What is “Sextortion?”

Sextortion is exploitation that can take a number of forms.  It is referred to as the non-physical coercion of a person for sexual favors.  The first use of the term “sextortion” seems to date back to the 1950’s.  Incidents of sextortion have been prosecuted under various criminal statutes, including as extortion, bribery, breach of trust, corruption, coercion, sexual exploitation, sexual assault, child pornography, computer hacking, and wiretapping, among others.

Sextortion can be the abuse of power to gain sexual favors, as in instances where someone in a position of authority (a police officer, an official, even a judge or someone similar) promises something to someone in exchange for sex, such as letting someone out of a ticket in exchange for sex.

So Why is there such a focus on it now?

But lately, there are new forms of sextortion cropping up.  The internet has afforded aggressors a previously unimaginable menu of ways to sextort those who are vulnerable.  The aggressor will gain personal information, or perhaps a nude photograph and will then threaten to send that photograph or disseminate that personal information unless the victim grants sexual favors, or often demands nude photographs or explicit videos.

Christopher Patrick Gunn, of Montgomery, Alabama, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for inducing child pornography in a massive sextortion scheme.  He primarily used two approaches: the Justin Beiber ruse, in which he pretended to be Justin Beiber on several interactive video chat services. When He offered them free concert tickets or backstage passes in exchange for topless photos or webcam videos.  At other times, he used the new kid in town scheme.  In each, he befriended underage girls.  He spent time building their trust.  “…[H]e got to know everything about them—their friends’ names, their schools, their parents’ names—it was like a script,” said Erik Doell, a special agent in the FBI’s Montgomery, Alabama office who investigated the Gunn case. ‘Once he got a picture, the girls would just go along with it. They would do whatever they could to keep their reputations intact.'”  One 13 year old victim pleaded with Mr. Gunn, stating that she didn’t want to take her shirt off in front of a webcam.  She begged him not to ruin her reputation.   (http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/worried-about-sextortion-fbi-shares-cautionary-tale-1B8287395)

In June 2013, Richard Finkbiner of Indiana was sentenced to 40 years in prison after he admitted that he tricked the young people into stripping or performing sexual acts while on a webcam.  Mr. Finkbiner met many of his victims on a video chat website that offers users random, anonymous one-on-one chats with strangers.  The site stated that children under the age of 13 were not permitted to use the service, or children under the age of 18 without the consent of their parents.  But are these warnings really a flashing advertisement for teenagers to come inside?  Mr. Finkbiner recorded his sessions on this website and then threatened to post the videos online unless the teens made more explicit videos for his personal use. Mr. Finkbiner is suspected of victimizing hundreds of minors across the country, some as young as 12 years old.  At the time of his sentencing, “scores” of his victims remained unidentified.  Investigation uncovered email and chat logs showing at least 153 victims, including 20 identified by investigators. Investigators who analyzed electronic media seized from him revealed more than 22,000 video files captured from webcam feeds, about half of which depict sexual conduct, according to court documents. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/richard-finkbiner-indiana-sentenced-sextortionist_n_3504094.html)

In a current case, a girl from Clatskanie, Oregon is suing a number of her classmates for sextortion followed by more than two years of physical and emotional bullying, sexual battery, and sexual assault.  Time and time again, those in a position to act were made aware of the practice going on and failed to act.  http://www.kptv.com/story/22719470/lawsuit-alleges-sextortion-sexual-assault-over-girls-photo

If this weren’t scary enough for parents, we are recently finding more incidents of students sextorting fellow students and fellow members of their own peer group.  We have been educating parents and teenagers about the dangers that lurk in internet services, making friends with random strangers, with the anonymity of chat rooms, and even dangers of predators lurking in role playing games.  What we have not been warning parents and children, what we have maybe been too afraid to think about, is the real possibility that a predator may be sitting on the school bus next to her (or him).

 

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