A new study by The Brookings Institution looks at phenomenon of “sextortion” in which compromising material — text and photos — are obtained by online predators and used as leverage to obtain even more photos. The practice — called sextortion or “remote sexual assault” — is as common as it is criminal. After taking control of a victim’s computer or device though security breaches, sextortionists demand sexual videos and photos with the threat of releasing photos they already have in their possession. Victims are informed that going to the authorities will result in exposure of these photos, often obtained in the first place by hackers (having gained control of a computer, its webcam or an avatar) posing as boyfriends online.
Brookings, the highly regarded Washington think tank, says in investigating the sextortion phenomenon, it “searched dockets and news stories for criminal cases in which one person used a computer network to extort another into producing pornography” and turned up more than 3,000 victims resulting from 80 cases. That’s nearly 40 victims per online sextortion predator. It’s an unofficial sampling, but the figure nevertheless shows that sextortion is not just a one-on-one crime practiced mainly by angry exes. 71% of sextortion victims are under 18, according to Brookings.