More males than females made complaints about extortion based on intimate and sexual images during 2021–22 eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant has reported.
Reports of image-based abuse to the eSafety Commissioner increased by 55 per cent in 2021-22 to more than 4,000 reports. There has been a surge in both the number and proportion of males reporting image-based abuse: from around 1,300 reports (49 per cent of all reports) in 2020-21 to almost 2,500 reports (59 per cent of all reports) in 2021–22.
‘This jump is being driven by a surge in sexual extortion reports. In 2021–22, 55 per cent of image-based abuse reports concerned some form of sexual extortion, with most of these – 76 per cent – from men, typically aged 18 to 24 years,’ Ms Inman Grant said.
These are often operated by ‘offshore organised crime, rather than by solo opportunists’ who use images of sexually appealing women in online chats, dating apps etc to get young men to provide intimate and sexual images of themselves.
‘These criminals use proven emotional tactics and fake profile pictures of attractive women to ensnare young men in online chats, which quickly turns sexual, then elicit intimate images before flipping the conversation into a nasty game of chicken. They’ll flood their target’s phone with aggressive messages, threatening to share their intimate images unless they pay up,’ Ms Grant said.
’We’ve heard from people who’ve been blackmailed into paying more than $10,000. But these are professional criminals, so once they get a bite, they will keep coming back.’
Report for removal
The eSafety Commission say they are having positive successes in having URLs containing this type of material removed.
‘We’re working closely with social media services to alert them to accounts that are being used to elicit, share or threaten to share intimate content, either as part of a sexual extortion scam or other types of image-based abuse. Last financial year, we identified over 3,500 accounts and 75 per cent of them were subsequently deleted,’ Ms Grant explained.
‘If your intimate content has been shared, whether that’s part of a sexual extortion scam or by someone you know, report it to esafety.gov.au. Last financial year, our investigators had an 88 per cent success rate in having URLs taken down.’
For anyone targeted by sexual extortion from a known or unknown source the behaviour becomes a criminal issue and should be reported to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) -led Australian Centre for Countering Child Exploitation.
New figures are part of eSafety’s 2021–22 Annual Report reveals that complaints about illegal and restricted content continue to rise. This type of content includes child sexual exploitation material and pro-terror content and increased by 45 per cent in 2021–22 compared to 2018–19.
Child sexual exploitation
‘The pandemic supercharged demand for this horrific content, taking it from the dark web onto sites any of us might stumble across. During 2021-22, we took action that resulted in the removal of more than 11 thousand URLs for prohibited online content,’ Ms Grant said.
‘Almost all of these web pages – 99 per cent – provided access to child sexual exploitation material and were referred to our global partners for removal, and to law enforcement. But the volume of reports we’re dealing with reinforces the urgent need for systemic, industry-wide change to get this content proactively taken down.
The number of cyberbullying reports (1,542) to eSafety in 2021–22 increased by 65 per cent, with the majority concerning girls (63 per cent) and those aged 12 to 16 years (78 per cent). eSafety’s requests to online platforms to remove serious cyberbullying material were successful in 88 per cent of cases.
‘We’re pleased that more and more young people feel confident to seek help and advice from eSafety. It reinforces the value of our education programs, which reached more than 1.2 million educators, students, parents and community members last financial year,’ Ms Grant said.
‘eSafety’s image-based abuse, cyberbullying and adult cyber abuse schemes are the only legislated complaints mechanisms dealing with these types of harms anywhere in the world. Australians come to us in great distress; and we know the faster we remove the content, the more relief we provide the victim-survivor. We’re proud of our harms minimisation approach and our high rate of success.
‘We also encourage anyone who has had an upsetting or stressful experience online to talk to family, friends and loved ones about the impact and how you feel. If you need extra support, talk to your doctor or call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.’