FAU researchers study sexual blackmail in teens

The researchers are the first to tackle this.


Males were significantly more likely to have participated in sextortion, as both the victim and the offender, than females. Image courtesy of Schriever Air Force Base

Caroline Bell, Contributing Writer

Editor’s note | Stephanie James’ name has been changed, as she wished to remain anonymous.


After Stephanie James ended a relationship with a man, he began banging on her front door, constantly texting her from various phone numbers, and begging to see her.


“He texted me from a burner phone and told me that he was going to post videos of us having sex if I didn’t meet up with him. He said that it wouldn’t affect him because he’s rich and successful and that it would ruin my life. I felt super violated and scared that my reputation was going to go down the drain,” the FAU senior recalled.


What James described is called “sextortion,” which is when people threaten to spread sexual images and/or videos unless other sexual content, sexual favors, or money is provided. FAU researchers conducted a study on sextortion that’s the first of its kind, which was published in the Sexual Abuse journal last month. The research was led by Sameer Hinduja, a criminology professor at FAU, and sampled over 5,000 middle and high school students around the country.


Here are some findings:

  • Males were significantly more likely to have participated in sextortion, as both the victim and the offender, than females.
  • Five percent of the youth sampled had been a target of sextortion.
  • Three percent admitted they’d threatened to blackmail others.
  • Youth who threatened others with sextortion were more likely to be victims themselves.
  • Youth who identified as nonheterosexual were more than twice as likely to be the victim of sextortion.
  • Most sextortion experiences occur in existing friendships.


Sextortion is the most important and fastest growing cyber threat to children, according to the U.S. Justice Department.


Amanda Todd’s case was their motivation to do the study. Todd committed suicide after a stranger threatened to post naked pictures she had sent, and the case quickly captured international attention in 2012.


“We thought maybe this is occurring to more teenagers, let’s conduct a study about kids sending nudes and whether this could be one of the major negatives that happens,” Hinduja said.


To avoid being sextorted, Hinduja advises students to be on the lookout for warning signs in their relationship, such as controlling or passive aggressive behavior, constantly asking where you are, or demanding to go through your phone or computer.


“We need to continue to have more conversations with youth about what constitutes a healthy relationship,” Hinduja said. “We don’t have these conversations as much as we should so young people end up following examples set by music and television.”


Though the study focused on sextortion among teens, Hinduja says it can be a problem among adults as well.


“I would imagine sextortion occurs at FAU because, according to our research, participation in sending and receiving nudes increases as one gets older, so the likelihood of sextortion increases as well,” Hinduja said.


Caroline Bell is a contributing writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].