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Online “sextortion” increases during the pandemic

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MIAMI (StudyFinds.org) — More people are being sexually blackmailed online during the pandemic, a new study warns. The researchers add that men are the number one target of these crimes – threatening to post explicit images or videos of the victim, a cybercrime known as sextortion.

Other groups, including young people, black women, and members of the LGBTQ community are also susceptible to receiving messages from online extortionists. The team says there has been a substantial increase in sexual violence involving digital technology since the start of the global pandemic. While cyber crimes like “revenge porn” get a lot of attention, sextortion flies under the radar, according to the team.

Most often, the culprit is a current or former partner, online dating scammer, or stranger who hacks into someone’s photos or webcam.

Pandemic life increases the risk of cybercrime

Dr Asia Eaton of Florida International University says reports of sextortion at the FBI are increasing as many people transition to a more digital life for work and socializing during the pandemic. Eaton’s team surveyed more than 2,000 adults in the United States during their study.

They asked participants if they had ever experienced sextortion, which researchers define as “the act of threatening to display a nude or sexually explicit image in order to get a person to do something like send more nude or sexually explicit images, paying someone money, or performing sexual acts.

Just under 5% of men said they had been victims of sextortion since the start of the pandemic, compared to 2.3% of women. There are a number of possible explanations for why men are more likely to be victims of sextortion than women during this time.

“Recent research has highlighted gender disparities in unpaid care work and domestic work since the start of the pandemic; it is possible that men had more time to spend online than women during the pandemic,” Dr. Eaton said in a press release.

Do men’s love tendencies play a role?

A tendency to be less selective when it comes to dating could also explain why men are more likely to be a target, the team notes. This adds to previous research which found that men were more likely to fall victim to online romance scams in general. However, they are not the only ones to be extorted disproportionately. Blacks and Native Americans are also seven times more likely to receive such a threat than white women.

Similarly, rates among LGBTQ people are up to three times higher than among heterosexuals. Age was also a deciding factor, with 18-29 year olds being the most affected by sextortion attempts. This was likely due to their greater desire for sexual experimentation and use of technology, the researchers said.

Victims of sexual violence by a partner before the pandemic were also more vulnerable to sextortion.

The study authors say more work is needed to determine why the risk of sextortion varies by race, age, gender and sexual orientation. Also, it’s important to understand how it affects people differently, as women may suffer more than men, even though they’re less likely to be a target.

The Eaton team recommends that clinical professionals add questions about how technology can facilitate sexual violence to their patient reviews. This could help identify patients who are in abusive relationships before referring them for counseling and other forms of help.

“Sex education programs that teach about consent, pleasure, and communication and decision-making in healthy relationships can reduce in-person and technology-facilitated sexual violence,” Dr. Eaton concludes.

The results are published in the journal Victims and Offenders.

South West News Service writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.