Luis Mijangos was sentenced to six years imprisonment after being involved in the sextortion of hundreds of women, including dozens of minors, in 2010. Reports showed that he created his own malware which victims unknowingly downloaded, allowing him to control their computers. Mijangos recorded videos of his victims taking a shower, undressing, and having sex. He threatened to share the videos if they didn’t send him more pornographic images and videos.
In 2015, Lucas Michael Chansler terrorized nearly 350 girls from the US, Canada, and the UK. He pretended to be a teenage boy and persuaded the girls to send him nude images. After Chansler successfully persuaded them, he threatened to share these images with the girls’ friends if they didn’t send more, and followed through on some of those threats. Eventually, he was sent to prison for 105 years.
These two stories are only a few examples of sextortion, a cybercrime that involves threats to expose a sexual image to make a person do something or for other reasons, such as revenge or humiliation. According to Phys.org, an internet news portal that provides the latest news on science, offenders usually manipulate their victims by tapping into the fear of not knowing whether the threat is real -- the threat that they possess their nude images or videos.
"Sextortion is the use of intimate images or videos that have been captured to then extort compliance from a victim. What makes it different from any other crime is the threat to release. A perpetrator could say, 'I have these images of you and will publish them unless you...' to get more images or even in exchange for money,” Roberta Liggett O'Malley, a criminal justice doctoral student from the Michigan State University, said.
Sextortion Usually Targets Minors
Sextortion is a growing concern in many parts of the world and affects a broad range of targets, which includes males, females, minors, and adults. A major problem that authorities encounter is that many cases of this crime go unreported because victims are too embarrassed. In an era where everyone relies on social media and the internet, it’s easier for perpetrators to look for their targets.
According to CompariTech, an online site that helps consumers make more informed decisions when purchasing services to help with information security and privacy, the FBI received about 13,000 more sextortion complaints in July 2018 than it had in the previous month. In the UK, more than 1,300 cases were reported in 2017, three times the number in 2015. This crime can happen through a variety of methods, which include email phishing schemes, social media or dating sites, hacked accounts, and hacked webcams. Regardless of what form perpetrators are using, the most vulnerable are women and minors.
A recent study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence revealed four distinct types: minor-focused, targeting victims under 18 years of age; cybercrime, targeting victims using computer-based tactics like hacking; intimately violent, targeting former or current romantic partners; and transnational, targeting strangers strictly for financial reasons. These reflect different motivations for what offenders want from their victims. A recent survey of 1,631 cyber sextortion victims, however, found 46% were minors. "The disproportionate focus on minor victims has led to new laws that protect minors from adult sexual solicitation online, but there are few legal protections for adult male and female victims," Liggett O'Malley said.
There are several reasons why minors are easy targets. Minors don’t usually use strong passwords or two-step verification, as a general rule. They often “sext” one another. They irresponsibly record pornographic or semi-pornographic images or videos of themselves. At the same time, teens often material with other teenagers whose cyberdefense practices are even laxer than their own. All of these make sextortion quite easy to accomplish in a target-rich environment.
A 2016 research showed an effort to study in-depth and across jurisdictions the problems of sextortion. According to Brookings, an American research group, one of the findings revealed that sextortionists, like other perpetrators of sex crimes, tend to be prolific repeat players. While few prosecutors and investigators devoted significant energy to this crime, the problem has been largely ignored.
Prevalence of Sextortion
With minors are increasingly becoming victims of this crime, authorities have labeled sextortion as the most important and fastest-growing cyberthreat to children, with more minor victims per offender than all other child sexual exploitation offenses. A 2018 study published in the journal Sexual Abuse revealed that 5% of these youth had been the target of sextortion and 3% admitted that they had done it to others. While these figures are relatively small, they constitute a significant proportion when extrapolated to a US population of teens.
Co-author Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., a professor in FAU's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice within the College for Design and Social Inquiry, said that the findings of the study showed males are more likely to be victims of sextortion. "We also found a connection between offending and victimization, with those involved in one role being more likely to also be involved in the other,” she said.
According to Medical Xpress, a web-based medical and health news service that features the most comprehensive coverage in the fields of neuroscience, cardiology, and more, victims of sextortion were harmed in a variety of ways. These include being stalked or harassed (9.7% of males and 23.5% of females); being contacted repeatedly online or by phone (42.9 of males and 40.9% of females) or having a fake online profile created about them (11.2% of males and 8.7% of females). The findings also revealed that 24.8% of males and 26.1% of females who were sextorted said the offender posted the sexual image of them online. Meanwhile, 25.5% of male victims and 29.6% of female victims said the offender sent the sexual image of them to someone else without their permission.
"In short, threats that were made were ultimately carried out in some way, and some of these instances may indeed be more accurately characterized as 'revenge porn,' another behavior involving the unauthorized distribution of explicit images," Hinduja said.
Unfortunately, most of these cases go unreported because victims are ashamed of letting people know of their mistakes. "Besides a general distrust or lack of faith in adults, adolescents also fear retaliation, struggle with shame, wish to keep sextortion a secret, attempt to minimize the incident, and don't know where to turn to or who they can count on to truly come through for them," said Hinduja.