Teachers told to look out for ‘sextortion’ victims in schools as cases rise and boys are ‘most vulnerable’ - here’s everything you need to know

Plus signs of sextortion to look out for, and how to talk about it with your teen

Teenage boys and girls stood against school lockers
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As sextortion cases have doubled globally, teachers are being issued guidance to spot the signs, especially as research shows teenage boys are the biggest demographic being targeted.

How to keep kids safe online in a digital world can be a big concern for parents. Undress AI - apps with the ability to remove clothes, is one of the latest worrying protection issues leaving young people open to exploitation and abuse. With teens accessing unsafe, age-restricted and illegal content online in record time, the latest safety threats further compound the need to have open conversations with kids about the ease their safety can be compromised.

Sextortion is a digital crime now on the rise, and involves people being forced into handing over money, under the threat of intimate pictures of them being released if they don’t meet financial demands. Some perpetrators will trick unsuspecting victims into creating or sending the material. Others will use AI apps with ‘undress’ technology, creating fake pictures to blackmail people with. The fast-paced crime can see criminals attempting to extort a victim within an hour of initial contact.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) revealed the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children noted sextortion reports doubled between 2022-23. This was a rise from 10,731 to 26,718. While it’s entirely possible for both sexes to be targeted, parents should be aware that the biggest increase of victims has been within teenage boys aged between 14-18.

"Sextortion destroys lives. It is often driven by highly sophisticated organised crime groups who exploit vulnerable people for profit."

Security minister, Tom Tugendhat

This is such a concerning trend, the NCA has issued fresh guidance imploring teachers to be on the lookout for signs of sextortion. According to the Guardian, the NCA’s child protection team said their latest guidance “gives advice about spotting the signs of this type of abuse, supporting young people and encouraging them to seek help. It also includes guidance to be disseminated to parents and carers on how to talk to their child about sextortion, and how to support them if they become a victim – aiming to take away the stigma surrounding the topic and, in turn, [take] power away from those who wish to harm them.”

Security minister, Tom Tugendhat, added “Sextortion destroys lives. It is often driven by highly sophisticated organised crime groups who exploit vulnerable people for profit. It’s vital that technology companies take responsibility for the safety of their users by implementing stronger safeguards on their platforms. I would urge parents to talk to their children about their use of social media. Even sites that many assume to be safe may pose a risk.”

4 signs of sextortion to look out for

According to Internet Matters, the top four signs of sextortion to be aware of include:

  1. Your child might appear withdrawn, worried or unhappy compared to their usual self.
  2. They might stop using their phone or mobile device. 
  3. They might seem worried when a new message appears.
  4. Apps that they love might become sources of anxiety, and you might notice they stop using those platforms. 

How to talk to children about sextortion

Stop Sextortion has released some useful information relating to this matter.

  • Ask "Has anyone ever sent you a sexual picture or sext?" Their initial reaction might be to say no, but reassure them you have no judgment, and they can return to the conversation at any time.
  • Ask "Has anyone ever asked or pressured you to send a sexual picture or sext?" Explain that any pressure to send intimate pictures isn't right, and anyone asking for them isn't somebody to be trusted. 
  • Ask "Do you think it is okay to forward sexual or embarrassing images? Why?" Stress that these images should never be shared or forwarded, and legally anyone engaging in this could be in trouble for doing so. This can open up discussion about why nobody has the right to decide who should see someone else’s body.

Anyone targeted should never pay perpetrators money. If they have handed any money over and are asked for more, they should stop all contact and block and report the person extorting them. All communication received should be saved and could potentially be used as evidence. 

If you're concerned you or someone you know is a victim of sextortion, you should report the incident to the police immediately. For further support, you can contact The Revenge Porn Helpline – call 0345 6000 459, or The Samaritans – call 116 123.

Hearing that violent crime has become a normal part of children's lives online might add more concern to parental lists, but is important information to have. Some believe mobile phones banned in schools might alleviate some risks of exposure to harm, with one mum sharing why she regrets giving her 11-year-old a smartphone.   

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.