What is Sextortion?
A Durham police investigation highlights a consequence some teens could face when they share nude photographs: sextortion.
The Durham Police Department is investigating a situation in which a Durham girl shared sexually explicit photos with a 15-year-old boy in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, according to recently released search warrant. When she tried to end their online relationship, he threatened to send those images to her friends if she didn’t resume correspondence and continue providing sexually explicit images.
Now juvenile petitions, criminal allegations against youth 15 and under, have been filed against the South Carolina boy in Durham. The charges include three counts of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, three counts of second-degree exploitation of a minor and five counts of disclosure of private images.
Durham police declined to provide the age of the girl.
The department does not have statistics on this type of incident, police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said by email. “It is not unusual for us to receive these types of complaints,” she said.
On April 11, the Durham Police Department started investigating after the “juvenile” indicated she was coerced by someone she had met online to send naked pictures of herself and “conduct live explicit performances” on Snapchat, according to a search warrant sought by Investigator A.R. Bongarten.
Their conversation moved to Discord, a voice, video and text chat application, and included the girl sending pictures of her breasts.
In February, she tried to cut off conversation and blocked the boy on Snapchat and Discord, the warrant states.
The 15-year-old found an old Snapchat account of the girl’s and reached out to her, saying “that if she did not unblock him, he would leak the naked pictures to her friends,” the warrant states.
The girl unblocked the boy and told police “that the she was requested on multiple instances to video chat with the suspect, during such times she was directed to undress herself and masturbate while the suspect watched,” according to court documents.
At the end of March, she tried to cut off contact again, the warrant states. The boy then sent explicit pictures to two of her friends, threatening to leak them and the girl’s IP address.
The investigator was able to identify the 15-year-old and his parent and on May 1. The Horry County Police Department executed a search warrant at his Myrtle Beach home and seized computers, a tablet, an Xbox and a telephone.
A second search warrant sought the 15-year-old’s activity on the Discord app.
The situation highlights yet another repercussionof teen sexting, the sending or receiving of sexually explicit materials via a cell phone and other devices.
The prevalence of sexting has increased in recent years, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics in April 2018. About 1 in 4 teens sent a sext and 1 in 7 said they received one, the study found.
About 12 percent forwarded a sext without consent and 8 percent had a sext forwarded, it found.
Sameer Hinduja, a criminology professor at Florida Atlantic University and co-founder of the Cyberbullying Research Center, told The News & Observer last summer that the center is seeing more “sextortion” incidents in which a teen has used nude photos to extort money, more photos and sexual favors.
About 6 percent of teens have faced those situations, he said. Hinduja’s experience shows laws and policies to prevent sexting aren’t effective in deterring youth, he said.
Instead he recommends reminding teens that they never know where the photos will end up and that most relationships in middle and high school don’t last.
“The reality is that, unfortunately, break-ups in middle and high school end up leading to a lot of hurt feelings and desires for revenge and then these pictures get shared,” he said.
And if nude photos are shared, they could affect young people’s future, Hinduja said.
Steps to avoid becoming a victim of sextortion include never sending compromising images, not opening an attachment from unknown people, and turning off electronic devices and web cameras when not in use, according to a Federal Bureau of Investigation video on the crime.
If you are receiving sextortion threats, “you are not alone,” the video states. Don’t be afraid to tell an adult or law enforcement, it states.
Resources for teens and adults
For more information on online safety and tips for teens: www.netsmartz.org.
For more information about sexting, the Cyberbullying Research Center can be found here: https://cyberbullying.org/