The Australia Federal Police have announced a new initiative which seeks to combat rising sextortion reports targeting children and high-school students across the country.

'Sextortion' refers to a form of online blackmail in which offenders' trick someone into sending sexual images or videos of themselves, and then threaten to post or distribute them unless certain demands are met, which typically involve money or sending further and more explicit material.

It will normally involve the use of fake accounts which engage with victims, and often attempt to develop relationships with them.

The offender will then request naked pictures from the targeted person, and once received, threaten to send it to the person's friends and family if their demands are not met.

The apps utilised are often dating apps such as Tinder, or on social media sites such as Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook.

The AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation ('ACCE') is currently receiving around 300 reports of sextortion targeting children each month. It is anticipated that the ACCCE will see an increase in reports, towards the end-of-year break.

There are serious risks of suicide and self-harm attributed to children who are caught up in sextortion.

The new initiative involves the ACCCE collaborating with Kids Helpline, Meta, and US youth prevention program, NoFiltr, to better protect young people.

The joint project will involve the release of new educational resources, targeting 13-17 year olds online with safety messages to prevent and respond to sextortion.

It also includes support and advice to parents, information on how to report sextortion, and where to seek help if targeted. The resources will be shared and promoted by Meta across platforms over the next month, including Facebook and Instagram.

AFP Acting Commander ACCCE and Human Exploitation Frank Rayner said: "sextortion can escalate in a matter of minutes, but remember it is not your fault and when you speak up, we will believe and support you.

"There are some tell-tale signs of sextortion, including incoming friend requests from strangers or people pretending to be friends with your friends, sudden sexualised questions, conversations, or photos from a random profile asking for some in return."

If you fall victim to sextortion, the ACCCE suggests immediately stopping the chat, taking screenshots of the chat and profile, blocking the account, and reporting it to the relevant platform, as well as the ACCCE.

It urges people not to continue to send more images, pay the person, or respond to any further communications or demands.

NEW SOUTH WALES

In New South Wales, Division 15C of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) criminalises the recording and distribution of intimate images, without consent.

The Act defines an 'intimate image' as an image of a person's private parts, or of a person engaged in a private act, in circumstances where a reasonable person would reasonably expect to privacy.

Private parts mean a person's genital or anal area (whether bare or covered by underwear), or the breasts of a female, or transgender or intersex person identifying as female (whether or not the breasts are sexually developed).

A private act is defined as referring to a person in a state of undress, using the toilet, showering, or bathing, or engaged in a sexual act of a kind not ordinarily done in public.

It also includes images altered to appear to show this such as 'deepfakes'.

Section 91R prescribes that it is an offence to threaten to record or distribute an intimate image of another person without their consent, whilst intending to cause them to fear that the threat will be carried out. This is also known as revenge porn.

A person may threaten to distribute an image whether or not the image actually exists. The prosecution is also not required to prove that the person alleged to have been threatened actually feared that the threat would be carried out.

The threat involved may be made by any conduct. This may be explicit or implicit, and may be unconditional or conditional, including via requesting money.

The maximum penalty applicable is 3 years imprisonment and/or a $11,000 fine.

Furthermore, it is an offence to intentionally distribute an intimate image of another person without their consent, pursuant to section 91Q.

The offender must know the person did not consent or be reckless as to whether the person consented to the distribution.

The maximum penalty applicable is 3 years imprisonment and/or a $11,000 fine.

A person consents to the distribution of an intimate image if the person freely and voluntarily agrees to the distribution of the intimate image.

It is emphasised that even if a person distributes an image of themselves, it is not by reason only of this fact, to be regarded as them having consented to any other distribution of the image.

Exceptions to the offence include where conduct alleged to constitute the offence was done:

  • for a genuine medical or scientific purpose,
  • by a law enforcement officer for a genuine law enforcement purpose,
  • as required by a court or was otherwise reasonably necessary to be done for the purpose of legal proceedings.

Further exceptions include where a reasonable person would consider the conduct of the accused person acceptable, having regard to each of the following:

  • the nature and content of the image,
  • the circumstances in which the image was recorded or distributed,
  • the age, intellectual capacity, vulnerability, or other relevant circumstances of the person depicted in the image,
  • the degree to which the accused person's actions affect the privacy of the person depicted in the image, and
  • the relationship between the accused person and the person depicted in the image.

If a person pleads or is found guilty of such an offence, the Court may order that the offender is to take reasonable actions to remove, retract, recover, delete, or destroy any intimate image recorded or distributed by the person, within a period specified by the court.

If they fail to do so without reasonable excuse, a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment and/or a $550 fine is applicable, pursuant to section 91S(2).

COMMONWEALTH

Online image-based abuse is also criminalised under Commonwealth legislation, which is applicable Australia-wide.

It is an offence to use a carriage service in a way that reasonable persons would regard as being, in all the circumstances, menacing, harassing or offensive, as per section 474.17 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

The offence will be considered 'aggravated' where it involves the transmission, publication, distribution, advertisement, or promotion of private sexual material, as per section 474.17A.

A carriage service refers to services including texts, phone calls, social media platforms, and emails.

Private sexual material is defined as material that depicts a person who is, or appears to be, 18 years of age or older and who is engaged in or appears to be engaged in a sexual pose or activity, in circumstances that reasonable persons would regard as giving rise to an expectation of privacy.

It also includes material in which the dominant characteristic is the depiction of a sexual organ or the anal region of a person, or breasts of a female, who is 18 years of age of older, in circumstances that reasonable persons would regard as giving rise to an expectation of privacy.

A maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment is applicable.

Where the victim of 'sextortion' is under 18, offences related to possessing, distributing, and causing another to produce child abuse material will likely be applicable in the circumstance.

Such offences are criminalised under state, territory, and Commonwealth law, with serious maximum penalties applicable.