The Creepy World Of "Sextortion"

Here's another depressing neologism to add to your vocabulary: "sextortion," the act of blackmailing teenagers by accessing nude photographs of them and threatening to release said photographs publicly unless the teens agree to pose for more.

According to the Associated Press, federal prosecutors have seen a rise in "sextortion," with several high-profile cases popping up in recent months, including that of a 24-year-old man who "was sentenced to 18 years in prison in April after he admitted sending threatening e-mails on Facebook and MySpace extorting nude photos from more than 50 young women in Alabama, Pennsylvania and Missouri."

It's interesting, however, that just as federal prosecutors have come out to warn the public about "sextortion," a federal judge in New Jersey has reversed a restraining order filed by a woman who claimed that her ex-boyfriend (who was married) had threatened both her and her mother by claiming that he would post nude photos of her on the internet, with the specific intent of humiliating her, due to the fact that the woman's mother had contacted the man's wife to discuss details of his affair with her daughter:

"You slimy piece of shit get the fuck out of my life and stay out. How dare you call my wife and tell her whatever bullshit you told her! You will regret fucking with me. What [I]nternet site do you want the naked pictures of your daughter posted on???????? Back the fuck off if you're at all concerned about her reputation cause I going to make life an embarrassing hell for all three of you."

While the original judge in the case granted the woman a restraining order, concluding that the man's words presented a "threat of imminent harm," noting that the psychological damage that might be done to the woman, should the photos be released, was just as potentially damaging as physical harm, a second set of judges reversed the order, deeming it an "an isolated one-day occurrence" and arguing that the threat did not fit a pattern of domestic violence.

Still, though the man didn't attempt to force the woman to pose for more photos, like the typical "sextortion" case, he did use the woman's nude photos as a means to intimidate her and hold a sort of power over her, using her desire to keep her privacy intact against her.

All of this leads me to believe that the result of the "sextortion" crisis won't be an emphasis on weeding out the creeps as much as it will be an emphasis on reminding teens—particularly young women—that the internet isn't the safest place, and that posting your nude pictures on MySpace or Facebook or sending them through email makes it easy for unintended recipients to get a hold of your very private images and information and potentially use them against you, something that should always be considered before pressing "send." It's important, however, to present a case for online safety without veering into victim-blaming: "you shouldn't have posted the pics in the first place," makes it seem as if girls are "asking" for creeps to blackmail them into posing against their will, which surely is not the case. Emphasizing caution and openness about online activities might be the best way to go, so that when a predator does strike, a teen feels safe approaching adults about the incident and the predator before it escalates into something much, much worse.

Feds: Online Sextortion Of Teens On The Rise [AP]
Threat To Post Nude Photos Online Isn't Harassment [Law.Com]

[Image via Voronin76/Shutterstock.]