Safeguarding Children and the Rise of Sextortion

safeguarding children

Financially motivated sexual extortion (often referred to in the media as ‘sextortion’)  is a form of blackmail that can force any individual into paying money to an offender who is threatening to share nude or semi-nude images of them. This can also include forcing them to provide further intimate content or agreeing to do something against their will. Typically perpetrated by organised crime groups operating outside of the UK, sextortion can target any individual regardless of their age or gender.  

Experts say there has been a sharp rise in children falling victim to sextortion carried out by gangs based in West Africa, mainly Nigeria.

In the UK, two British teenagers are known to have taken their own lives since October 2022 after becoming victims of sextortion.

How does sextortion happen? 

Sextortion incidents can happen through a variety of different ways which can often start by perpetrators pretending to be other children or by hacking accounts and pretending to be children known by the individual. It can often involve perpetrators: 

  • Targeting young people through social online sites. 
  • Moving conversations towards an end-to-end encrypted platform.  
  • Starting sexual conversations or sharing an initial nude image.  
  • Requesting and pressuring the child for images or videos. 
  • Blackmailing them for money or further intimate content with the threat of sharing images with family members or friends. 
  • Claiming they have hacked their accounts and have access to information, images and videos.  

Best practices for professionals working with young people

Avoid Blame

If a child has approached you with a sextortion concern, always remember that they have done nothing wrong. Avoid victim blaming language and reassure them that you are there to support them and not there to judge or make them feel worse about the situation. 

Escalate

If a sextortion incident has been disclosed, understand that this is a form of child sexual abuse and needs to be escalated towards your designated safeguarding lead who will then need to refer it to the police and/or the local authority children’s services.   

Work Together

Parents and carers will need to be informed about the situation, but this can be stressful for the child, escalating anxiety or concern around how they might react. Discuss all the options available and reassure them that everything you are doing is there to support and protect them whilst confirming that they have done nothing wrong. 

Take Action

If an incident has happened, there are online tools such as ‘Report Remove’ or ‘Take It Down.’ Both services allow you to report the images and videos directly, and Report Remove also allows you to report a URL (web address) when imagery has been uploaded to a website.

A digital fingerprint – known as a hash – will be created of the images and videos.

These hashes are then distributed across participating platforms to prevent the images and videos from being shared. In addition, if you know that the images have been shared across specific platforms, these should also be reported through in-app reporting tools.

All Report Remove reports go directly to the Internet Watch Foundation, which is the UK body responsible for assessing and removing this type of imagery. 

IWF  (Internet Watch Foundation)

Has a wealth of resources for children, parents/careers and adults who are concerns about a child Sextortion advice and guidance for adults (iwf.org.uk)

Report and Remove

IWF and NSPCC’s Report Removal Tool empowers children in the UK to have sexual images of themselves removed from the internet and provides support and counselling if required http://www.childline.org.uk/info-advice/bullying-abuse-safety/online-mobile-safety/report-remove/ 

Take it Down 

Young people under the age of 18 can hash their images through their own devise and prevent them from being  shared across participating platforms whiles keeping their privacy intact https://takeitdown.org/ 

NSPCC Helpline 

Contact the NSPCC for specialist help, support and advise https://www.nspcc.org.uk/keeping-children-safe/reporting-abuse/nspcc-helpline/ 

National Crime Agency Issues Financially Motivated Sexual Extortion Alert to UK Schools

April 20024 the National Crime Agency issued an alert to educational establishments across the UK about the rise in financially motivated sexual extortion cases.

What Does the Alert Include?

The alert gives advice about spotting the signs of financially motivated sexual extortion, whilst outlining specific advice around how professionals and parents can support young people. It also includes messaging for parents and carers on how to talk to their child about the issue, and best practices for responding to incidents and concerns.

The guidance outlines the importance of reporting as well as practices such as blocking the contact, stopping communication and not paying any money that is being demanded. Many  online reporting tools have also been highlighted as ways to get support such as Take It Down and Report Remove.

Susie Hargreaves OBE, Chief Executive of the IWF (Internet Watch Foundation), said:

“Sextortion has become a major threat online in the last few years. This alert to schools is an absolutely crucial intervention in stemming this epidemic which has already ruined so many young lives. These criminals are cold-blooded, and do not even care when the shame and fear they inflict drives some children to take their own lives.

“We want children to know, however, they are not alone, no matter how lonely if feels, that there is a remedy, and a way to take control and fight back. The Report Remove tool we run with Childline is revolutionary and allows you to stop sexual imagery being shared or from going viral online. Please, if you are being targeted this way, reach out. It is not a hopeless situation, and we are here to help you.”

Snapchat told the BBC: “We’ve been ramping up our efforts to combat it including a reporting option specifically for threats to leak sexual content, and in-app education for teens.”

In a statement Meta, which owns Instagram, said it offered “a dedicated reporting option so people can report anyone threatening to share private images”.

“We default teens under 18 in the UK into private Instagram accounts at sign-up, which hides their follower and following lists, and into stricter default messaging settings,” it added.

TikTok said the platform was designed “to be inhospitable for those intent on causing harm to teens and we do not tolerate any content or behaviour promoting sextortion”.