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Sextortion campaign to empower people, aiming to halt the rise in cases

An image of a phone with messages, with the copy Sextortion can happen to anyone

Last year, more than 720 people were blackmailed or bribed in Avon and Somerset through sextortion.

Sextortion is when someone threatens to share sexual images or videos of you, unless you do something for them – like sharing more photos or paying a sum of money.

This type of crime is sadly becoming more and more common, we’ve seen a repeated 40 per cent increase* in reports each year, over the last two years.

Sextortion is a crime that can happen to anyone, but young males are a particular target for criminals – over 50 per cent of victims coming forward are males under 29 years old.

It can be a devastating experience for each victim involved, with criminals playing on the shame that people feel about their image or film being seen by loved ones or friends.

We’ve created a campaign to raise awareness and empower people, particularly young people, to make it harder for perpetrators to commit this devastating crime and to encourage those who are affected to come forward for help.

We’re asking people who are experiencing sextortion to remember three actions – ‘don’t panic, don’t pay and don’t communicate’.

Megan Haldane, Cyber Protect Officer said,

“Criminals can target people through social media platforms, dating apps, and online chat forums, it can be through the use of webcams or by the victim being coerced into creating the image or video. They may use a fake identity to befriend them online and then threaten to send images or videos to family and friends. It’s a crime that is sometimes committed by individuals, but organised crime groups are often behind it, and they are experts in deceiving people.

“We hope this campaign will raise awareness of the risks of sharing sexual images and videos, as we are seeing a year-on-year sharp increase in the number of reports we are receiving. It’s heart-breaking how much of an effect it has on victims and their families.

“The advice I always give people is – if you wouldn’t want your image to be seen on a billboard, please don’t share it. We see the damage it can do to people’s confidence and wellbeing when it goes wrong.”

“We also want to reach out to people who have experienced sextortion – to let them know they’re not alone. We ask people to tell their friends and family and report it to us. We can help you take back control”

Mark Shelford, Police and Crime Commissioner said,

“As the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners lead for Economic and Cyber Crime, I know these online offences have very real-world consequences. This campaign will protect people by equipping them with knowledge to spot this fraudulent behaviour. 

“When we empower the public, we take the power back from organised crime gangs.  Raising awareness increases public resistance and resilience to fraud offences and helps to dispel the shame that stops victims coming forward and reporting.”

Please watch the below video and share it with loved ones and families. We want to make everyone aware of the risks, to hopefully reduce the number of victims of this crime.

Victims of sextortion can find support here Support for victims of sextortion | Avon and Somerset Police

*41 per cent rise from 2021/22 to 2022/23, and a 43 per cent rise from 2020/21 to 2021/22.