‘Sextortion’ increasingly common

Young male charged last week

Are you being watched? (Photo: Zeina Jreige)

Halifax Regional Police charged a 17-year-old male with online extortion last week — an activity a sexual assault centre says is happening more often.

The youth sent a 16-year-old female threatening messages on Facebook demanding she send him naked pictures or else he would distribute intimate pictures he had in his possession. When the victim refused, the suspect posted the images online.

This is the first time a youth has been charged with such a crime in Halifax.

Dubbed “sextortion,” the activity involves a blackmailer using intimate images to extort a victim into doing something, usually sexual in nature. The blackmailer threatens to distribute the images if the victim doesn’t comply with his or her demands.

Jackie Stevens, community/legal education and training co-ordinator with Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, says “sextortion” and online sexual exploitation is increasingly common.

Stevens says sextortion usually happens in one of two ways.

The victim, usually a young woman, agrees to take a compromising photo or video of herself or himself — or is coerced into it. The victim does so with the understanding that the image will just go to one person, only to find the recipient has shared the private image online. Alternatively, Stevens says, a photo or video is taken of someone without their knowledge or consent, such as in the case of Rehtaeh Parsons – the Halifax teen who took her life after images of her rape were spread online.

Most instances of “sextortion” the centre deals with are instances in which victims are unaware that their images are being taken until they are then harassed and threatened, Stevens explained.

Const. Pierre Bourdages, a public information officer with Halifax Regional Police, says the 17-year-old male is now facing charges of extortion, distributing child pornography, possession of child pornography and mischief.

Three other people have been charged this year in Halifax for sexual exploitation.

Technology now exists that allows people to use malware to hack into computers and take control of webcams without detection.

These hackers have figured out a way to turn off the webcam’s activity light thereby leaving no evidence that the camera has been turned on.

There have been numerous cases in which a hacker has hacked into a person’s webcam and taken naked pictures without that person even knowing they’re being watched.

The perpetrator then contacts the victim threatening to publish the images or to ruin their reputation in some way.