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The frightening rise of ‘sextortion’

U.K. police say cases involving this new form of blackmail have doubled.


David Gilmour


Posted on Nov 30, 2016   Updated on May 25, 2021, 11:49 am CDT

At least four young men have died from self-inflicted injury in the U.K this year, as incidents of the webcam blackmail phenomenon known as ‘sextortion’ have more than doubled, according to the country’s National Crime Agency.

Police reported 864 cases this year, more than double the recorded 2015 figure of 385, but police say that these incidents only constitute a fraction of those that are actually occurring.

‘Sextortion’ is a form of blackmail in which a criminal, hiding behind a fake identity, befriends victims online before persuading them to perform sexual acts in front of their webcam. These images are then recorded and kept by the criminal who then uses them to threaten the victim and demand payments.

Statistics published Wednesday by the NCA show that around 95 percent of victims are male, and that criminal gangs predominantly target young men in their teens or twenties—sometimes through online dating apps.

One 17 year old schoolboy from Northern Ireland, Ronan Hughes, tragically took his own life in June 2015 after being tricked into sharing explicit pictures of himself.

“There is huge under-reporting of these kinds of offenses, often because victims feel ashamed or embarrassed, but of course criminals are relying on that reaction in order to succeed,” commented Roy Sinclair of the NCA.

Sinclair is part of the organization’s Anti-Kidnap and Extortion Unit which has discovered that many of these sextortion gangs are based in eastern European, African, and Southeast Asian countries. The BBC reports authorities made over 40 arrests related to sextortion in the Philippines last year. One 31-year-old man was arrested in Bucharest, Romania, in relation to Ronan Hughes’ case and for distributing sexualized images of children.

It’s hoped that this new campaign by police to raise awareness will help victims know the best way to deal with organized gangs attempting to extort or blackmail them as well as reassuring those entrapped that they are not alone and should not feel embarrassed about seeking help. 

For more information about suicide prevention or to speak with someone confidentially, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) or Samaritans (U.K.). 

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*First Published: Nov 30, 2016, 2:17 pm CST