Sextortion is a growing problem in Australia, in which teenage males are primarily targeted. Read on for our advice for parents on what to do if their child is a victim of this crime.
It’s a typical, busy day in your family; school drop-offs, pick-ups, training for your eldest, and dance class for your youngest.
Dinner was late, and one of your kids was texting a friend, assuring you that it was about homework. Then dishes, bed and just for a second, the house is silent.
You glance down at the coffee table and see your son’s phone light up.
You see that your son has missed a call from a contact that you don’t recognise. You think that maybe you should take a look, but you know that the messages will appear as ‘read’, so you decide to leave it.
Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.
As you wipe down the kitchen bench, his phone buzzes three more times from the same person. That’s it. You decide that you’re going to check this out.
The colour drains from your face as you realise that your 16-year-old son is messaging with a stranger.
Your investigation finds that he has been messaging with someone who claims to be a girl in her 20s living overseas. While the messages started out friendly, they quickly turned inappropriate and sexual. In fact, the stranger keeps asking your son to take an intimate photo of himself and send it to them.
You’ve just spent half the night with your son - what’s going on? You feel sick to your stomach. What in the world should you do?
Firstly, take a deep breath in.
Remember they’re a victim
Before you take any action, remember that your child may be a victim of a crime that specifically targets young people for money.
We want you to know that you are not alone in this and that this can happen to any family.
In Australia, the Australian Federal Police are receiving more than 100 reports per month of sextortion.
Sextortion is a growing problem
Sextortion is a form of online blackmail where someone tricks you into sending your sexual images and then threatens to share them unless their demands are met.
Offshore crime syndicates are targeting teenagers, especially 15-17-year-old males, then coercing them into sending sexually explicit content and then blackmailing them for money. Data has found that 90 per cent of victims are males.
We want to offer four tips for moving forward:
Keep communication open with your young person
Know where and how to report this crime
Consider introducing a phone contract to your family
Sextortion is a growing issue and parents of young people need to be aware of it. As they navigate the digital world, young people are up against challenges that didn’t even exist a generation ago. As a parent, you can help your young person to navigate these challenges by staying informed of current issues.
We recommend that you head to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) website. They have excellent resources for parents and young people navigating the online world.
Explore the ThinkUKnow website. The Australian Federal Police run thinkUKnow with the aim of helping parents and caregivers to stay informed on issues of online safety.
Keep communication open with your young person
Currently, the young person is forming an emotional connection with this person. In this case, the 16-year-old is receiving the attention of an older female of a sexual nature, which will be quite powerful for his adolescent brain. As a parent or caregiver, you need to help him use his thinking brain and start to doubt that this person is who they say they are. You need to help him think, “hey, this may not be real”. The way to do this is through open conversation.
If you confront him about it, that could likely induce a lot of shame, and ultimately, his restoration and full recovery from this experience are what we want. So if you can, try to create a space where you can have open conversations with him and ask him leading questions, rather than coming right out about it. See our suggestions below.
Have you heard of sextortion?
What would you do if someone asked you for a picture?
How do you know that the person you are interacting with online is who they say they are?
What would you do if you sent a picture and then the person you sent it to started to ask for more pictures or asked you for money?
Would you feel comfortable coming and talking to me about this?
If you didn't feel comfortable speaking to me about it, who could/would you speak to?
Watch a short video that explains sextortion (see ‘Resources’ below) and say something about it, like, “We’ve heard that this is a growing problem for teenage boys. What do you think about this?” Hopefully, they will open up about it.
Watch the documentary ‘The Children in the Pictures’ together with your young person (see ‘Resources’ below). The Children in the Pictures is a documentary made by ACCCE, all about online child sexual exploitation. It’s free to watch on SBS on demand, but be mindful that the rating is MA15+ due to the nature of the topic. If you watch it with your young person, have a discussion afterwards, and see if they open up.
If you’re asking leading questions, but he doesn’t open up about it, you could tell him that you had to check his phone, as you were worried about him, and you stumbled across the conversation with this person. This could be a gentle conversation reminding him that this is not his fault and that they’re not upset with him. Understand that they may not initially be open to receiving that they have been manipulated. It can be a very shocking realisation for the young person. You could then show him the research from the AFP and ACCCE (see ‘Resources’ below), so that he will understand what the intentions of this person really are and this will, once again, help him to switch on his thinking brain and make the realisation that this person isn’t who they say they are.
Make a report
We would also encourage you to report it to ACCCE. You can do that through their website here: https://www.accce.gov.au/report. Online grooming and inappropriate contact should be reported, even if it hasn’t resulted in sextortion.
Support your young person through this challenge
We would encourage you to create an environment where your child can come and talk to you about how they are feeling at any time. As they navigate through this experience, it’s likely that they feel awkward, embarrassed, and perhaps a little ashamed. It’s important that they fully recover from this experience, not letting it impact their identity and self-worth.
We would recommend that you speak to the wellbeing team at your young person’s school so that they are aware of what your child is going through and can support your child through this experience. Or if they are not comfortable with this, then look to link them in with external supports such as Headspace, other youth services or local psychologists/counsellors (counselling services).
Make sure your child knows that they can contact the following support services 24/7:
KidsHelpLine 1800 55 1800
Lifeline 13 11 14
Headspace www.headspace.org.au e-chat available
Moving forward, consider agreeing on a phone contract as a family
Ultimately having a mobile phone comes with many responsibilities and many challenges for young people. As a family, you could agree to a phone contract with him, which stipulates that you can set certain boundaries to keep him safe. Download our phone contract (see ‘Resources’ below).
Take another deep breath in. We hope that you feel a little more equipped to support your young person through this experience and that you know that help is always available to your family. If you have any questions for us, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE)
Make a report
Video about sextortion
Report about sextortion
The Children in the Pictures documentary
ZOE Phone Contract
Download from the resources page on our website
1800 55 1800
13 22 89
Parentline Queensland and the Northern Territory
1300 30 1300
Parent Helpline South Australia
1300 364 100
Parent Line NSW
1300 1300 52
Ngala Parenting Line WA
13 34 27
Parent Line Tasmania
1300 808 178
13 11 14
Published by: David Cross in Awareness