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‘You’re not alone’: Australia’s sexual extortion problem with surprising victims

Young men are reporting high levels of sextortion

Young men are reporting high levels of sextortion Photo: Getty

Almost 16 per cent of Australian adults have had someone threaten to release their intimate images, with men more likely to have fallen victim than women.

An RMIT University study found Australia ranked alongside the United States, Mexico and South Korea for having the highest levels of sexual extortion (‘sextortion’) across 10 countries surveyed.

Sextortion is a form of sexual abuse that includes threats to share intimate photos or videos of a victim unless they comply with the perpetrator’s behavioural or financial demands.

Globally, about 14.5 per cent of adults reported being victims of sextortion, while 4.8 per cent admitted to being perpetrators.

The majority of perpetrators also reported having been victimised by sextortion.

Nicola Henry, the study’s co-author and professor at RMIT University’s Social Equity Research Centre, said the findings weren’t surprising, but were still concerning.

“[In Australia] we found that 18.8 per cent of men said they have been a victim of sextortion at some point since the age of 18, compared to 13.1 per cent of women,” she said.

“It is a surprise for many people because they assume that given gender-based violence disproportionately affects women and girls that … sextortion might be the same.”

Danger at home

Although Henry said more research needs to be done into why men seem to be disproportionately affected by sextortion, one reason could be that scammers choose to target men believing that they are more likely to share intimate images with a stranger.

She emphasised women also experienced high rates of sextortion, and the most common perpetrator for both male and female victims was a former or current partner.

Along with young people in general, LGBTQ+ people were also significantly more likely to report being victimised by sextortion, where intimate content held the additional threat of ‘outing’ them due to cultural stigma surrounding sexuality.

“When people think about sextortion, they’re often thinking about it in the ‘stranger’ context, so the scammer [and] the financial forms of extortion,” Henry said.

“But actually, as our study shows, the perpetrator is more likely to be known to the victim … what that says is we need to pay attention to this form of abuse in the context of intimate relationships.

“Abusive intimate partners threatening to share intimate images … in order to coerce or force or prevent something from happening. For instance … to prevent the victim from leaving the relationship.”

How to seek help

Many victim-survivors Henry previously interviewed didn’t know sextortion was a criminal offence or where to go for help, and experienced “judgment and blame” from other people.

She said victim-blaming was a widespread issue, and more education about the risk of sextortion and where to seek help was needed for people both young and old.

In Australia, the eSafety Commissioner website has information about sextortion, what to do if you’ve fallen victim, and who to contact.

The eSafety website recommends children under the age of 18 make reports of sextortion to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation, while adults should make reports to eSafety.

Henry recommended keeping as many screenshots or evidence of threats as possible, not paying any money being demanded of you, as well as cutting off all communication and blocking perpetrators if safe to do so.

If you have a copy of the image or video you are being threatened with, you can create a digital ‘hash’ of the content so organisations such as Take It Down (for under-18s) and Stop Non-consensual Intimate Image Abuse (for over-18s) can prevent it from being uploaded to platforms such as Facebook or TikTok.

The most important thing to do is seek help.

“I can’t stress the importance of getting help from a psychologist, a counsellor, a teacher, a friend, the eSafety Commissioner, the police, a victim support service,” Henry said.

“You’re not alone.

“This is happening to a lot of people, and getting help can really make a difference.”

If you or someone you know needs help, contact:

  • 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
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