Sexual blackmail: the shocking crime that exploded in Teesside during confinement
Cases of blackmail over online sex photos have more than doubled in Teesside during the pandemic.
Exclusive figures show there have been 44 reports of sextortion – where a victim is pressured for money by someone threatening to share nude or sexual pictures or videos – recorded by Cleveland Police in 2020 / 21.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) has stated that this type of blackmail is often carried out by professional criminals.
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The victims, who are usually men, are often contacted through social networks and dating sites.
Often the approach is by someone who appears to be an attractive woman, who prompts them to perform sexual acts in front of a camera or send explicit images.
Women do not exist or may have been coerced into participating with the help of financial incentives or threats, with the real ones responsible for the approach using video or images to extort money from the victims.
The number of reports in Teesside increased by 120% from 20 in 2019/20, according to figures obtained following an access to information request.
Many reports to the Cleveland Police Department match the common pattern of sextortion cases – in one case in January, a man started video chatting with a woman who had added him to Facebook. She then threatened to share the explicit video.
Other victims were first approached on Instagram, as well as on dating sites. In a request for money, the offender stated that she needed it for her sick child.
In some reports, the victim had not contacted anyone but had received an email stating that his webcam or computer had been hacked.
Of the reports in 2020/21, most (34) involved victims over the age of 18, although there were three cases involving those under 16 and seven involving people aged 16 to 18.
Last year, no one was charged after a report of sextortion.
In 31 cases, the investigation was closed without a suspect having been identified, while 11 cases could not proceed due to evidentiary difficulties, including two where a suspect was identified but the victim no longer supported the action.
Across Britain, 3,984 cases of online sextortion or blackmail involving webcams or social media were reported to police in 2020/21, more than double the 1,773 reported in 2019/20.
The figures are based on FOI responses from 39 of 44 police forces across Britain.
The number of sextortion cases may be even higher – not only did not all forces provide numbers, but all cases may not be included.
While some forces have sextortion flags or use the phrase in reports, others have based their research on cases of blackmail involving webcams or video calls.
The Revenge Porn Helpline, which supports people who have shared intimate images or have been threatened to share them, said the cases they saw in 2020 were 161% higher than in 2019, and up to 2019. now cases in 2021 are already 50% above 2020 levels.
Calls are mostly from men – in 2020, victims identifying as male made up 74% of sextortion cases and in 2021 (so far) it’s 82%.
Although the helpline knows of cases affecting women, they tend to be of a different type – where the campaign has lasted longer and where the victim believes it is a true romantic relationship.
Sophie Mortimer, helpline manager for the Revenge Porn helpline, said, “Year over year we see an increase in online delinquency.
“Obviously we see this specifically around intimate images, but I think all forms of online crime are on the increase as more and more people are spending more and more time online.
“As a result of this, the pandemic, and in particular the first lockdown, suddenly caused many people to stay in their homes and all areas of their lives to move online. I have seen many articles in various media about online dating / socializing.
“Most of the sextors we see are criminal gangs overseas: they pretend to be women, but often turn out to be men or gangs using video clips to lure potential victims. In the interest of fairness to law enforcement, this makes it difficult for them to take action.
“I think there is not enough education or awareness on this subject, to educate young men especially to be careful of unsolicited openings of sexual activity online.”
Of the 2,796 crimes with reported results across Britain in 2020/21, only 14 resulted in charges in 2020/21 (with three warnings, a community resolution and diversionary activity).
More than two-thirds have been closed without any suspects being identified.
When a victim’s age was recorded, the numbers show a larger increase in crimes affecting adolescents – an increase of 248% for those under 16 and a 149% increase for those 16 to 18, compared to 117% for those over 18.
The National Crime Agency said, “Unfortunately, this is a serious and organized crime that attacks people’s emotions and vulnerabilities. While both men and women can be victims, our evidence suggests that men aged 19 to 35 are more frequently targeted.
“The majority of sextortion crimes can be attributed to organized criminal groups, mainly based abroad. For them, it’s an easy, low-risk way to make money, but for victims, the impact and repercussions can be long lasting.
‘Over the past year we have seen an increase in reports of members of the public to UK police forces, with suggestions that this is due to increased confidence in the police to handle allegations in a sensitive and confidential manner .
“We have also worked closely with the forces to ensure early identification of these cases, improve reporting procedures and implement new victim care protocols.”
The NCA said those affected by the sextortion should recognize that they are a victim and may need support.
While individuals can choose to pay for requests, the NCA says that may not prevent sharing of images and videos and may just lead to more requests.
Instead, he recommends not responding and contacting the police or organizations like Child Exploitation Online Protection or the Revenge Porn Helpline.
The Revenge Porn Helpline has partnered with Facebook to help UK victims who are threatened with sharing their intimate images or videos on Facebook, Facebook Messenger or Instagram.
When people have access to content that is threatened with being shared, they can ask Facebook for a unique digital “hash” for those images or videos. Then when someone tries to upload or send an image or video that has been “hashed” through Facebook or Instagram, that action is blocked and the person is prevented from sharing the content.