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“Criminals may start with social networking platforms and then move to phone and video chat”, says Christian expert Ioana Humelnicu. “Being judged is the biggest fear of victims.”
“Sextortion is a new form of sexual exploitation through blackmail using sexual explicit content”, Ioana Humelnicu, Executive Assistant of Abolishion, an organisation that fights against human trafficking ans sexual slavery, explains in an interview with Evangelical Focus.
The main victims “are minors because they are easily manipulated, but this happens to adults as well”, the Romanian expert warns.
“Victims of sextortion suffer from a strong emotional and sexual abuse, depression, dropping out of school, low performance in school, can inflict self-harm and in extreme cases they can even commit suicide."
ENCOURAGEMENT AND EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
In order to help them “we must create a safe environment for them [...] they need encouragement and emotional support and they need to know that this does not define them”, Hulmenicu points out.
“You don’t have to live your life in fear, isolate, or stop living your life just because of this new danger online, instead you need to learn how to protect yourself and your family to surf the web in the safest conditions”, she explains.
Read the full interview Ioana Humelnicu gave to Evangelical Focus.
Question. What is sextortion and how is it carried out?
Answer. In a constant developing world, human trafficking is not limited by geography anymore, but spread out over the borders of national states though the powerful yet dangerous platform which is the online. In this perfect context, a new online threat is born: sextortion.
Sextortion is a new form of sexual exploitation through blackmail using sexual explicit content. The criminal threatens another person that he will publish sexual materials with the victim if he/she will not do what he says.
It doesn’t matter how the criminal got the material, if the material is used or distributed without the person’s consent we are talking about sextortion.
There are two ways in which a criminal can get photos: grooming and hacking. In grooming, the criminals usually create fake accounts on online platforms, using the vast world of social media networks and online gaming. Their identities are created depending on the context and the target. Then they contact the victim and start an online grooming process. They earn their trust step by step, building a virtual relationship with the victim and at some point, they will obtain sexually compromising materials with the victim. Then, the next step is sextortion.
The criminals will blackmail the victim, threatening them, saying that they will publish this online if they don’t pay a certain amount of money or if they refuse to send more sexual materials.
In hacking, the criminals acquired sexual images with the victims without their knowledge or consent. The criminal breaks the computer’s security network through different methods like installing a malware program on the victim’s computer. In many cases the criminal persuades the victims to install a program which turns out to be a 'trojan'. This 'trojan' will install a malware in the computer without the victim’s knowledge. After that the criminal will gain access to the personal files on that computer, like photos, video, contacts and important details about the victim.
More than this, the criminal can access the victim’s webcam and can record, take photos and film the victim without them ever being aware of this. The criminal will gather materials and will start blackmailing the victim.
Q. Who are the main victims of sextortion?
A. The main target category when it comes to sextortion are minors because they are easily manipulated. But this happens to adults as well.
Q. How and where does it take place?
A. Sextortion happens online, usually social through networking sites, chats and phone/tablet messaging apps. In many cases, the criminals use more than one platform to keep in contact with the victim. They may start with social networking platforms and then move to phone and video chat.
There are numerous mobile applications that facilitate targeting, online grooming and recruitment of the victims and after that their coercion to get involved in sexual activities.
The criminals might use different reasons, like audio problems, to persuade the victim to download and install certain apps that would solve the problem. Once installed, these apps contain viruses/malware which will steal the victim’s personal information, like contacts, photo, videos and data that will be used to blackmail the victim.
Once the object of blackmail is posted online, it can be accessed by millions of users from all over the world through the internet.
Q. What should we do if we are being extorted?
Firstly, talk about what happened - it’s important to understand that you are a victim in this case and that the criminals rely on your silence to continue their abuse.
Don’t comply with their demands - they will not stop, they will ask for more and more.
Interrupt any contact with the criminals - any more contact will expose you more to the criminal’s manipulations. Unfriend and block any account on social media that is related to the criminals and deactivate your account for a while.
Don’t delete any data - any material can be used as evidence to build up a case against the criminal.
If the video or other content is posted online, report it immediately to the online content host.
And do contact the local police.
Q. Sexting has become a common practice, are sexting and sextortion related in any way?
A. Yes, they are related and different in the same time. Sexting refers to sending erotic text messages, photos and movies. Sexting is an action that takes place with the consent of all parties involved in the communication while sextortion doesn’t have the consent.
In many cases, sexting is a mean used by the criminals to get their hands on compromising materials. People are being sextorted with a nude image of themselves they shared on the Internet through sexting.
Q. How does sextortion affect the victims?
A. Sextortion has serious negative effects on the victims and some of the consequences are tragic. Victims of sextortion suffer from a strong emotional and sexual abuse.
Besides these immediate effects, the victims can suffer depression, dropping out of school, low performance in school... They can inflict self-harm and in extreme cases they can even commit suicide.
Q. How can we help sextortion´s victims as individuals and in the local church?
A. I think is really important to make them feel safe. Their biggest fear is of being judged. We must create a safe environment for them, we must listen and make them feel loved and accepted no matter what.
They need encouragement and emotional support and they need to know that this does not define them, that there is still a better future ahead.
Q. Is there anything else you want to say?
A. You don’t have to live your life in fear. You don’t need to isolate and stop living your life just because there’s this new danger online.
Instead, we need to learn how to protect ourselves and our family in order to surf the web in the safest conditions. It’s just like driving a car, before your start your journey you fasten your seatbelt to make sure you protect yourself and your loved ones.