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Study sheds light on sextortion, fastest-growing form of teen cyberbullying


One out of 20 teens report they have been sexually extorted online, according to new research out of UW-Eau Claire.

Sexual extortion, or “sextortion,” occurs when a victim who voluntarily shares sexual images finds themself threatened with the release of those materials unless they meet the blackmailer’s demands — many of which are sexual. The U.S. Federal Justice department identified sextortion as the fastest growing form of online bullying among children and teens.

Dr. Justin Patchin, the UW-Eau Claire researcher behind this study, surveyed of 5,500 middle and high school students nationwide and found that 5 percent of the teens he surveyed had experienced sextortion.

“Five percent isn’t a huge number but it’s still a lot of young people and so it’s something we can’t ignore,” Patchin said. “Most often what we hear are the threats are made to post the images online or send the images to classmates or share them to other.”

Males were more likely to initiate sextortion, but they were also more likely to be the victims of it, the study showed.

“[That’s] surprising because most of the instances we hear about involve girls who share an image and then threats are made to disclose that image so it’s happening more to boys even though we aren’t hearing about it,” Patchin said.

Victims of sextortion were harmed in a variety of ways, including being stalked or harassed (9.7 percent of males and 23.5 percent of females), being contacted repeatedly online or by phone (42.9 percent of males and 40.9 percent of females), or having a fake online profile created about them (11.2 percent of males and 8.7 percent of females), the study showed.

Other findings revealed that adolescents who identified as non-heterosexual were more than twice as likely to be the victim of sextortion.

Since this behavior mostly affects underage teens, Patchin believes that sextortion has gone widely underreported.

“Young people are put in a difficult situation because technically speaking, if a 15 or 16 year old shares an explicit image with somebody else, they have broken a law and so that person that they shared the image with has a lot of power over them,” Patchin said. “We need to provide opportunities for young people to come forward who make mistakes but still need help dealing with these situations.”


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