Nearly 15% Have Had Someone Threaten to Share Intimate Images

Sextortion is on the rise, a new study has found — with one in seven adults from 10 different countries reportedly having experienced threats to share intimate photos or videos.

Sexual extortion, also known as sextortion, is an online form of sexual violence in which an individual threatens to share nude or sexual images or videos of someone unless they do whatever it is they ask — and nearly 15% of adults have been a victim of it.

That’s according to a study published in Computers in Human Behavior, led by RMIT University in partnership with Google.


Based on responses from more than 16,000 adults across Australia, North and Central America, Europe, and Asia, the study found that 14.5% of respondents reported being victims of sextortion, while 4.8% admitted to being perpetrators.

“Despite significant concerns on the part of law enforcement, technology companies, and policymakers, relatively little is known about the actual prevalence of sextortion and how demographic factors and locale inform rates,” the authors wrote.

To fill this research gap, the authors set out to determine the prevalence of sextortion among adults — as much of the current research focuses on minors — as well as demographic risk factors.

They found that members of the LGBTQ+ community, men, and younger respondents were more likely to report both victimization and perpetration.

Lead researcher and RMIT Professor Nicola Henry said in a news release that a possible explanation for why men were more likely to report being victims could be because financial sextortion scams, which are quite common, are more likely to target young men.

Still, the most common perpetrators of sextortion were found to most often be current or former intimate partners.

“This is particularly common in intimate partner abuse where a partner or an ex threatens to share intimate images to coerce the victim into doing or not doing something, such as staying in the relationship, pursuing an intervention order, refusing custody of children, or engaging in an unwanted sexual act,” Henry said.

Among the countries surveyed, victimization was most common in the United States, Australia, Mexico, and South Korea, and least common in European countries.


Research has long shown that those who suffer abuse are more likely to become abusers themselves, and this study reaffirms this notion — finding that 85.2% of those who admitted to being perpetrators also reported being victimized at some point.

Addressing sextortion

This study found a relatively high prevalence of sextortion victimization and perpetration, suggesting that this affects a significant proportion of the population. As a result, the authors said action is needed to address this widespread issue, and they presented a series of solutions.

They said prevention education at schools, universities, and in communities should be tailored specifically to at-risk groups, especially boys and young men. It should be culturally sensitive and accessible to diverse groups, they said, and inclusive of a range of different types of sextortion, including intimate partner violence.

More funding and resources are also needed to support survivors of sextortion, they added, including counseling, legal advice, and mental health crisis support. These supports should be sensitive, supportive, trauma-informed, and culturally appropriate.

They added that frontline workers must also be better equipped to recognize the signs of sextortion and understand its harms and impacts. Technology companies must also implement transparent, robust, and enforceable policies and practices to better detect, prevent, and respond to sextortion.

They said legislation must also improve, as few jurisdictions internationally have specific criminal offenses for sextortion and must instead rely on existing offenses, such as blackmail, to prosecute offenders of these crimes.

They added that more research is needed to fully understand the prevalence, dynamics, and impacts of sextortion.

“Findings indicate that sextortion is a relatively common occurrence, with significant detrimental effects to victim-survivors of this harm,” the authors wrote. “The findings of our study can be used to inform prioritization and targeting approaches, as well as shape interventions and mitigation to better detect, prevent, and respond to this growing problem.”


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