After a nude photo, the victims of “sextortion” are trapped forever

Establishing a friendly connection is usually the first step. The perpetrator sends the victim a message via Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook. They sometimes add that they made connections by mistake, to make the events seem more real. Then it suddenly turns out – what a coincidence – that the perpetrator and the victim have the same interest. For example, the offender wrote: “Hey, I love dolphins too.” Or, “Cats too My favorite animals! Finally, says Arda Gerkens of the Online Experts Office on Child Abuse (EOKM), “someone is tempted to share nude photos of themselves.”

Nude photos – for girls and boys – are an instrument of unprecedented power. Those who want to do harm and get their hands on such material can force the victims to take far-reaching measures.

For example, there are young people who transfer hundreds to thousands of euros to prevent their photos from being distributed. Some deposit money over and over for months. Others are so stressed, Jerkins says, that they arm themselves with criminal activities. They make their bank accounts available – as a “money mule” – to transfer money or launder money. All to prevent their photos from being leaked. But more often than not, victims are forced to send more nude photos of themselves to the blackmailer.

One hundred underage girls

The latter form of “sextortion” is central to a wide-ranging criminal case, and the first pre-trial hearing was held on Thursday. Gianni DeW, a 24-year-old man from Etten-Lure in North Brabant, is suspected of extorting more than a hundred underage girls from all over the Netherlands.

De W. offered the girls money for their nude photos. Then he threatened to publish the material on the Internet if they did not send more pictures. According to the police, this is the largest sextortion case ever uncovered in the Netherlands.

No one knows exactly how many young people are victims of sexual extortion. The Central Bureau of Statistics reports sexual harassment online among people over sixteen years of age – but this includes, in addition to sexual extortion, for example ‘continuing to insist on sex or a date’ – one in ten people have suffered from This is in the past five years.

The vicious cycle: Victims share more photos to prevent misery

The Help Seeking Helpline (part of EOKM) received at least 2,400 reports of sextortion in 2021. It’s the most reported crime, according to Jerkins, and ranks above, for example, online grooming (where the goal is a face-to-face encounter). with the victim).

Recently, Jerkins says, boys have become the majority among reporters. They are usually blackmailed in a different way than girls. Boys are pressured into transferring money (“financial blackmail”), while girls are mostly interested in the pictures themselves (“sextortion”). how is that possible? Gerkens explains that this difference has something to do with the market. “On porn sites, for example, the demand for nude images of boys is lower than that of girls.”

Read also: If that sexual image from long ago still haunts you

Offenders apply pressure by tracing contact details of friends, family and classmates. In a study conducted by Helpwanted in 2021, young adults told how complicated this was: “I was given a picture where they expanded the profile of my mom and dad using the data. They even knew where my parents were from, where they lived, and when they were born.” Another boy describes how his nude photos briefly appeared on YouTube in order to “create panic”.

Since victims usually voluntarily share their nude photos in the first place, shame and guilt play an important role. Victims end up in a vicious cycle: in order to prevent misery, they share more photos and the mountain of incriminating material grows.

Sharing photos to flirt

What may play a role in De W.’s case is that sending nude photos is becoming more popular in general. Helpwanted reports that young people are increasingly sharing images with each other to flirt, for example, as a joke, or to show their sexual contacts with friends. It now appears, Jerkins says, that the threshold for sharing photos for money is also getting lower. “The fact that we’re increasingly getting reports of girls being paid out of the blue for nude photos gives the impression that there’s a passion for this,” says Jerkins. “There are girls who respond to that.”

Jerkins says Helpwanted has been “inundated” with reports of sextortion since last Thursday, when the media reported on the criminal case. “A condition like this pushes victims beyond a threshold.”

Roy Heerkens of Victim Support explains that it is becoming more and more known about the impact of sexual violence online. Last year, the agency assisted 10,000 victims of sexual violence, including extortion. The effect can be “similar” to physical sexual violence, Herkins says, “such as assault and rape.” It can also lead to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more frequent thoughts of suicide. “For example, victims of online sexual violence can literally feel dirty and shower a lot.”

What makes this form of sexual violence an added burden, Herkins says, is the threat of the material becoming public. “This leads to helplessness. It can really hurt someone. And even if the photos have already been shared, the uncertainty remains: Who saw them? Will they come elsewhere later?”

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