Sextortion ruins lives!

November 25, 2016

Many parents worry about their children taking naked images of themselves and sharing them with people they think they can trust, however we also have to be careful. Yes us, the adults.

As a major study continues in Australia into on-line sextortion, the ABC has revealed details of how a 53-year-old woman was conned into paying $1,800 to prevent a man she had never met circulating intimate photos and videos of her.

In a report today the ABC said Tracey (not her real name) deleted all her social media accounts, moved out of her home of 17 years and lost most of her savings after a romantic relationship begun online turned exploitative.

It said the widow was befriended by a man on Facebook in March this year, and an online courtship evolved over several months.

Peter, as Tracey knew him, claimed to be a British businessman based in Hong Kong, with plans to relocate to her home town of Melbourne.

The ABC quoted Tracey as saying: “We spoke on the phone [only a few times], but he said he was always in meetings or at a conference and could message rather than talk. And I was busy with grandkids and my work anyway, so it kind of worked.”

Tracey and Peter’s relationship soon became more intimate and nude photographs were shared between the two.

“It’s not like I’ve ever done anything [sent another person nude images] before but I believed that Pete and I were really becoming close and soon he’d be moving nearby,” Tracey is quoted as saying.

But the person posing as Peter was, in fact, a scam artist who threatened to share the photos and video Tracey had sent him with her employer and children if she did not pay him.

“He had access to my friends list [on Facebook], knew where I worked because of LinkedIn and even referred to my boss by name,” she says.

“He at first demanded $3,500 but I told him I simply don’t have that money. So he settled on $1,800 on the proviso I transfer it the next day.”

Tracey wired the money through a money transfer service, but did not report Peter’s threat to authorities.

She moved house three weeks later because she feared the blackmail would continue, or that he would come to her house. She told her three adult children the move was so she could be closer to her grandkids.

The first glimpse into this growing area of crime was in a 2015 study on digital harassment and abuse.

In it, researchers from RMIT found 1 in 10 Australians (aged 18-54) had had a nude or semi-nude image of them distributed online or sent to others without their permission.

Now, Dr Nicola Henry, a senior lecturer in crime, justice and legal studies at La Trobe University and the co-author of the digital abuse report, has launched Australia’s first research project into sextortion.

The study will survey 3,000 men and women in order to gain better insight into the prevalence, and nature, of image-based abuse.

Working in collaboration with researchers in the UK and New Zealand, Dr Henry hopes her findings will encourage more people to report the crime.

“We know victims are reluctant to report image-based sexual abuse to the police — they may not know that’s what has happened to them is a crime,” Dr Henry says.

“They may worry that police and others will view the images, or if the case proceeds to trial, that members of the public will be able to search for their images online.”

Dr Henry also believes authorities need more training to avoid victim blaming attitudes, which are common.

So-called “revenge porn” laws have recently been introduced in South Australia and Victoria, making it illegal to distribute, create and distribute sexually explicit images without consent.

The NSW government has also moved to criminalise the behaviour. Dr Henry warns it’s a difficult area to police, given most complaints made to ScamWatch are about offenders based overseas, where Australian laws do not apply.

“We hope our work will lead to the introduction of specific criminal legislation at the federal level, as well as in the states and territories that currently do not have laws in place,” she says.

Dating scams involving “sextortion” in Australia have skyrocketed in the past two years, but remain largely underreported and unprosecuted. Now, a major new study hopes to better understand the crime — and pave the way for legislative change.

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