Why are sextortion criminals targeting boys? An expert shares how they’re being singled out

 Worried teenage boy looking at his phone.
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It might come as a shock that sextortion criminals are targeting boys over girls - an expert shares why they're more likely to be victims of this devastating crime.

Parents concerned about cyberbullying and searching for internet safety tips have a serious threat to consider - if you want to keep your children safe online, you need to know about the rise in sextortion victims. This digital crime involves young people being tricked or blackmailed into handing over intimate pictures to criminals, who then make financial demands and threaten to release the pictures if money isn't handed over to them.

The rate of sextortion is rising at such an alarming rate, teachers are being told to look for signs of it in their pupils. Surprisingly, boys are far more likely to be victims of the crime, with a report from technology company Thorn and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) suggesting 90 per cent of victims of financial sextortion since  2020 were boys between the ages of 14 and 17.

Of these reports, ‘catfishing’ was the most commonly reported method of criminal carrying out sextortion. They manipulate teenage boys into sharing sexual images or videos, before threatening to share that imagery with family, friends, or and social media followers the boy has, unless they are paid.

Instagram and Snapchat are the top platforms where criminals make initial contact with victims - Instagram accounts for 45.1 per cent of cases, and Snapchat 31.6 per cent. Instagram is also overwhelmingly the most common platform criminals suggest they'll share intimate pictures, accounting for 81.3 per cent of reports. Facebook and YouTube were next in line, with perpetuators threatening to post content there if not saying they'd share it to Instagram.

But why are boys being targeted? There isn't enough discussion being given to this question, so we spoke to cyber safety expert Dr Jacqui Taylor, who gave us her thoughts on the matter. Jacqui says "Sextortion has negative psychological, physical, and social consequences for victims, and in 2023 sextortion was classified a global crisis by international law enforcement agencies. One of the interesting aspects of sextortion is that men are twice as likely to have experienced this than women, and based on my research into it I have identified some potential reasons for this."

3 reasons boys are more likely to be targeted for sextortion

  1. Boys are more likely to 'accept' partners who approach them for online dating. As Jacqui explains, boys and men have a much higher acceptance rate when they're approached by potential romantic interests online - there are studies available to back this up. Sextortion criminals are on the lookout for an easy win, and won't want to waste their time attempting to catfish women and girls, if they're less likely to see results.

  2. Boys are more socially isolated. Jacqui says "Men and boys may also fall prey to sextortion in an effort to escape social isolation, which increased dramatically for them in recent years." One study suggests boys with disrupted relationship histories are disproportionately affected by social isolation, which increases through adolescence and into later life. If you're lonely, seeking solace online appears a natural thing to do. Even better is if you're lonely and someone you find attractive or interesting shows an interest.

  3. Men are more likely to perpetrate sextortion. Jacqui shares "Men are more likely than women to send unsolicited images, which may then be distributed and/or used to extort them." Men seem to have much less conscience over making others victims of sextortion. In this instance, men carrying out the crimes know their audience and what is most likely to get them their money. Knowing that boys and men are more susceptible to sextortion means their target is identified and they've got their focus.

While boys might be targets for sextortion, online harassment of girls is now so standard it's almost become accepted. If you haven't already, you need to talk to your kids about the dangers of sadfishing, and we share how to protect your child's privacy online.