The FBI is bringing awareness to ‘sextortion’ with this campaign

In an effort to ensure children who are victimized know they aren’t in trouble and more importantly, are not alone, the FBI has launched a campaign around “sextortion” concurrent with the new school year.

FBI officials defined “sextortion” as the criminal act of manipulating a minor via the internet into taking explicit images of themselves and then threatening harm or exposure of the images as blackmail to keep the child producing pornographic material.

“In one case, the criminal threatened a girl — saying he would hurt her and bomb her school—if she didn’t send pictures,” the FBI said.

Christina Pullen, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Norfolk, said the campaign’s goal is to educate and increase awareness for parents and children as the number of sextortion cases across the nation, including Hampton Roads, are rising.

Pullen referenced what she called “a classic example of sextortion,” when a former soldier stationed at Fort Eustis was sentenced to 30 years after he posed as a young girl online as a way to obtain photos of girls in 2016.

Posters went up in schools earlier this month with a message informing kids they are not the criminal in incidents like these, and Pullen said agents are regularly deployed into the community or can be requested by groups to talk cyber safety with parents, educators, and students.

“Our office also promotes the FBI’s Safe Online Surfing program for schools to teach cyber safety, but parents and kids can also use the free resource on their own,” she said.

The FBI's "Stop Sextortion" campaign runs in September. (Southside Daily/Courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation)
The FBI’s “Stop Sextortion” campaign runs in September. (Southside Daily/Courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation)

The campaign has its own hashtag on social media platforms where parents, students, and educators are encouraged to follow the FBI’s accounts. 

Victims of sextortion should immediately report the crime to local authorities, but Pullen said it should also be reported to the social media platform where it’s occurring.

At the same time, Pullen advised parents to leave the enforcement to authorities.

“We strongly discourage parents from attempting to communicate with the predator or try to take matters into their own hands,” she said.

Access more information about the FBI’s Stop Sextortion campaign by clicking here.

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Lucretia Cunningham is a multimedia journalist at Southside Daily covering hyper-local stories in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. Her stories focus on public safety, tourism, and city government. She is a Virginia transplant and military spouse originally from Chicago. Lucretia also served on active duty from 2006 to 2016 and started her journalism career as a broadcaster in the Virginia Air National Guard. When she’s not covering stories on the Southside, she’s covering stories with her Air National Guard unit.