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What is sextortion?

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Financially motivated sexual extortion (often known as ‘sextortion’) is an adult-involved incident in which an adult offender (or offenders) threatens to release nudes or semi-nudes of a child or young person unless they pay money or do something else to benefit them.

What are the signs and indicators of sextortion of pupils?

What are the indicators of sextortion that staff might notice?

Physical and behavioural signs that a pupil may be experiencing sextortion include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Showing signs of emotional distress, e.g. anxiety, fear, depression or having mood swings.

  • Becoming socially withdrawn or isolated

  • Becoming secretive (or showing an unusual amount of secrecy) about their device use

  • Defensiveness or reluctance to talk about their online activity

  • Suddenly avoiding or deleting social media accounts

  • Decline in academic performance, attainment and concentration

  • Change in attitude to school, e.g. seeing school as a safe place where sextortion doesn't occur

  • Difficulty with sleeping, e.g. nightmares

  • Self-harm or suicidal ideation

What might pupils experience and disclose if they're experiencing, or are at risk of, sextortion?

Schools may see signs of actions taking place that indicate a pupil could be experiencing sextortion, e.g. if these are disclosed/reported to the school by a pupil, one of their peers or their parents/carers. These signs include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Being contacted online by other children or young people they do not know.

  • Becoming quickly engaged in sexually explicit talk.

  • Being sent nudes or semi-nudes by the offender first.

  • Moving the chat from a public platform to a private platform, often with end-to-end encryption (E2EE).

  • Being pressured into taking nudes or semi-nudes or performing sexual acts on a webcam.

  • Being told they have been hacked and that the offender has access to their images, personal contacts and information.

  • Being blackmailed into sending money or sharing their bank account details.

At any of these stages of sextortion, pupils should be supported to immediately stop contact with the perpetrator. If sextortion is occuring, pupils should be supported to contact the police on 101 or make a report to the CEOP Safety Centre (National Crime Agency). They should not delete any images or videos as these can be used by the police as evidence.

What puts pupils at greater risk of sextortion?

Individuals aged 14 to 17, particularly males, are at heightened risk of falling victim to sextortion. In 2023, out of the 176 actioned reports where the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) removed child sexual abuse material linked to sextortion from the internet, 161 reports contained boys.

Additionally, pupils with low self-esteem or feelings of loneliness who seek romantic connections online are particularly vulnerable. This susceptibility is compounded by their engagement with various online platforms, including social media, live-streaming services, and dating apps, which can expose them to manipulation by perpetrators seeking to exploit their vulnerabilities for malicious purposes.

Be aware...

What happens when a child or young person experiences sextortion?

Sextortion is usually committed by offenders working in sophisticated organised crime groups (OCGs) outside the UK, rather than by offenders known to the pupil in person. Offenders are motivated by profit and may also target adults.

Offenders will often use a false identity to extort a pupil. They will pose as a child or young person to make contact, and will often make 'friends' online with other young people that the victim knows so that they appear to have mutual 'friends' in common. They may also hack another young person’s account to make initial contact with the victim. This usually takes place on social media, live-streaming services or dating apps.

To financially blackmail the child or young person, offenders may:

  • groom or coerce the child or young person into sending nudes or semi-nudes 

  • use images that have been stolen from the child or young person by hacking their account

  • use digitally manipulated images, including AI-generated images, of the child or young person

The offender(s) will threaten to release the sexual or indecent image of the pupil unless they pay money. To do this, the offender will often send 'proof' that they have the nude or semi-nude images of the pupil, which could also be digitally altered. This 'proof' is sent alongside images or lists of the pupil's contacts, such as their friends, school mates and family members. 

As well as attempting to extort money, the offender may also demand the use of the victim’s bank account for the purposes of money laundering.

Young people may believe that paying the offender will stop the threats but this is not true. Once the offender has received money, they are more likely to continue blackmailing the pupil.

Is sextortion illegal in the UK?

In short, yes.  The Protection of Children Act 1978 (England and Wales) as amended in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (England and Wales) states that it is making, possessing, and distributing any imagery of someone under 18 which is ‘indecent’ is illegal. If a pupil is experiencing sextortion, they can report this to the police on 101 or receive support by making a report to the CEOP Safety Centre.

When nude and semi-nude images are produced and shared, they can be categorised into different incidient types - for example, young people in relationships may make images for each other which are not intended to be distributed to others. Sextortion is classified as an 'aggrevated' incident of youth-produced sexual imagery because it is adult-involved and involves a criminal element (extorting the pupil). It is a form of child sexual abuse and can be extremely harmful to the victim. Reports of sextortion have increased throughout 2022 and 2023. 

Take action

  • Teach a robust curriculum that includes online safety and healthy relationships.

  • Work with parents, carers and the community to understand the signs of sextortion.

  • If sextortion occurs, support the pupil to report it to the police by calling 101 (or 999 if there is a threat to life).

  • Avoid blaming or shaming the victim and offer pastoral and mental health support.

  • Follow the safeguarding procedures and speak to the DSL.

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Ready to train your staff?

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Sextortion: Safeguarding Training Bundle

This flexible pack contains four resources to support your training on the child protection issue of sextortion:

  1. A ready-made safeguarding training PowerPoint presentation on sextortion.

  2. A fictional safeguarding scenario on sextortion that staff can discuss by identifying signs and indicators of harm in order to share how they'd respond.

  3. A set of quiz questions on sextortion to assess staff understanding and a discussion prompt to get staff thinking.

  4. A one-page, one-minute safeguarding snapshot to display or disseminate as a follow-up to the training. 

Find out more

Back to Knowledge Pathfinder: Safeguarding
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