Ways to Help Avoid Falling Prey to Sextortion or Nonconsensual Image Sharing

Author: Davorian Ware

In an age of technology, much of our privacy lies within a quagmire. With the advent of video streaming services, we have a wealth of personal videos being uploaded to the Internet. Unfortunately, we also have malicious individuals who upload private videos and photos of somebody else without the person's consent. These acts are commonly known as either sextortion or revenge porn, but a better name for revenge porn is nonconsensual image sharing since the perpetrator's motive isn't always revenge. While there are many high-profile examples of these acts happening, there hasn’t been a lot of talk about protecting ourselves from having our private lives exposed.

Sextortion is when someone threatens to distribute or actually distributes private or sensitive material of someone if the victim doesn't provide the perpetrator such things as more images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money. People may think children are the only targets, but adults are victims as well. Adults sometimes confide in strangers online, or their computers are hacked, and they become sextortion victims. Sometimes perpetrators also use spam emails to intimidate random individuals into thinking that the perpetrator has private photos of that individual and they threaten the release of these images to people the individual may know or on the internet unless the perpetrator gets what they demand. Law enforcement has been able to start prosecuting some of these crimes as extortion or other laws that might be applicable.

Revenge porn or nonconsensual image sharing is a form of digital sexual violence where sexually graphic images of individuals are distributed without their consent. In these cases, there isn't always a demand for something from the perpetrators. An example of this might take place after a relationship ends. A girlfriend, or more likely a boyfriend, distributes intimate photos of their ex. Initially, when these cases started gaining media attention, there weren't many ways to protect victims. However, over the last few year’s lawyers, social media sites, and even porn sites are cracking down on nonconsensual image sharing.

The first thing people want to say when these issues arise is usually, “don’t take pictures of yourself,” but sometimes these images were not taken by the victim, nor were they taken with their consent. Regardless of how the images were taken, it is crucial that people think about what they do with intimate images or videos. Even adults forget how permanent the Internet is. With apps like Snapchat, people feel that although they may have sent something intimate, it will be deleted and gone forever. A report done by ABC News noted that even when snaps or posts are removed, they can still exist on servers. These servers are hackable.

The second thing you can do to help protect yourself from becoming a victim is to monitor your sharing. One of the ways hackers and phishers get your information is through what you post or present on social media. There are times when you are tagged in photos that aren’t favorable. There are steps for each social media site that allow you to opt out or delete tags. Be aware of what your privacy settings are. Although you may have your account private, there are typically extra steps to make sure what you post isn’t broadcast to the world.

Recently, some U.S. attorney generals met up to discuss online privacy and consumer protection. On all fronts, people are trying their best to identify ways our personal and private information can be protected. There are many other ways to protect your privacy like getting a VPN or encrypting your stuff. Both of which can sound intimidating and very techy, but they are more straightforward than they seem. Many sites contain articles or videos that can walk you through the steps.

Digital crimes are complicated. The Internet has no master or controller. There is no perfect way to stop people from posting nonconsensual images or videos.  However, we can all take steps to protect ourselves. Increasing privacy settings, getting VPNs, encrypting information, and generally being cautious about what we upload or send to someone, even the ones we trust can help protect us from becoming victims of sextortion or nonconsensual image sharing.

Ashleigh Diserio Consulting works with individuals and organizations, assisting them in gleaning insight into a person’s life, motivation, and past and future behavior, so certain areas of behavior can be understood with a high degree of accuracy. We provide services in the areas of criminal and intelligence investigations, management support, threat assessment, insider threat support, and education and training.