Landmark study shows rise in online sexual blackmail during pandemic

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During the pandemic, men were twice as likely as women to fall victim to online extortionists threatening to post explicit photos, videos and information about them.

That’s according to a new study, the first of its kind, published in the peer-reviewed journal Victims and Offenders.

Young people, black and Native American women, and LGBTQ people were also at higher risk of this cybercrime (known as sextortion), the survey of more than 2,000 adults in the United States showed.

Sextortion is a form of extortion in which the blackmailer threatens to post explicit and private images or videos online unless their demands are met.

The abuser can be a current or former partner, a stranger who hacked into someone’s photos or webcam, or an online dating scammer.

Reports of sextortion at the FBI have increased during the pandemic, a time of significant transition to a more digital life through remote work and socializing, researchers say.

Since the start of the pandemic, nonprofit organizations, government institutions, and legal professionals in the United States have also reported a substantial increase in technology-facilitated sexual violence.

But while other forms of technology-enabled sexual violence, such as non-consensual pornography (sometimes called “revenge”), have been the subject of increasing research in recent years, sextortion has received less attention. ‘Warning.

Funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to Florida International University (FIU) and the Cyber ​​Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), the study asked 2,006 people if they had ever experienced sextortion, defined as “the act of threatening to display a nude or sexually explicit image in order to get a person to do something such as send more nude or sexually explicit images, pay someone money, or perform sexual acts.”

4.5% of men and 2.3% of women said they had been victims of sextortion since the start of the pandemic.

This surprised the researchers, who expected women to be most at risk.

“There are several reasons why American men more often reported being victims of sextortion during the pandemic than women,” explains researcher Dr. Asia Eaton, associate professor of psychology at CRF and head of research at CCRI.

“Recent research has highlighted gender disparities in unpaid care work and domestic work since the start of the pandemic; it is possible that men have had more time to spend online than women during the pandemic.”

Men’s tendency to be “less selective” than women when dating can also open them up to sextortion, adds Dr Eaton, who notes that men are more likely to fall victim to online romance scams in general.

The results also revealed race- and sexuality-related differences in rates of sextortion, with black women, Native American women and LGBTQ people — three groups at greater risk of other types of sexual violence and coercion — also more at risk of sextortion.

Black and Native American women were about seven times more likely to be victims of sextortion than white women. Rates among LGBTQ respondents were up to three times higher than among heterosexual people.

Age was also a factor, with higher rates among 18-29 year olds, possibly due to greater sexual experimentation and use of technology in this age group.

The study also found that people who had experienced sexual violence from a partner before the pandemic were more likely to experience sextortion during the pandemic.

Sextortion was most often perpetrated by strangers and dating partners, current and former.

The study authors say more work is needed to determine why the risk of sextortion varies by race, age, gender and sexual orientation, as well as its impact on people’s well-being.

It is possible, for example, that sextortion has a more detrimental impact on women, although they are less often targeted than men.

Researchers conclude that questions about technology-facilitated sexual violence should be added to tests used by clinical professionals to help identify patients who are in abusive relationships before referring them to counseling and other forms of counseling. aid.

Prevention is also important. “Sex education programs that teach about consent, pleasure, and communication and decision-making in healthy relationships can reduce both in-person and technology-facilitated sexual violence,” says Dr. Eaton.

Limitations of the study include that the data consists of self-reports only and was just collected in the first year of the pandemic.


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More information:
Asia A. Eaton et al, The Relationship between Sextortion during COVID-19 and Pre-pandemic Intimate Partner Violence: A Large, Study of Victimization among Diverse US Men and Women, Victims and Offenders (2022). DOI: 10.1080/15564886.2021.2022057

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Quote: Landmark study shows increase in online sex blackmailing during pandemic (2022, January 31) Retrieved January 31, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-01-landmark-online-sex-blackmailing-pandemic .html

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