The Reality of Technology: Sextortion



February 5th is Safer Internet Day.

“Safer Internet Day aims to create both a safer and a better internet, where everyone is empowered to use technology responsibly, respectfully, critically and creatively.”

At Dressember, we are using this day as a way to raise awareness about online exploitation. Tomorrow we are sharing a resource that will help protect you and your children.

Today’s technology is remarkable. The way that cell phones have evolved in the past fifteen years, the widespread ownership of technology and the knowledge, entertainment and tools that it offers us is stunning. At any time, and anywhere almost anything is accessible to us.

As astounding as this is, it can also be terrifying.

Languages are always evolving to be able to describe and reflect the change in societies. Languages reflect the societal shifts that are made as new ideas come into play, and old ones are reinvented. One newer concept and word that you might not be familiar with is: sextortion.

So, what exactly is sextortion? Let me describe it to you through a story.

It’s summertime and you are a 15-year-old girl at the beach with your friends. Texting away, you see a new friend request come up on your Facebook account. The guy in the picture looks about your age - a little older actually - and you accept. He starts up a conversation with you and you reply back. You feel pretty special because you learn he is a guy at a local high school and he seems really interested in you. After a few days you are both connected on all of the top social media accounts: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat,, Twitter and Reddit.

He says he will send it out to the whole high school if you don’t send him more and more incriminating pictures.

A few nights later, you are Snapchatting, and it’s pretty late. This high school guy keeps telling you how pretty you are, how much he likes your hair, your eyes. “You are so sexy and hot,” he says. He asks for a nice picture of you, and so you send him a picture of you in your homecoming dress. He asks for more, one of you from a day at the beach. You comply, but send him a photo in which you are wearing a one-piece. Pretty soon things start to spiral out of control, and you’ve sent him a not-so-discreet picture of you in your bra.

And pretty soon this high school boy is threatening to use that picture of you in your bra. He says he will send it out to the whole high school if you don’t send him more and more incriminating pictures. Maybe even some videos. You feel trapped. You send him what he wants because you are too embarrassed to tell anyone. This is not just harassment, but blackmail. It’s not just words you said or lies about you, it’s a picture of you. This is what it’s like to be in a living nightmare. This is sextortion.

Sextortion is another person using manipulation and power to enslave, expose, and exploit a fellow human being.

Sextortion happens every single day. It happens through the means of technology to young and unsuspecting children and young adults. And that high school guy from our story? Sometimes it might be a high school guy. But the predator can also be an older man posing as a high school student, so that he can easily prey on the young, innocent and undiscerning.

Sextortion is a crime; a misdemeanor or worse in many states. Not only is this type of manipulation and blackmail a crime in and of itself, but when a victim of sextortion is a young girl and/or a minor, some photos and videos can also be considered child pornography. Pornography aids in human trafficking. It encourages human-trafficking. Sextortion plays right into the scheme of human trafficking, and child-trafficking. It is another person using manipulation and power to enslave, expose and exploit a fellow human being.

I didn’t know about sextortion until recently. And it scares me. This is not what I want my younger sister to go through. This is not the life I want for my young cousins. This is not what I want the kids I babysit to live through. This is not how I want my future children or the young people in my sphere of influence to grow up.

How can our society help to stop sextortion? What can I do to stop sextortion? The website Thorn helps to explain what sextortion is and gives resources and suggestions for caregivers, educators, companies and policymakers. One of the biggest pieces of advice they give is to make sure that the young people in your life know that you care about them and their well-being; even if they are in the middle of a terrible and messy situation. Another vital suggestion is to know and teach younger people in your life the importance of online safety, and social media safety. Things like not friending people you don’t know in real life, or being careful to not post something that you wouldn’t be comfortable with a parent seeing can be guidelines to start with.

Sextortion is a reality that nobody should have to face, but people do face it everyday. The best way we can protect the future generation from sextortion is by equipping them with the resources, tools and support that they will need to fight against it.

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About the Author

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Amanda Kinney is a recent graduate of The Master’s University and calls Southern California home. She enjoys long walks, rain, photography, and all things peppermint. On a daily basis she can be found eating vegan food and talking with her peers about ethical issues. She is enthusiastic about joining the Dressember team and plans on being a lifelong advocate against slavery.