One in seven adults threatened with sextortion, study reveals

Sextortion, the blackmail involving the threat to share intimate images, is more prevalent than previously believed. A new study reveals that one in seven adults has faced such threats.

Conducted by researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University) and Google, the survey covered over 16,000 participants from Australia, North and Central America, Europe, and Asia. About 14.5% reported being victims of sextortion, and 4.8% admitted to perpetrating it. The study found higher victimization and perpetration rates among LGBTQ+ individuals, men, and younger people, according to the findings published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Lead researcher Nicola Henry explained that financial sextortion involves scammers tricking victims into sharing intimate images or convincing them they have evidence of the victim’s activity on pornographic sites. The scammers then threaten to share these images unless their demands are met, often requiring money or more intimate images.

The study noted that the US, Australia, and South Korea are more affected by sextortion compared to European countries. Almost a third of the perpetrators were former partners, and one in six were current partners. This dynamic is common in intimate partner abuse, where threats to share intimate images are used to coerce victims into compliance.

LGBTQ+ individuals are at greater risk, often facing threats to reveal their sexuality. Notably, 85.2% of perpetrators also reported being victims, suggesting a cycle of retaliation.

Researchers highlighted the severe consequences of sextortion, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Henry emphasized the need for targeted prevention education and more resources for supporting victims, including counseling, legal advice, and mental health crisis support.