Have you ever got a text containing sexual content from someone you do not know? Have you ever engaged in sexual conversations with strangers online?
Although it is not so that every stranger online is someone you need to avoid, it is better to not engage in certain kinds of conversations with strangers online. There are times when we see certain people who are our friends of a friend and we do not mind talking to them, however, things can get pretty tricky if they are not the kind of people you thought them to be. Even people we know can turn out to be someone completely different. Engaging in any kind of sexting or conversations related to any sexual content must be avoided on online platforms even with people who you may be knowing as it can be used against you.
Sextortion is a form of cybercrime that is very prevalent in the world today and it has been reported that India witnesses more than 500 cases of sextortion daily making it the sextortion capital of the world. Despite millions of cases going unreported, the number of cases is extremely high and cases are getting reported every day which shows how this is a big issue in India today and also shows how millions of people fall prey to it. Even educated people holding high positions in all sorts of jobs get pulled into these scams. There is no age limit and everyone is targeted despite their age, race, sex or gender. The main aim of this sextortion is mostly to extort money which becomes very easy for them because the individuals being blackmailed often are buried in shame, guilt and fear and are unable to think with reason.
Initially, it was mostly reported among middle-aged men and women however nowadays this is not the case and even young adolescents fall victim to such crimes. There have been many incidents wherein adolescents who have been victims of sextortion have ended their lives because they could see no other way out of it and were too scared to report them. Although cases like these have been there before the Covid 19 pandemic, it seems to have increased to a much larger scale after the lockdown. During the lockdown, many people were alone and lonely and because of the lack of social meet-ups could have felt desperate to connect with people. The number of cases after the pandemic has increased a lot and people of all ages are undergoing such crimes. It is so prevalent that the person sitting beside you as you are reading this may be undergoing it and you may not know it.
Sextortion is an online crime wherein cyber criminals collect the sexual data of individuals through various means like sexting and video calls and threaten to spread them online. Often, they create profiles of people of the opposite sex and make the individuals believe that they are talking to someone of the opposite sex and build trust. They start with slight intimate texting which turns into proper sexting and then slowly to the exchange of nudes and explicit videos and video calls which are recorded by the cyber criminals without the knowledge of the individuals. Then after the collection of the materials, they begin blackmailing the individuals by threatening to leak their nudes and videos. They do not always ask for money straight away and may instead blackmail the individuals to engage in further sharing of explicit content after which they ask for money. Often feeling trapped and out of fear and shame individuals give in to these demands and continue to engage in conversations with cyber criminals hoping that by following their demands they will be left free. However, they only get more entangled in their webs.
Often people who are being blackmailed do not report their cases or even tell anyone around them because of the fear of their reputation going down and because of shame and guilt which is heightened by the fraudsters who use certain language while blackmailing making the individuals feel alone and unworthy of help. Society at large does not always see the world as black and white or good or evil. It’s not new that society points fingers at the people who are suffering. Society does not look at any one party as the major problem and often blames the victim for what they may be going through.
This makes it harder for people who are undergoing certain traumatic incidents to come forward and ask for help. Although not in cases like rape, in cases of sextortion most often the victim to has some blame or the other which makes it even harder for them to ask for help and makes them more vulnerable to blackmail and they become easy prey for extortion of money.
Sextortion greatly affects the mental health of individuals. The individuals blame themselves for having been scammed and for having engaged in such conversations online. It increases the level of self-hate and lowers their self-esteem. They get easily agitated and have nervous breakdowns, have trouble sleeping, have trust issues and become suspicious of the people around them and cannot stop overthinking because they are in constant fear that others around them may get to know what happened. People who do not report the crime and people who report the crime both undergo similar kinds of mental stress and trauma to an extent however those hiding may be having an even harder time as they are all alone and it is all bottled up inside. Although when people report their cases, they do not always end up getting help and there are times when their mental health has worsened after asking for help because of the way the people around them react, the fact that they opened up to someone also helps release some sort of stress. However, there are times when the family and peers who the individuals confide in may not encourage them to report to higher authorities and may even blame them. There are also times when those who the individuals confide in may take advantage of this knowledge and further blackmail the individuals. Because such incidents are so common it becomes even harder for individuals to confide in people and report these crimes. There are many individuals both young and old who have lost their lives because they could see no other way out and there was no one they could trust enough to confide in.
The mental health of the induvial who undergo such crimes is in pieces and they go through a lot of stress and anxiety. Most people undergo depression and other mental disorders as well. Traumatic situations as such can manifest themselves into different kinds of mental disorders in different people. Different people have different genetic makeups and have lived different lives and may have undergone different kinds of traumas and stressors in their lives before the sextortion, therefore the trauma and stressors attached to the sextortion can manifest themselves differently in different individuals. People must be made more aware of these kinds of crimes so that they do not fall victim to them and also so that they create a space where the individuals around them who are suffering from crimes such as this can confide in them and report these crimes and get help.