To Sext or not Sext?

Why is there such an increase in young people sending naked pictures of themselves to each other? Are they really so naïve as to imagine they won’t be potentially shared, shown to others, posted online by a bitter ex or used for blackmail? If they believe they can trust the discretion of the recipient, they are, all too often, proved very wrong.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) this week launched a campaign (http://www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/crime-threats/kidnap-and-extortion/sextortion) to warn of the dangers of sending sexual pictures through messaging apps, social media and chatrooms. The warning came after four men were reported to have killed themselves, after being targeted in a fast-growing blackmail scam being called “sextortion”.

Current statistics indicate that 1 in 7 young people have sent a nude or semi-nude picture to someone else, with older teens, especially girls, more likely to send a sext. The NCA said sextortion victim figures have more than doubled in the past year. My personal estimate is that the problem is likely to be far worse than this as so many cases are likely being unreported.

I was recently called late one weekend night by a well-known female celebrity. She was in a wild panic that her email had been hacked – along with several sext messages and ‘cheeky’ pictures she’d sent her boyfriend who was away overseas on business. When she described the contents to me, it was clear there were some very compromising images. Had these been distributed, her successful career might have crashed in flames. Fortunately, my team managed to recover them and save her from that public shame. Sitting down with her afterwards and seeing her relief, I said, ‘Well, you won’t be doing that again, then?” I was stunned when she replied, ‘No, not at all. I like sending them. I’ll just be more careful next time’. I believe I did what is commonly termed a ‘face-palm’ on hearing this. 

Another case involved a different famous female celebrity who acrimoniously broke off her relationship to some pretty dodgy fella (Why do these beautiful successful women tend to pick the strangest men to partner with?). He gallantly offered to share their “intimate” pictures with the cyber-world, if she didn’t pay him £50,000. A plain and straightforward blackmail. We gently pointed out to him that he was committing a criminal act (added to which there was a copyright infringement issue too - she’d take the pictures not him). He sheepishly handed back the phone and crawled back under the stone he evidently had come from. Far from this being a cautionary experience for her, she too didn’t seem that dissuaded from potentially doing it again in the future. 

The latest sexploitation reports are showing an escalation of this. Young people, often men, are being coerced by “hot” young ladies to undress or perform sexual acts on social media chatroom sites. To their cost, they are then discovering that 'FoxyRoxy' is actually a group of organised criminals who threaten to spread the videos around the victim’s Facebook and social media unless he pays them money.

One case I dealt with involved a boy’s mother who called me. Her son had become increasingly withdrawn and depressed and he eventually confessed the situation he’d got himself into. He’d paid the money but the demands kept coming.

In my experience, the threats don’t disappear when the money is paid, Blackmailers get greedy and want more and they know they have their claws into the victim. As tough as it might sound, the general rule is simply not to comply with the demands. Call their bluff. I have had many cases (like the boy I mentioned) where they simply go on to the the next target and don’t follow through with the threat. Yes, it’s a gamble, but what’s the alternative? Keep paying them until you have no money left?

One thing to always remember is: ‘Take the Risks - Accept the consequences’. My advice would always be, if you don’t send anything compromising, you won’t get caught out. Listening to respected Talk Radio Breakfast host, Paul Ross, yesterday morning he gave pretty good advice by saying ‘Unless you’d be comfortable to shout it in the street, don’t put it online’. The same could also be said to holding up a picture. Would you stand in the middle of a busy street and hold up a picture of yourself naked? The risks of sending something like this electronically are akin to this. In fact, there is more risk because when something is online, it will always be there. Imagine your future bosses finding those images.

However, I’m old school (I remember polaroids!) and I recognise that many young people are prepared to take the risks and send the pictures regardless. So what is the best advice I can give those who are still so determined to send sexy pictures or video chats to their loved ones?

Hide your face:

If you really want to send your ‘lover’ a cheeky picture- I could take a wild guess it’s not your beautiful/handsome smile they’ll be focusing on.

Angle the camera below your neck:

Hair colour, length, neck identifiers (adam’s apple, beard, jawlines, etc.), regularly worn jewellery (earrings, necklaces, etc.), piercings, etc. can all reveal who you are.

Don’t show your hands

Our hands can be very revealing, from our fingers, moles, scars, to also wedding and engagement rings and watches – all big giveaways..

Conceal Body markings

Visible moles, freckles, birthmarks and tattoos could easily identify you.

Have a natural backdrop

Your home, furniture, décor, pets, framed pictures of you, friends or family in the background could all identify you

Clothing

You might not be wearing any but what if there are any discarded clothes in the background? Be cautious of anything your friends or family might recognise.

Location

Be careful you are not also giving away your location on the photograph. Check the location settings on your messenger, app (Snapchat, WhatsApp, etc.) and also in yourcamera settings and photos library. 

Be aware that there is every chance your photo will be shared and even if using something like SnapChat, the recipient could always screenshot or use another App to recover the image.

Lastly, to those of you still wanting to send a picture, consider that it could end up not only on the internet for all to see but perhaps more importantly by your parents, siblings, friends, future lovers, relationships and employers (now and in the future) for the rest of your life.  

Seriously, is it really worth it?