Updated 10 months ago

Sextorsion: an understudied crime

Brookings has released a paper that defines sextorsion as "a new cybercrime that occurs when offenders use personal information, often images stolen from a computer or obtained by hacking into webcam, to force victims to engage in some form of sexual activity."

Despite being a common activity there is no official data from state agencies available, nor academic literature. Brookings investigation found out nearly 80 such cases with a conservative estimate of more than 3000 victims and perpetrators are uniformly male.

71% of the cases involve victims under the age of 18. In fact teenagers and young adults are the softest cybersecurity targets because of the lack of strong passwords and verification. Also, they tend to "sext" one another, and as a McAfee 2014 report showed, people's online presence is difficult to manage and there is no such thing a a safe text.

People think cybersecurity is a government's problem or involves major corporations and identity robbery, but common people are the most targeted and vulnerable.

McAfee report also showed that 50% of adults have shared intimate content with someone else. From these 14% have filmed sexual content with their mobile devises. When examining teens, 11% of teenage girls between 13-16 had shared nude or seminude photos or videos and 15% have shared them to someone they only knew online.

But these two things shall not be confused, consensual sexting an other online flirtations, despite being insecure are nothing compared to the brutality related to sextorsion.

This is a form of sexual exploitation, coercion and violence, as described by Brookings. In multiple cases victims contemplate suicide and with children, the impact and consequences of being victimized can be severe and likely lasting.

According to Brock Nicholson, head of Homeland Security Investigations in Atlanta, Georgia, “predators used to stalk playgrounds. This is the new playground". The global connectivity allowed by the internet means even people from the other side of the globe can sexually menace another person.

Perpetrators frequently target multiple victims, nearly all adult victims are female, whereas boys and girls are both victimized. They are targeted mainly by social media manipulation in about 91% of the studied cases. More so 43% of cases involved computer hacking to obtain the extortive material.

The problem with this crime is that it hasn't received the media coverage necessary nor has it been typified as a crime itself. It is prosecuted under different statutes involving hacking, social media manipulation, cybersecurity and sexual coercion.

As a result, there are disparities in sentencing. Sextortionists who prey on minors receive lengthy sentences under child pornography laws, on the other hand, those who prey adults receive lighter sentences.

Awareness must be raised to prevent such crimes to happen and laws should be adopted to identify sextorsion as a specific criminal offence with reasonable sentencing range.  

LatinAmerican Post

María Andrea Marquez