Understanding Sextortion: How Parents and Caregivers Can Help Protect Youth

Youth spend much of their free time on phones, online and gaming devices. While most of their interactions with others are harmless, we know many youths get exploited each year. In December of 2022, the FBI released a statement indicating that sextortion cases are on the rise, with over 3,000 child victims last year across the United States. (Sextortion Crimes on the Increase: Talk to Your Kids Now)

What is Sextortion?

Sextortion is when an adult convinces a person who is younger than 18 years of age to share sexual pictures or perform sexual acts on a webcam.

According to the FBI, these predators use manipulation to get kids to share pictures and videos by offering things of value in exchange for taking pictures, such as online gaming credits, money, gift cards or modeling contracts. Sextortion does not happen to just girls. In the same report, the FBI warned there has been a sharp increase in the number of boys falling victim to these predators.

Other manipulative techniques involve flattery or tricking a youth into thinking it’s a romantic relationship. Predators also threaten to release photos to a youth’s family, friends or school. If they are able to get just one photo, they come back and threaten for more.  Educating youth on sextortion can help reduce the stigma of these situations and the shame they may feel if a photo gets in the hands of the wrong person. We want youth to come forward if they are in this situation so they can get help and not feel hopeless. We don’t want anyone to feel their only option is to send more pictures or videos.

The FBI has a great resource for youth that explains how predators are able do this and why youth agree to send pictures. Below is just one example from the article: Stop Sextortion — FBI

Why do young people agree to do this?

The people who commit this crime have studied how to reach and target children and teens.

One person the FBI put in prison for this crime was a man in his 40s who worked as a youth minister so he could learn how teens talked to each other. Then, he created social media profiles where he pretended to be a teenage girl. This “girl” would start talking to boys online and encourage them to make videos.

Another person offered money and new smartphones to his victims.

In one case, the criminal threatened a girl—saying he would hurt her and bomb her school—if she didn’t send pictures.

Other cases start with the offer of currency or credits in a video game in exchange for a quick picture.”

What Can Parents and Caregivers Do?

  • Talk to youth about these issues. Don’t be afraid to bring up these conversations. Youth need to be aware of the dangers of sending or sharing photos online.
  • Make sure youth understand the dangers of talking to/communicating with/ messaging strangers online. We never really know who someone is when we meet them online, even if they send pictures of themselves. It is really easy to pretend to be someone else.
  • Remind youth that any sort of public profile online is opening up the door to predators who will try to manipulate or trick them.  There are always predators scanning social media looking for ways to make connections with youth.

Below are some other tips from Homeland Security on how to stay safe online:

  • Don’t accept a friend request from anyone online you don’t know in real life.
  • Don’t give any personal contact info (email or handles) to anyone you haven’t met IRL.
  • If someone you don’t know asks for personally identifying information, say no.
  • Never share your passwords with anyone.
  • Don’t use easy to guess passwords, such as pets’ names, birth dates or anything that someone can guess by reviewing your social media profiles.
  • Don’t click on links in e-mails that come from people you don’t know; doing so could compromise your device.
  • Teach your teens to report threats. Though they may be stressed or embarrassed, talk to them about online safety and encourage them to come forward when they receive a suspicious email.
  • Be wary of the recording devices you bring into your home. Some low-security devices (such as baby monitors and nanny-cams) are easy to exploit.
  • Assume your webcam or recording devices can be activated remotely. Never have your phone or other electronic camera devices pointed at you while undressing or in a position you would not want to share with the world.
  • Cover your webcam when you’re not using it; if your webcam doesn’t have a built-in cover, use a sticker or piece of tape to cover it.


Sextortion Crimes on the Increase: Talk to Your Kids Now | USAO-WDPA | Department of Justice

Sextortion: It’s more common than you think | ICE

Sextortion Research and Insights | Thorn