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‘Sextortion’: Online blackmail on rise in SA

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Blackmail and extortion cases have nearly doubled in South Australia over the past two years, with “sextortion” causing particular concern for SA Police.

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Crime data released yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows the number of blackmail and extortion victims in South Australia increased from 57 in 2020, to 109 in 2021.

Most of the victims were males aged between 18 and 34.

Last year’s figure was the highest since record-keeping began 29 years ago, with blackmail and extortion now the fastest growing crime in South Australia.

The rise in the number of blackmail and extortion victims in South Australia is in line with the national trend.

ABS data shows in 2021, police recorded 646 victims of blackmail and extortion across Australia – a 24 per cent increase from 2020 and the highest national number since record-keeping began.

An SA Police spokesperson told InDaily there had been an increase in the number of “sextortion” reports – a particular form of blackmail where an offender obtains explicit images of a victim or edits a sexualised image that purports to be the victim.

They said victims are most frequently targeted via popular social media platforms which provide offenders with “creative ways to communicate and express oneself”.

“This freedom is regularly abused by cybercriminals who commit offences online with a degree of anonymity,” they said.

“Due to an increase in people working remotely and the dramatic increase in the number of devices we now own, we can only expect increasing cybercrime trends in years to come.”

The maximum penalty for blackmail in South Australia is 15 years imprisonment, or 20 years for an aggravated offence.

SA Police told InDaily it “continues to expand its technical capability in conducting investigations where physical and online environments blend together in order to meet the challenges of the digital age”.

It said it built relationships with “key industry partners” and other law enforcement agencies to tackle the problem.

“We adopt a number of prevention strategies to provide community education in relation to these offences which include targeted messaging through various types of media,” the spokesperson said.

South Australian Commissioner for Victims’ Rights Bronwyn Killmier told InDaily her office had not noticed an increase in victim requests for assistance for blackmail and extortion, but she encouraged anyone who is a victim to report it to police.

She also cited the growing prevalence of cybercrime as a possible explanation for the rise in blackmail and extortion, such as using ransomware to extort money from people, or using “image-based abuse” or threats to disseminate intimate photos.

“Last financial year, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) received almost 500 ransomware cybercrime reports – around 15 per cent more than the previous year,” Killmier said.

“Victims of these crimes would understandably feel violated when targeted by this type of offending, but counselling is available through RASA’s (Relationships Australia SA’s) rebuild program, and people who may need this assistance should contact RASA on 1800 310 310.”

The ABS data points to an overall increase in crime across South Australia between 2020 and 2021, with only motor vehicle theft on the decline.

Sexual assault in South Australia rose by 10 per cent, with nearly half of the 1783 victims recorded by police in 2021 aged under 18 at the time of the offending.

ABS head of crime and justice statistics William Milne said there were 31,118 sexual assaults across Australia in 2021 – the largest number recorded by police since record-keeping began.

“We also looked at population growth and the impact of that, and we found that the rate of sexual assault victimisation has also increased to its highest level, so we’re looking at 121 victims per 100,000 Australians, and this compares with 69 victims per 100,000 back in 1993,” he said.

“This change in that rate equates to about a 75 per cent increase in the rate of victimisation over the past 30 years.”

Meanwhile, robbery increased by 16 per cent in South Australia between 2020 and 2021, with police recording 530 victims in 2021.

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