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16 Days of Activism: Day 10 - Because international students are targeted for sextortion

The new academic year has begun with nearly one in five students in the UK higher education sector travelling from abroad. At the Revenge Porn Helpline we are seeing an increasing need for support and advice from international students studying in the UK. International students are commonly victim to image-based sexual abuse and webcam blackmail, often referred to as ‘sextortion’.

What is ‘sextortion’?                                                                                                       In ‘sextortion’ cases, criminals often befriend you online by using a fake identity and then persuade you to perform sexual acts in front of their webcam. This is then recorded by the criminals who then threaten to share the images with your friends and family. This type of crime is often carried out by criminal gangs on an industrial scale from outside the UK.

Why are international students vulnerable to these types of crime in the UK?        These are global crimes and far from being just a crime in the UK. Young people studying abroad may have moved thousands of miles away from their friends and family and the social networks they grew up with. There can often be a culture shock in making the transition to life in the UK that can leave people feeling isolated and can lead to an increase in risk-taking behaviours. 

A study in Canada, interviewed a sample of female East Asian High School international students and discovered that they were 3x more likely to be sexually abused than the same local East Asian population and twice as likely to be sexually active. In Australia there are over 300,000 international students and a report for the Human Rights Commission found this group were particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse crimes. Six of the seven of primary cases studies involved sexual assault of international students. 

How are international students victim to sextortion?
Lost and lonely, international students are turning to the internet and world of social media to create online friendships. Students become the perfect target for this type of extortion. They are befriended by a gang member under a false identity and enticed into intimate online relations. Unknowingly, screenshots are taken of their online relations, or images sent in confidence are saved. If the student doesn’t pay large amounts of money they will exposed online and on their social media, or so they are threatened. The gangs know they are vulnerable, will be mortified to have these images exposed and most importantly, have access to large student loans. 

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