Monday 5 February 2024
This World Safer Internet Day (6 February), the National Youth Mental Health Foundation headspace is breaking down the stigma surrounding sextortion and online abuse, by reminding young people they are not to blame and support for their mental health is available.
Sexual extortion or ‘sextortion’ is a form of blackmail, whereby someone threatens to share sexual images or videos of you unless you give in to their demands.
Australia’s eSafety Commissioner has said that young men are increasingly targeted by organised crime groups, who threaten to send their sexual images or videos to family, friends, and colleagues unless they pay a ransom. 
Indeed, statistics from the most recent headspace National Youth Mental Health Survey found one in five (22%) young people have had someone threaten to hurt them online or via their mobile phone,14 per cent of participants had experienced catfishing, and 12 per cent have had someone post a mean or hurtful video of them online.
The Survey also found that young people experiencing high or very high psychological distress were more likely to have experienced some form of cyberbullying (47%) in the previous month, compared to those experiencing low or moderate psychological distress (21%).
Experiences of online abuse – in particular sextortion – can have a big impact on a young person’s mental health, and they may feel scared, anxious, trapped, shame, or pressure to keep it a secret.
This World Safer Internet Day, headspace is encouraging young people to:
- Be aware of the signs of sextortion - including feeling pressured to respond immediately, receiving demands to send money, gift cards, or more images, and being told that your images will be shared if you don’t comply with these demands.
- Know that it is not their fault, and that help is available. Although this can be a scary experience, seeking support and talking about things can help you to cope with what you’re feeling.
- Learn how to access information and advice on responding to sextortion, including making a report - making a report is one way of stopping sextortion and preventing it from happening to other young people.
headspace Senior Clinical Advisor Jessie Downey said: “There are major barriers to young people seeking help after an experience of sextortion, including feelings of embarrassment or shame, and fear of backlash from others.
“Given this can be a really frightening and distressing experience for young people, it is important to get support if you feel you’re not coping. If you don’t feel ready to talk to somebody you know, there are lots of free, confidential support services that can help.
“We want young people to know that sextortion is a crime and it’s never okay for somebody to share – or threaten to share – your images without your consent.
“We are encouraging young people, and the people that support them, to be aware of sextortion, to understand that it is not the young person’s fault and encourage reaching out for support if it is happening to you.
“There are things you can look out for online that might indicate you’re experiencing sextortion. Feeling pressured, tricked, or made to feel bad about yourself if you don’t share your sexual photos or videos may be warning signs.
“If you’re not sure whether you’re experiencing sextortion, but something doesn’t feel quite right, it’s best to trust your gut feeling and chat to somebody you trust.”
Young people aged 12 to 25, as well as their family and friends can visit a headspace centre for support. Support is also available via phone and online counselling service eheadspace seven days a week between 9am–1am (AEST). The number is 1800 650 890.
If you’re looking for someone to talk to immediately, Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), and 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) are available to talk 24/7.
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Link to more information from the National Youth Mental Health Survey
Notes to Editor: Study key findings
- One in five young people have had someone threaten to hurt them online or via their mobile phone (22%) and 14 per cent of participants had experienced catfishing.
- Young people experiencing high or very high psychological distress were more likely to have experienced some form of cyberbullying (47%), compared to those experiencing low or moderate psychological distress (21%).
- Six in ten young Australians have experienced some form of cyberbullying in their lifetime (61%).
- The most commonly experienced forms of cyberbullying were being left out of, or removed from, group messages or group chats – with two in five having experienced this in their lifetime (43%).
- One in three have had someone post mean or hurtful comments about them online (35%)
- Just under three in ten have had someone spread rumours about them online (28%).
- 12 per cent have had someone post a mean or hurtful video of them online
Notes to Editor: warning signs of sextortion
- Something doesn’t feel quite right – If their online profile doesn’t match what you see and hear, or you just have a bad gut feeling, it’s best to trust your intuition.
- You’re feeling pressured – if they keep asking you to do something you’re not comfortable doing, consider what their intentions are.
- They rush you – if you’re being rushed to say or do things you’re not ready for, or if the conversation gets personal very quickly, it might be time to take a break.
- They make excuses – avoiding video calls or phone conversations is a sign that the person does not match their profile.
Notes to Editor: Advice from the eSafety Commissioner - what should I do if I’m being blackmailed?
- Collect evidence - Save a record of:
- all contact from the blackmailer, particularly their demands and threats
- how they contacted you – for example, the Facebook URL (web address) where the blackmailer sent you a threat or their usernames on Snapchat, Instagram and any other online platforms
- when they contacted you, including dates and times
- details about the blackmailer – for example, their bank account or phone number
- any reports you have made about the issue to any online platforms or to police.
- Report sexual extortion
- If you’re under 18, the best way to get help is to report it to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE).
- If you’re 18 years or older, report it to any platforms or services where the blackmailer contacted you. If your intimate image or video is shared, or if the platform doesn’t help, you can report it to eSafety.
- Stop further contact, tighten security and prevent sharing
- After you have collected evidence, use in-app functions or your device settings to block the blackmailer and ask your friends to do the same.
- You can also temporarily deactivate your accounts to prevent the blackmailer harassing you (but don’t delete the accounts, as you may lose evidence that way).
- Review the privacy and security settings of your accounts to limit who can contact you. If you’ve been scammed, change the passwords for your social media and other online accounts. For more information about how to adjust settings on different apps, games, websites and online platforms and services, see The eSafety Guide.
- If someone claims to have hacked or accessed any of your accounts, find out how to protect your personally identifiable information.
headspace is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation providing early intervention mental health services to 12-25-year olds. Each year, headspace helps thousands of young people access vital support through our headspace services in 156 communities across Australia , our online and phone counselling services, our vocational services, and our presence in schools. headspace can help young people with mental health, physical health (including sexual health) alcohol and other drug services, and work and study
support. For locations of headspace services, as well as factsheets and resources for young people and their families and friends, please visit the headspace website: headspace.org.au
 eSafety Commissioner, ‘Sexual extortion and child abuse reports almost triple’, (Media Release 25 May 2023) esafety.gov.au/newsroom/media-releases/sexual-extortion-and-child-abuse-reports-almost-triple
 headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health
For media enquiries please contact:
headspace Media & Communications: email@example.com or 0413 025 385