One of the latest and unfortunately most common types of cases we are currently dealing with in our office is what we refer to as “Sextortion”. We use the term “Sextortion” to refer to the threat of distributing private or sexual images or videos as a form of blackmail in order to receive something in return (most frequently money).
At the Digital Law Company, we receive at least one of these queries a day. The scenario always plays out in exactly the same way:
- Two people (Person A and Person B) meet online (often on a dating app like Tinder or Grindr) or sometimes even on Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn.
- The communication swiftly moves to WhatsApp where inevitably nude photographs or videos are requested and subsequently exchanged.
- It suddenly emerges that Person A, as a recipient of the nude content, is not who he or she says he/she is (often turning out to be a person of a different gender altogether).
- Person A threatens Person B that if payment of a sum of money via a money transfer service is not made within a short period of time, the intimate content will be shared on social media and/or with family members / colleagues / employers.
The modus operandi of the “sextortionists” we are coming across is so strikingly similar with each case we deal with, that we believe there to be a syndicate operating in South Africa. The greatest challenge we face with this situation is that the sextortionists use un-RICA’d phones and change phone numbers constantly – so tracing their real identity is an extremely challenging task. Payment is always requested via an untraceable money transfer service (eg. eWallet, ShopRite Money Market, MoneyGram, CashSend, Send iMali) and there is no bank account which could help trace the sextortionist.
While sextortion is a rather worrying indictment of society at the moment, its prevalence means we cannot ignore it, and need to know how to deal with it should we find ourselves in a situation like this. Here are some practical tips:
Don’t send nudes to people you don’t know or have just met online. Don’t take at face value that people are who they say they are online. If you have started an online relationship, then FaceTime or Skype the person ( if meeting them in the real world is not an option).
However, if you have already sent nudes to people you don’t know, and find yourself in a situation where you are the victim of sextortion, here is what you should do:
- Do not, under any circumstances pay the money. This only ends in requests for more money. The demands won’t stop.
- Block the contact on WhatsApp and any other way they have of contacting you.
- Consider temporarily deactivating your social media accounts until the person leaves you alone. Your accounts can always be reactivated at a later stage. Should the threats be extended to your family members, they should consider doing the same.
- Take screenshots of the threats to preserve the evidence.
- If they persist in contacting you, consider changing your mobile number.
- If following these steps doesn’t help and your intimate content lands up online, report it to the relevant platform immediately.
Should the person trying to sextort you be someone you know:
Consider laying a criminal charge of extortion and / or obtain a protection order under the Protection from Harassment Act or the Domestic Violence Act. The non-consensual dissemination of private or sexual images or videos (colloquially referred to as Revenge Pornography) is being specifically criminalised in two pieces of legislation currently before Parliament. Until these laws are passed, victims of revenge pornography can lay criminal charges of crimen injuria and sue for damages for infringement to privacy and dignity.