Sextortion, a form of webcam blackmail, is unfortunately one of the most common issues that we see on the Helpline. If a friend or family member has disclosed that they have been affected by this type of crime, it may leave you feeling confused, scared, or even angry. We recognise that it can be difficult to understand how or why this may have happened. However, it is important to remember that this person has opened up because they trust you. At this moment, it is vital that you put your feelings to one side and support your friend as best as you can.
Let us start by putting ourselves in your friend’s shoes. Imagine that you have met someone online that you think looks great. You are excited that this person has taken an interest in you, you exchange a few messages and things are going well. Your new friend asks you to chat via a video call. You agree, after all the conversation is going smoothly and you would like to get to know this person more. On the video call, the conversation quickly becomes intimate.
Immediately the call ends and you receive a flurry of messages including intimate images of yourself taken from the video call. These arrive alongside terrifying threats insisting that you transfer large sums of money to stop the content from being shared with your friends, family, or workplace.
Sounds scary right? It is difficult to imagine how you might react in this situation. Would you panic and send the money? Would you block the user and try not to worry? Would you feel confident enough to reach out and speak to someone about what is happening? Sextortion affects people in different ways, but we know that this experience can feel both humiliating and extremely stressful. So how can you best support your friend moving forwards?
Consensually sharing an intimate image or partaking in an intimate video call is not a crime and is not wrong, this is something that many people choose to do as part of healthy adult relationships. Threatening to share or sharing that content is against the law in the UK and it is important to recognize that your friend has been the victim of a crime. Regardless of your personal opinions, it is essential to be non-judgmental, reassure your friend that they have done nothing wrong and treat their experience with care and compassion.
A problem shared really is a problem halved, sitting with your friend and really listening to what has happened and how this has made them feel will almost certainly calm them down. Let your friend speak for as long as they need and really consider what they are saying. You do not need to give an opinion or offer any specific advice, purely being a listening ear and validating how your friend is feeling is enough.
We understand hearing that someone you care about has been threatened in this way can feel extremely stressful and you may feel panicked, angry, or unsure of what to do. To support your friend effectively, it is important for you to stay calm and encourage them to think about things rationally. Reassure your friend that regardless of what happens, you are here to support them and that everything will be ok.
Look for practical ways to help
There is advice on our website on the steps to take if you are being blackmailed in this way, you can access this here. However, when you are feeling panicked it can be difficult to think logically and take in this information. To best support your friend, you could help them to follow the advice that we offer. This may include gathering screenshot evidence of any threats your friend has received, saving URL links to the perpetrator’s social media accounts, and blocking and reporting the perpetrator on all platforms. You could also get in touch with The Helpline on your friend’s behalf if they do not feel comfortable contacting us directly.
Sextortion can feel frightening, but having the support of someone you trust, can be a reminder that you are not alone. If you know someone who has been affected by Sextortion, please encourage them to reach out, there are organisations that can help and people ready to offer support. You can access further support services on our website.