Online blackmail

Online blackmail

Advice on talking to your child about online blackmail, ways you can support them and access help if they need it.

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What is online blackmail?

Online blackmail is when someone threatens to share private information, images or videos of a person unless something is done for them.

Young people sometimes send nude pictures or videos to flirt, or have fun with people they like online. Often, they believe that they won’t be shared any further and, most of the time, images and videos do stay private.

Unfortunately, there are some people online who may try to trick or pressure young people into sending nude images or videos of themselves. This can happen through their favourite social media app, website or platform.

Once an offender has a nude image or a video, they will threaten to share it publicly, unless the young person meets a demand, like sending them money (financial ‘sextortion’) or more nude images. Often, these people won’t carry out the threat, but sometimes they do.

It’s important to remember that a child is never to blame if they have been blackmailed online; the reality is that it could happen to anyone.

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Why might a child send nude images or videos?

Offenders who blackmail are highly skilled and trick children into sharing sexual content in a number of ways. Once they have an image or video, they may threaten the child with revealing it to their family, friends or publicly, or may even use the threat of other harm to make the child share more nude or sexual content of themselves or meet demands for money.

To get young people to share nude images or videos, offenders may:

  • Pretend to be forming a real friendship or romantic relationship with the young person, this may include pretending to be another young person
  • Give flattery and compliments, encoring a young person into being more open
  • Offer something of value, such as a modelling contract, money or online gaming credits
  • Claim that they’ve hacked the child’s device and already have access to explicit and embarrassing content of them, which they then threaten to share publicly

Embarrassment, fear of judgement or getting into trouble is often a big barrier to young people reporting or telling someone what has happened to them. Recently, this crime has seen a significant rise in boys as victims, with the Internet Watch Foundation reporting a 137% of imagery of boys in 2022. Our article can help parents and carers to understand why boys are less likely to speak out, and what you can do to support your child.

Talking to your child about online blackmail

Having regular, open and non-judgemental conversations with your child can create trust and support your child to seek your help if something happens to them online. Here are some tips:

  • Chat regularly. Talk to them often, make these ongoing conversations part of your family life. The more relaxed and calm you seem, the more open your child will be to talking to you about their online life, and coming to you for help if they need it. Try talking about stories you have seen in the news or on TV about online blackmail and whether it’s something they or their friends are concerned about.

  • Talk about where to find age appropriate information about sex and relationships. It is natural for young people to experiment with their sexual feelings online. However, it is important that your child knows that offering or accepting money for image sharing and sexual activity online is not healthy relationship behaviour. CEOP Education’s website and organisations such as Childline and Brook have age appropriate advice on topics such as sexual communication and image sharing within healthy and unhealthy relationships.

  • Ensure your child knows they can turn to you for support. Let your child know that they can come to you for help with any online concerns or incidents that are worrying them. Suggest other trusted adults or sources of help they can go to if they feel they can’t talk to you, this might include talking to Childline.

  •  Make sure your child knows where to report. Empower them to know where to go to report concerns. Remind your child they can report concerns, including online blackmail, directly within an app or platform they are using. If your child shared a nude image because they were threatened, pressured, or forced to, or you believe your child is being groomed or is at risk of sexual abuse you should report to us at CEOP. For more information, read our article on when and how to make a report to CEOP.

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Where can I get help if this has happened to my child?

If your child has told you that someone has contacted them online and is trying to trick, threaten, or blackmail them:

  • Don’t respond.  If someone is making threats or demands against your child, it is safer to advise your child not to respond or communicate with them in any way. 
  • Block them.  Advise your child to block the person on all accounts they have been contacting them on. It's a good idea not to delete anything that could be used as evidence against the blackmailer. Any attempts of blackmail made against your child should also be reported to CEOP.

If this has already happened to your child, there are steps you can take:

  • Reassure them that they’ve done the right thing by telling you. It will have taken a lot of courage for your child to speak to you about something that has happened online, particularly if it involves sexual abuse. They may be struggling with feelings of shame if they’ve been coerced into performing sexual acts or sharing images, and anxiety or fear about telling you. Make sure they know they’re not to blame and they have done the right thing seeking your help. 
  • If they have been blackmailed or sexually abused online they can report it to CEOP. If your child has already reached the age of 18, report the crime to the police. The Internet Watch Foundation has dedicated resources for children and adults who have been victims of online blackmail or ‘Sextortion’.
  • If someone has shared an image or video of them online without their consent and they’re under 18Report Remove from Childline and the Internet Watch Foundation can help to take it down from the internet.