The perpetrator can be a current or former partner, a stranger who has hacked into a person’s photos or webcam, or an online dating scammer.
Since the start of the pandemic, non-profit organizations, government institutions, and legal professionals in the US have also reported a substantial increase in technology-facilitated sexual violence.
While other forms of technology-facilitated sexual violence, such as nonconsensual (sometimes called “revenge”) pornography, have been increasingly researched in recent years, sextortion has received less attention.
To know this, Florida International University (FIU) and Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) conducted a study on 2,006 people if they had ever been a victim of sextortion.
Researchers defined sextortion as the act of threatening to expose a nude or sexually explicit image to get a person to do something such as send more nude or sexually explicit images, pay someone money or perform sexual acts.
Four and a half percent of men and 2.3 percent of women said they’d experienced sextortion since the start of the pandemic. This surprised the researchers, who expected women to be at the greatest risk.
“There are several reasons why US men more often reported being victims of sextortion during the pandemic than women,” says researcher Dr. Asia Eaton, an Associate Professor of Psychology at FIU and Head of Research for CCRI.
This also highlighted gender disparities in unpaid care work and household-related work since the start of the pandemic; it is possible that men had more time to spend online than women during the pandemic.
The results also revealed race and sexuality-related differences in rates of sextortion, with Black women, Native American women, and LGBTQ individualsthree groups that are at higher risk of other types of sexual violence and coercionalso at higher risk of sextortion.
Black and Native American women were around seven times more likely to be victims of sextortion than White women. Rates in LGBTQ respondents were up to three times as high as in heterosexual individuals.
Age was also a factor, with rates highest among 18 to 29-year-olds, perhaps due to the greater sexual experimentation and use of technology in this age group.
The study also found that people who had experienced sexual violence from a partner before the pandemic were more likely to experience sextortion during the pandemic.
Researchers conclude that questions about technology-facilitated sexual violence should be added to tests used by clinical professionals to assist in identifying patients who are in abusive relationships before referring them for counseling and other help.
Sex education programs that teach about consent, pleasure, and healthy relationship communication and decision-making may reduce both in-person and technology-facilitated sexual violence.
Limitations of the study include that the data consists only of self-reports and that it was just collected in the first year of the pandemic.