U.K. Police Warn of Online ‘Sextortion’ Dangers

Be careful when you agree to have webcam sex. The footage, say British cops, is being used to blackmail people in a rising number of cases.

12.01.16 6:36 PM ET

British police have warned of a dramatic rise in the number of cases of online sextortion, where unwitting men (and, less frequently, women) are lured into stripping or performing sex acts in video chats, which are being recorded without their knowledge, and are then used to blackmail the unwitting victim.

The police have released a video in which a young woman flirts with a video chat partner, encouraging her interlocutor to strip off and “have some fun” before revealing the call is being recorded and threatening that if a payment is not made the tape will be circulated to “all your contacts.”

The dangers of so-called Skype sex  were, by chance, discussed this week on the British reality TV show I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, in which famous personalities live in a jungle camp in Australia for several weeks at a time before being evicted by a public phone vote.

The subject came up after the camp mates were asked to guess what percentage of men thought that sending naked selfies to someone other than their partner was cheating (only 53% did, since you ask).

This prompted one of the contestants to ask comedian and actor Joel Dommett if he had taken intimate pictures to which he replied, “Yes, it’s easy to find on the internet, I was catfished.

“Basically someone messaged me on Twitter and after a while she said, “Do you want Skype sex, so I was like, “Yes!” I was so naive.”

“I messaged a few weeks later and she didn’t reply and then a few years later the video was released online; it was released about a week before I came in here.

“I thought I was having Skype sex with someone, but it was actually a video and it turned out it was someone watching me, watching porn.”

Dommett – who was single at the time the video was made - was lucky enough to be able to laugh the incident off (“Such a terrible angle,” he joked to the other contestants in the show of the shots of his private parts), but for many men being tricked into making sex tapes is an infinitely more painful experience.

Martin Hewitt, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for adult sexual offences, said in a statement: “As a result of this crime we’ve already had four young men in the UK kill themselves because they saw no way out of the situation they had got themselves into.” 

Police have revealed an unprecedented rise in such ‘sextortion’ cases, with more than 900 cases already reported so far this year--more than double the total for the whole of 2015.

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It increasingly appears the scam is being carried out by organized gangs.

Inevitably, officers fear the true scale of the problem may be bigger.

A spokesman said: “There is huge under-reporting of these kinds of offences, often because victims feel ashamed or embarrassed, but of course criminals are relying on that reaction in order to succeed.”

While the British police have described sextortion as an “emerging new threat” and the new campaign is clearly aimed at raising awareness of the risks of online video sex among young straight men, the danger of being blackmailed over sexual identity has long been a clear and present one for the LGBTQ community. Indeed, sexual extortion formed the plot of the 1961 film, Victim, starring Dirk Bogarde.

The equal rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told the Daily Beast: "Both gay and straight people are being blackmailed over video chats and what they thought were private sex videos. It is a growing problem. Disgruntled ex-lovers and criminal networks are exploiting the imagery to extort.

“People need to be more careful online about what images they share. They need to assume that what they say or show could end up being spread around on social media or be used for blackmail purposes. It is safest to only share sexual images with people you know and trust." http://www.petertatchell.net/

Nick Duffy, editor of Pink News, told the Daily Beast that blackmail “disproportionately affected” LGBT people, and was a particular risk for younger people.

“I'm glad the National Crime Agency are tackling this issue, and though their campaign appears broadly targeted at straight men, it's definitely an important message for LGBT people too,” he said via email.

“People in the closet have always been susceptible to blackmail and 'outing', but technology has made this more of a risk than ever before, especially for young people.”

Duffy says the key to turning the tide of sextortion is education: “When it comes to issues surrounding sex and technology--like porn, hook-up apps, sexting, revenge porn and blackmail--we need to start addressing them far earlier and in more inclusive ways. That's why the government needs to make sure that guidance on sex and relationship education in schools, which was written 11 years before the invention of Snapchat, actually prepares people for sex and relationships in 2016.”