FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2010-10-06
Those who text risqué photographs or use web cameras to send steamy videos of themselves may later be haunted by the fear of damage to their professional or personal lives. However, some are exposing themselves to a new danger: sextortion. Sextortion is a new term coined for the act of using explicit pictures or videos to extort additional and more explicit images.
An Associated Press (AP) article warns that teenagers are especially at risk; because they are easy to intimidate and embarrassed to seek help, they can be more vulnerable to blackmail. Pornographers are contacting teens who send text messages with naked photos of themselves or who show off their bodies on the Internet, threatening to expose the behavior to friends and family unless the teens pose for more explicit porn.
Federal Complaint Alleges Orange County Man Victimized More Than 200
Earlier this year, federal authorities arrested Luis Mijangos. The Orange County man allegedly used software to hack into computers and download sexually explicit photographs of more than 200 girls and women, which he then used to extort additional pornographic images.
The criminal complaint says that the software allowed Mijangos not only to view and download all files, pictures and videos on any infected computer, but also to access remotely any webcam and microphone attached to an infected computer. Mijangos allegedly also had screen images of financial information from his victims, including credit card information, websites and accounts with various banking, mobile phone and other service providers.
In 2009, the Glendale Police Department began an investigation involving a woman who suspected that her ex-boyfriend was stalking her. The case was turned over to the FBI, which found evidence implicating Mijangos. The complaint alleges that forensic analysis ties the suspect to hacking activity going back to 2008. In an affidavit, the FBI claims that Mijangos had dozens of videos from web cameras that showed unknowing victims partially or completely nude or having sex.
Mijangos allegedly used the data and images he captured to threaten his victims, saying that he would show the images to family members unless the victims sent him more explicit videos. Authorities say many of the victims were unidentified and many appeared to be minors.
Teenagers at Risk
The AP says that in June 2010, Trevor Shea of Mechanicsville, Maryland, was indicted on federal charges of sexual extortion. Shea allegedly threatened to post webcam photos of an Indiana teen who had flashed her breasts while visiting an Internet chat room unless she posed for more explicit pictures for him. The teen complied with the demands at least twice, and eventually the local police and federal authorities became involved.
In Alabama, Jonathan Vance admitted sending threatening messages on social networking sites in order to extort nude photos from more than 50 young women in Alabama, Pennsylvania and Missouri. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
In Wisconsin, Anthony Stancl was sentenced to 15 years in prison after he posed as a girl on a social networking site in order to trick male high school classmates into sending him nude pictures, which he later used to extort sex from the classmates.
Peer-to-Peer Sharing Networks
Millions of users share files on peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing networks. These networks generally have no central server but are comprised of many users who make files available to share with others in the network. Teenagers who download the file sharing programs may either purposely or inadvertently make photographs of themselves available to the other network users. Pornographers or sexual predators may download suggestive pictures or videos in order to extort more explicit pornography from minors.
Federal prosecutors and child safety advocates say they are seeing an upswing in these online sexual extortion cases. These prosecutors caution teens that once an indiscretion appears online or on a cell phone, they can be circulated and even posted on websites that post sexting photos. Teenagers should be instructed not to take photographs or videos that they would be embarrassed for their parents, teachers, friends or the public to see. Parents can also take precautions by monitoring website, P2P networks and phone activity.