this safer internet day, headspace stands against sextortion, online abuse

This World Safer Internet Day, 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.[1]

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.”

View the full infographic.

If you’re looking for further information about sextortion, visit headspace or the eSafety Commissioner online.

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.

[1] eSafety Commissioner, ‘Sexual extortion and child abuse reports almost triple’, (Media Release 25 May 2023)