headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation
Youth mental health service headspace wants to break down the stigmas of online abuse. Image by MEDIANET IMAGES PHOTO
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Cyber abuse stigma in spotlight on safer internet day

Maeve Bannister February 5, 2024

Young people are being reminded they are not to blame if targeted by online abuse as experts warn cyber blackmail is increasing. 

Ahead of Safer Internet Day on Tuesday, youth mental health service headspace wants to break down the stigmas of online abuse, particularly sexual extortion commonly known as “sextortion”.

Sextortion is a form of blackmail where offenders trick or coerce victims into sending sexual images of themselves before threatening to share them unless their demands are met.

Around 300 cases of children falling victim to sextortion are being reported nationally each month, according to the latest data from the AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation.

Young men in particular are being 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, Australia’s eSafety Commissioner warns.

A headspace national youth mental health study revealed one in five people have had someone threaten to hurt them online or via their mobile phone,14 per cent have experienced catfishing and 12 per cent have had someone post a mean or hurtful video of them online.

Six in 10 young Australians have experienced some form of cyberbullying in their lifetime.

Young people often kept online abuse, particularly sextortion, a secret due to being scared or feeling pressure, shame or anxiety.

“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,” headspace senior clinical advisor Jessie Downey said.

“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.”

Ms Downey added there were a number of confidential services that could provide support, including headspace and the eSafety Commissioner.

“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,” she said.

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