-year-olds who responded to the nationwide survey reported being a victim of what is known as sextortion, and three percent of the teens admit to threatening to share explicit images of someone else, says Dr. Justin Patchin, a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire criminal justice professor and an expert on cyberbullying.

Sextortion is the threatened dissemination of explicit, intimate, or embarrassing images of a sexual nature without consent. It is usually for the purpose of getting more images, sexual acts, money or something else.

Five percent of survey respondents report being a victim of sextortion, and three percent of teens admit to threatening to share an explicit image of someone else.

Nearly half of the students who said they had been the victim also admit being an offender.
Males were more likely to be the victim of sextortion, and much more likely to be an offender.

outh who identified as non-heterosexual were more than twice as likely to be the victim of sextortion.

Most teen sextortion experiences occurred within the context of an existing friendship, romantic or otherwise. Few teens were targeted by someone they did not know well.

Teens are reluctant to tell adults when they are the victims of sextortion, though girls are significantly more likely than boys to tell a parent.

One of the authors of the study says some of the signs to look out for  in your teen who might be a victim include: 

  • lower self-esteem
  • academic difficulties
  • clashes in school due to having to face the peer who is extorting
  • Here are some things a parent should know to head off or help a teen facing sextortion:
  • always build an open line of communication that is light on judgment and blame
  • express to the teen the importance of exposing the perpetrator, in part because he/she may be one of many victims
  • understand the world of social media romantic connections
  • educate the teen about boundaries and problems related to sharing any suggestive photographs

More information can be found at They survey can be found at

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