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When 'sexting' leads to 'sextortion'

October 28, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
We've all heard of "sexting" -- sending sexually explicit messages or photos between mobile devices. So what can happen when those suggestive or even nude photos get into the wrong hands? You may find yourself the victim of "sextortion." Experts say this new cybercrime is a real problem.Jeanne's boyfriend always said the naked photos he took of her would stay private -- until the day she broke up with him.

"He started threatening me with the nude photos," said Jeanne. "He threatened to submit them to my company as well as post them on Facebook, on the Internet and send them to all of my friends."

Frightened, Jeanne actually went back to him for a short time, just so the photos wouldn't get out.

"I was devastated. I was thinking that a million people could see my nude photos," said Jeanne. "And I had absolutely no control over it."

Internet privacy expert and attorney Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety.org says that while "sextortion" can happen to anyone, including adults like Jeanne, teens are especially vulnerable. And it's not always ex-boyfriends or disgruntled friends. Predators are using sexting as a weapon, too.

"When teens take and share sexual images, they don't want their parents, their principal or the police to get ahold of them," said Aftab. "That means when a predator wants them to do things -- take more images or actually engage in sex -- they say that they will make them public or send them to their parents to get them to comply."

Cases are popping up coast to coast.

In Wisconsin, an 18-year-old received 15 years in prison after he was found guilty of posing as a girl on Facebook to trick male classmates into sending nude photos, which he then extorted for sex.

And in Southern California, authorities arrested a Santa Ana man they say extorted more than 200 women.

"It is just horrific. It is disgusting and they've got to be stopped," said Ross Ellis, founder and chief executive officer of Love Our Children USA.

"Parents need to not overreact," said Ellis. "They need to sit down with their teens and have a very important conversation. Nothing hysterical but, 'This is what can happen, this is happening.'"

Experts say teens who take and store nude photos of their underage girlfriends or boyfriends could be convicted of child pornography, even if they never send those photos out. And if they are convicted, they could face prison time and be registered as a sex offender.


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