Sextortion: What Your Kids Need to Know

Sextortion is a nightmare scenario no parent wants to contemplate, yet recent FBI reports indicate a distressing rise in cases targeting children and teens. From 2021 to 2023, the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations received over 13,000 reports of online financial sextortion of minors, making understanding this digital threat crucial for parents.

What is sextortion?

According to the FBI, this sextortion often starts when young people believe they are communicating with someone their age who is interested in a relationship or with someone who is offering something of value. This catfish (false profile) relationship usually involves the predator using gifts, money, flattery, lies, or other methods to get a young person to produce an image. Initial contact can occur through various digital platforms, from messaging apps to gaming sites. Once the perpetrator obtains compromising content such as risky photos or videos, they escalate threats, including publication or physical harm if more material isn’t provided. This harrowing ordeal can evoke shame and fear, often trapping victims in silence.

The emotional toll of sextortion is profound, with some victims enduring relentless harassment and threats. Despite rarely seeking physical encounters, perpetrators inflict lasting trauma on their victims.

What can families do?

Discuss the reality of sextortion with your child and emphasize the importance of connecting only with known individuals online. Along with a discussion, act. Enforce strict privacy settings and parental controls on devices to monitor online activity and filter inappropriate content.

Master and repeat the basics

Some essential safety protocols kids should follow online are worthy of repeating. They are:

  1. Reinforce safety protocols: Remind children to keep social accounts private, ignore messages from strangers, and never share sensitive photos.
  2. Keep your guard up. People can pretend to be anyone online, and photos can be altered
  3. Review digital friends: Regularly review your child’s online connections and work with them to review and remove suspicious or unknown contacts.
  4. Foster open communication: Assure your child they won’t face repercussions for seeking help and encourage them to report any concerning online interactions. Remember: Open communication and an honest relationship with your child are the most powerful tools you have to keep your child safe online.
  5. Report incidents: Victims of sextortion should go to a parent or trusted adult and tell them they need help. While doing this can feel terrifying, it’s crucial for victims to know people understand and want to help. For parents and caregivers, contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI or report the crime online at

Be clear to remove any fault

A sextortion situation for a child can be incredibly confusing and cause them to isolate and avoid telling anyone about it. Remind your child and be clear that they will never be in trouble for coming to you with any problem. Let them know that sextortion is a crime for the perpetrator and that they have not broken any laws by sending photos (despite what an abuser might have told them).

There’s no argument that parenting today has its own challenges distinct from generations past. The threat of online sextortion demands parents understand and engage with their child’s online activity at a whole new level. While the bad actors online are out to exploit and ruin our digital spaces, it’s important to maintain a healthy perspective rather than responding with fear. Remind your kids that there’s an army of people even more dedicated than the criminals; people like the FBI who are out to stop online crime and keep the internet safe for families.

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