In the modern world, it’s very easy to send photos and videos to anyone – including ones that are sexual in nature. While exploring this experience in a safe, trusting relationship can be positive for some couples, it can also open the door for a troubling form of blackmail called sextortion.
Sextortion, sometimes called webcam blackmail, is a scheme in which someone threatens to or actually does distribute compromising photos, videos, or webcam screenshots of their victim. Sometimes the victim is coerced or pressured into providing the photos by an online dating partner who gained their trust. The scammer then says they’ll post the images if the victim doesn’t pay money or meet their demands.
In other cases, the photos were sent willingly, but never meant to be shared. For instance, in cases of “revenge porn,” someone may threaten to distribute private, intimate photos of their ex without consent as revenge for breaking up with them.
What To Do If You’re A Victim Of Sextortion
The easiest way to avoid sextortion is to avoid compromising situations like sending risqué photos or performing sexual acts on a webcam. You should absolutely never send someone a photo or undress on video under duress or because the person is threatening you.
However, if you have done this and are concerned that the person you sent them to is misusing them, here’s what to do to minimize the reputational and financial damage:
- Stop talking to the person immediately. The moment someone threatens to distribute compromising images of you or demands money, stop communicating with that person. Do not comply with their request, and do not send any additional photos.
- Take screenshots of the threat and alert law enforcement. The UK National Crime Agency recommends taking a screenshot of the threatening messages (if possible). From there, you can call your local police department or a lawyer. According to Connect Safely, many states have specific laws for prosecuting cases of revenge porn, and may be able to help.
- Request that publicly shared images be taken down. If the person has already posted your image somewhere, you may be able to get it taken down. Contact the customer service department of the app or website and explain the situation. Many of them are more than happy to remove the photo or video.
- Contact a victim hotline. Learning that your privacy and trust have been violated can be emotionally devastating, especially when it has the potential to hurt your reputation. Victim hotlines and advocacy services like the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative or the National Organization for Victim Assistance offer support and advice for handling the situation, and moving forward.
Staying Safe While Online Dating
Online dating comes with many risks, and the possibility of blackmail is just one of them. Before you start exchanging personal contact information, sending photos, or having video chats with a new online love interest, run a background search to make sure they are who they say they are. If you see any of the classic signs of a catfish, like having a shady-looking online profile or insisting on meeting in person right away, shut it down.
Pay attention to your date’s behavior and conversations, too. If they start getting aggressive or pressuring you to do anything you’re uncomfortable with, you should cut off contact right away. Even if you’ve developed feelings for the person, it’s better to walk away with a broken heart than risk being blackmailed with compromising photos and videos.
If you do choose to send private photos of yourself to someone, be careful about who you trust, and know that the recipient might use it in ways you didn’t intend. If it’s the right person, they’ll respect you and your privacy, and keep your photos safe and secure.