What we know about sextortion on campus

Grace Johnson, News Editor

At Case Western Reserve University, there have been a number of instances of sextortion, primarily in the first-year class. For those unfamiliar, sextortion is a form of extortion, wherein instead of demanding money through force or threats, predators threaten to share nude or explicit content of their victim. 

In recent weeks, emails have been sent out to the campus community explaining this growing threat to CWRU students. One of the emails sent by Vice President of Equity Rachel Lutner stated that the “[CWRU] Police Department has received multiple reports of students falling victim to extortion schemes—in particular, ‘sextortion.’” Lutner also outlined the dangers of sextortion, tips on how to avoid it and steps to take if you or someone you know is being sextorted. In addition, the email explained the prevalence of this crime in the United States, citing that “[l]ast year, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received more than 18,000 sextortion complaints reporting that blackmailers were paid more than $13.6 million.” 

Sextortion has become a pronounced issue with the rise of social media apps where taking and posting pictures and videos have become so instantaneous. Sextortion affects primarily young people, as predators tend to target them due to naiveté and lack of knowledge on how to handle these situations. The same targeting applies to students on college campuses.

Lutner’s email also acknowledged that this type of extortion is rarely discussed; many victims do not realize what this is when it happens to them. “[At the time,] I had no idea it was a federal crime and I was too embarrassed to say anything about it,” said one victim from CWRU, who wishes to remain anonymous. However, they also said they were thankful that they did not lose any sensitive information and their perpetrator eventually left them alone. In the process, though, they were terrified and their mental health was severely impacted. To this day, they claim they have trauma related to the incident and are reluctant to trust or believe others.

Thankfully CWRU does have a number of resources available to students to ensure that perpetrators are caught and that students are adequately supported through the process. In her email, Lutner also outlined the steps students should take if they feel they are being sextorted, which includes contacting the Office of Equity or the CWRU PD. In addition, there are various mental and emotional health resources for victims, including the Flora Stone Mather Center for Women and University Health and Counseling Services. 

If you believe you are the victim of sextortion, do not hesitate to reach out to any of the above resources. It is not something to be embarrassed about and it is not your fault.