Report: ”Then ’she’ took a screenshot and it all began”

In ECPAT Sweden’s (ECPAT) work to combat the sexual exploitation of children, we have seen how an increasingly large proportion of the crimes have moved to the internet. In recent years, we have noted the emergence of a new type of crime that is largely targeted at teenage boys. It differs from the typical sexual crimes against children that we encounter in that the primary motive is financial gain for the perpetrator. We have chosen to call this type of crime financial sextortion. The perpetrators often belong to organised crime, and children are now their new victims. 

This report is based on experiences and knowledge gained from contacts with children via our helpline Ditt ECPAT, as well as the information that children and young people have shared with us in our annual online survey “Nude Online”. In the 2022 edition of the survey, we included questions to children regarding financial sextortion. 

Children and young people describe for us how the perpetrators are skilled at adapting their approach in order to both reach them and then manipulate them to send sexualised material. It is this material that then forms the basis for the extortion. By pretending to be girls of the same age, the perpetrators are able to persuade boys to send nude photos or videos of themselves. They then threaten to spread the photos or videos to the boys’ contact network if they don’t pay them money. The amounts can vary from one thousand to tens of thousands of Swedish kronor. We see that a different approach is employed when girls are targeted, whereby the perpetrators do not pressure the girls for money but rather sell the child sexual abuse material that has been documented. In both cases, the perpetrators are aware of the children’s sense of shame and fear when it comes to involving the adult world, which is a prerequisite for not being discovered. 

When it comes to financial sextortion, the majority of the victims are boys. We can see that the vulnerability of boys runs the risk of being marginalised or overlooked, as there is often a erception that only girls are victimised. There needs to be a norm shift when we talk about sexual crimes against children. The adult world’s treatment and response – towards both boys and girls – needs to be characterised by respect, empathy and attentiveness, and we need to be inquisitive about what is happening in their everyday lives online. It is also important that we are clear about where the blame lies if something has happened, which is never with the child. 

It is our hope that this report will serve to highlight the vulnerability of boys and girls to financial sextortion. We would like to thank all the children and young people who participated in our “Nude Online” survey in 2022 and who not only bravely shared their own experiences but also provided advice to other children who may encounter situations in which they are subjected to sextortion. You have made it possible for us to highlight the type of crime to which many children and young people are exposed, so that we can work to prevent more children from falling victim to this crime.

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