New Online blackmail resource for 15-18 year olds

The internet can be a fun and exciting place for 15-18 year olds to develop relationships, and explore opportunities for creativity and careers. But unfortunately, it also offers criminals a space in which it is easier to mask their identities and trick people for their own personal gain.  Anyone can be targeted by online blackmailers, but as young people begin to become more financially independent, this can be a point of vulnerability which offenders seek to exploit.

Our brand new Online blackmail education resource provides 15-18 year olds with a one hour lesson session made up of age-appropriate activities to help to protect them from the threat of online blackmail.

The Online blackmail session plan has been informed by the latest research, intelligence from the NCA, and engagement with young people themselves. The resource pack and session slides can be downloaded from our Online blackmail resource page.

The objective of the session is to help young people identify key characteristics of how blackmail manifests online, understand the impact it can have, and learn they can access help if they are ever concerned about something that has happened online. 

Read on to learn how online blackmail can impact young people, and what you can do to help protect them from harm.

What’s online blackmail?

‘Online blackmail’ is the act of threatening to share information about an individual (including images or video) to the public, their friends or family online, unless a demand is met. In many cases of online blackmail against young people, blackmailers start by manipulating, tricking or coercing them into sharing nude images of themselves.

Online blackmail can take place in any online service, website or app. Blackmailers may be more likely to make threats on private messaging services where images and videos can be shared. However, they often threaten to share information or images in more public social media services.

What are the behaviours to be aware of?

Offenders seeking to blackmail young people can target any platform where children and young people are present. They may try a range of tactics to get sexual content such as images and videos.

Some red flags to look out for include:

  • New online friends who quickly try to engage in sexual activity online;
  • New online friends requests from highly sexualised profiles;
  • Too good to be true recruitment offers with requests for images. Examples may include modelling, media and sports talent scouts;
  • Offering money or gifts in return for sexual images or videos;
  • ‘I’ll show you if you show me’ – pressuring someone into sexual activity and recording them without their knowledge on a video chat/live streaming;
  • ‘You’ve been hacked’. Some offenders make false claims that they have hacked devices and have sexual images or embarrassing information.

The impact of online blackmail on young people

Online blackmail can be very frightening, and those who are targeted – whether adults or young people - are likely to feel ashamed, afraid and very isolated. Fear of judgement or getting into trouble is a big barrier to seeking help.

Sometimes blackmailers do not follow through on their threat of sharing compromising content, but unfortunately, they sometimes do.

Every blackmail situation is different and can involve multiple traumas such as the experience of being threatened, the coercive sexual abuse perpetrated by the offender as a result, and, potentially, the traumatic impact of having personal imagery or information shared with others online.

Online blackmail, like other forms of sexual abuse, can cause severe harm to young people’s emotional and mental health, and can have ongoing negative impacts on their personal lives, education and careers. As professionals working with young people, it is important to play our parts in safeguarding young people from harm, and to ensure that they are able to access support if they ever need it.

How to support children and young people

  • Deliver the Thinkuknow Online Blackmail lesson: This session for 16-18 year olds is a one hour lesson which offers opportunities to explore the issues, identify warning signs and learn how to get help if they are worried.
  • Keep talking and listening: Take an active interest in what they are doing online. If they feel the adults around them are interested and non-judgemental, they’re more likely to talk openly about their internet use, including anything that worries them.
  • Create a culture of support, so young people know they can turn to you: Many young people have told us that they would be afraid to talk to their parents/carers if they were worried about something that had happened. Fear of judgement or blame can also be a barrier to their seeking help from professionals who work with them. Young people need to know they can talk to you and colleagues in your organisation if they have any worries, and that they will be listened to and not blamed.
  • Share information on how to report: Show young people where they can go to make report directly within apps or platforms they are using, and how to report to CEOP if they’re concerned about contact from an adult or peer.

Please note: CEOP is responsible for protecting children under 18. If a young person makes a disclosure to you and they have reached the age of 18, you can support them to report incidents of online abuse directly to the police.

  • Help parents and carers play a supportive role: Delivering the Online Blackmail resource offers an excellent opportunity to start a conversation with parents about the risks young people face online and strategies for keeping them safe and providing non-judgemental support. Start by signposting them to this article about online blackmail on our Thinkuknow Parents site.
  • Help young people find age appropriate information about sex and relationships online: It’s natural for young people to experiment with their sexual feelings online. Our teens website and organisations such as Childline and Brook have age appropriate advice on topics such as sexual communication and image sharing within healthy and unhealthy relationships.
  • Trust your instincts: As a frontline professional, you may spend a considerable amount of time with young people. If you have any concern at all about someone a young person has been in contact with, or you feel something isn’t right, follow your organisation’s safeguarding policies.
  • If a disclosure has been made to you about an ongoing incident of sexual extortion, you should advise that young person to stop all communication with the person that is blackmailing them and to block them on any account they are connected on. You should then follow your organisation’s safeguarding policies.

For more information on Thinkuknow’s offer to all professionals who work with children and young people, including training, guidance and education resources, visit www.thinkuknow.co.uk/professionals.