What is sextortion?

Guide to tackling sexual coercion

Learn about the issue of sextortion and how it might impact your child or teen. Then, get advice on keeping them safe.

A teen looks at their phone, appearing worried.


Only have a few minutes? Here's a short summary of the larger guide.

A quick definition

Sextortion is when someone threatens to share or distribute nude or semi-nude images of another person if they don’t do what is asked.


At a glance insights

Children might share nudes because of threats, pressures from relationships or promises of getting something in return.


3 tips to help

1. Talk about the issue and signs before it happens;
2. Let them know how to report and where to get support;
3. Show them how to set accounts to limit unwanted contact.


What is sextortion?

The meaning of sextortion comes from the combination of 'sex' and 'extortion'. It refers to someone threatening to share or distribute intimate images unless the victim takes a certain action.

Victims of the blackmail threats might know the perpetrator. However, they can also be a stranger. The perpetrator might demand that the victim share more images or send money.
Sextortion scams usually fall into these two categories:

  • Image sextortion: the purpose of the extortion is to obtain indecent images of an individual;
  • Financial sextortion: the purpose is to gain financially. With financial sextortion, victims pay money to stop the perpetrator from sharing images more widely.

How does it impact victims?

Sextortion is illegal and very distressing for the victim. Those behind it (often criminal gangs) prey on these feelings; perpetrators know that victims will feel this way.

In some cases, victims also worry about having their intimate images or videos shared more widely. As a result, they feel scared and might do things they do not want to do.

Additionally, many children and young people feel embarrassed and ashamed if they fall victim to sextortion. So, they will often keep the abuse to themselves. This can lead to further impacts on their wellbeing.

What are the warning signs?

Remember that in some sextortion scams, children and young people believe the perpetrator is someone their own age. They will genuinely believe they are talking to someone who is interested in them and who wants to get into a relationship with them.

Parents need to think back to when they were this age. Did they tell their parents everything that they did with their partner at the time, particularly sexual things?

The following changes in your child could suggest they have experienced online sexual coercion or extortion. However, it’s important to recognise that some of these signs could relate to other changes.

  • Your child might appear withdrawn, worried or unhappy compared to their normal.
  • They might stop using their phone or mobile device. Or, they might seem worried when a message appears.
  • Apps that they love might become sources of anxiety. As such, they might stop using those platforms. Sextortion can happen on any platform where users communicate with others.

Some additional signs might resemble those that also come with child-on-child abuse or grooming.

Is 'sextortion' the right word to use?

Experts don't recommend using 'sextortion'. It doesn't acknowledge that the act involves the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of a child.

In fact, European law enforcement agency Europol suggest a broader definition: 'online sexual coercion and extortion of children.'

However, most people have some understanding of the word 'sextortion'. As such, we use it throughout this guide to help people easily find the support they need.

Why a young person might share nudes

Not all children who share nudes do so because they feel coerced.

In some cases, they might want to. However, this is often because they believe they might get something in return. This could include getting a modelling job, money, gift cards, a new mobile phone or other ‘gifts’.

Additionally, sextortion can actually come from someone your child is in a relationship with. They might share an image with the recipient who then pressures them for more. Research shows that this can happen to anyone from any background and at any age. The FBI, for instance, have interviewed victims as young as 8.

At the time of writing there is a significant spike in sextortion cases globally. This this includes the UK with many of the scams targeting teenage boys.

Research into self-generated child sexual abuse material

Learn about our research into taking action against self-generated child sexual abuse material online.


How to help children and young people

Parents and carers need to recognise just how embarrassing and shaming sextortion can feel for young people.

As such, they will often struggle to admit they have shared nude images with someone who took advantage of them. Again, those behind the scams know this. As such, if your child has told you that this has happened then that is a massive first step.

If a child or young person tells you about an incident of coercion, remember they are a victim of a crime. Often, victims don’t report sextortion crimes. Additionally, extreme cases have led to children and young people taking their own lives. So, reassure them that you are there to help.

Download guide for young people

Share this guide with young people to help them tackle sextortion.


Research from Thorn found that a third of victims stayed silent because of feelings of shame or embarrassment.

So, here are some tips to help children and young people stay safe or recover from sextortion:

Take practical steps

With your child, review the apps and platforms they use. Set privacy settings that give them control over their digital interactions.


Get support

If your child experiences sextortion, it's important to take swift action. Report the incident to CEOP or dial 999 if there's an immediate danger. Use tools like Report Remove, and block the account on the platform involved. Encourage your child to reach out to organisations like Childline for support to talk to about their experience.


Talk about it

Having regular conversations about their digital lives can make conversations around difficult subjects easier for children. If your child is a victim of sextortion (or you think they are), it's important to ask them about it and lead the conversation. If they don't want to open up with you, find support through helplines, charities or your GP.


Recognise the warning signs

A child might not feel comfortable sharing their experience because they feel embarrassed. So, it's important to look out for the warning signs described above so that you can take the first step.

Reassure them

Often, victims of sextortion blame themselves. They might think it's their fault for sending a nude image, but those exploiting them are to blame. So, reassure them that you're there to help, that they're not alone and that there's always a way out.

Develop their critical thinking

Help children learn to recognise the signs that someone is targeting them. This is especially useful for children who have different vulnerabilities. Use sextortion scenarios to help young people consider the way they could and should respond.


Read the full guide to sextortion

Explore the full guide to help prevent and deal with sextortion of children and young people.

Additional resources for parents

Get personalised online safety advice

Stay on top of issues your child might face with your personalised toolkit.

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