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Understanding "Sextortion" in the Military

"Sextortion" is the name that investigators have been a particular type of cyber-crime that a growing number of U.S. military servicemembers has fallen victim to. Essentially, sextortion is a form of extortion that occurs after two parties have consensually shared sexually explicit photos or video via electronic means. Below, we take a closer look at this phenomenon, why it is a growing problem in the military, and how law enforcement agencies are advising the young Soldiers who have been affected.

What Is Sextortion?

Sextortion occurs when someone is contacted by someone posing as possible romantic partner online and engages in a consensual exchange of sexually explicit photos or video. Once the exchange is made, the perpetrator threatens to send the images to the victim's employer (or otherwise publically post the material) unless the victim sends money.

Sometimes there are nefarious twists to the scam: for instance, some perpetrators claim that the content that has been sent contains underage subjects, putting the victim in fear that they're now in possession of child pornography. Investigators have found that, in these transactions, the material being sent to the victim is usually culled from other online sources. Even video call sessions are simulated with prerecorded video (usually with the claim that the microphone is "broken").

Unfortunately, once victims pay an initial amount—usually between $500 to $1,500—the extortion doesn't always end. Speaking with Military.com, Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) Division Chief Megan Bolduc said "We've had service members individually pay as much as $11,000. It only stops because credit cards were maxed out."

Why Are Soldiers Targeted?

Investigators believe that Soldiers and young military servicemembers are specifically targeted for this crime for a number of reasons. For one, these individuals are often deployed or assigned to new areas where they do not know many people, are looking for companionship online, and maintain a social media presence to keep in touch with remote family and loved ones. This can give perpetrators access to personal information that can further intimidate the victim.

Additionally, military servicemembers are held to stringent conduct standards, so perpetrators know that stakes of exposure are high: victims can easily imagine getting kicked out of the service or worse. Military servicemembers are also more financially stable than other potential victims, so perpetrators can usually count on a military victim's ability to pay them, as well.

Who Is Responsible?

From what investigators can tell, sextortion perpetrators are often not even located in the U.S. In a new spotlight profile in the Military Times, Linda Card of the Air Force Office of Special Investigation said that perpetrators can often be traced to the Philippines and Ivory Coast, located in West Africa.

Because these crimes cross national borders, there is an additional concern for in cases where the victims are military servicemembers: national security. "People ask us why we care about a service member dropping his pants and paying $200 to some foreign national," Katherine McDonald of NCIS told Military Times. "The concern really is twofold: the concern of harm to themselves and, on a national security level, a lot of these service members do have [security] clearances." In short, officials are worried that perpetrators could use sextortion not just to recover money but sensitive government information, as well.

What Is Law Enforcement Doing?

Because prosecuting sextortion perpetrators is so difficult, law enforcement agencies are instead focused on prevention. In particular, they want to let military servicemembers know that, if they have been targeted for this kind of crime, they do not need to feel the shame and fear the perpetrators are trying to inspire. Instead, they come forward and the matter can be resolved.

"Part of that, too, is that we have gotten the word out in so many different ways and encouraged reporting," Division Chief Megan Bolduc told Military Times. "I think people are more willing to come forward, but incidents are also increasing." In 2014, NCIS had 60 reported incidents of sextortion. This year, that number as doubled.

If you have been targeted for sextortion, NCIS recommends you do the following things:

  • Do not submit any payment or any further transaction with the perpetrator.
  • Report the incident to your command and your local NCIS office.
  • Save all messages and communications with the perpetrator.

Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law is an Army veteran who has traveled the globe to defend the rights and interests of accused military servicemembers. If you have been accused of a crime or are now the subject of an adverse administrative action, our firm is ready to hear from you.

Get proven, aggressive counsel by your side during this uncertain time. Contact us today to request a free case evaluation.

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