Building and maintaining sexual relationships in the 21st century can be a minefield. It's common these days for people to expect partners to "perform" for them in front of webcams for "a bit of fun". Most of the time this is harmless and can help to "keep the passion alive" and strengthen relationships. But there's also a risk that the images could be used against them, if the relationship ends, for example. And if they're not sure exactly who they're performing for in the first place, there's an even greater risk of something going wrong. Worryingly, webcam blackmail, or "sextortion", is a growing phenomenon in the UK, according to figures released today by the National Crime Agency (NCA). Sextortion is when criminals use fake identities online to befriend victims and coax them into performing sexual acts via their webcam. The images are then used to blackmail them – pay up or see the intimate footage leaked to friends and family online. The crime is the stuff of modern day nightmares and many of us wouldn't wish it on our worst enemy. However, there's been a spike in the number of reported cases in the last year. The number of people who reported the crime more than doubled – from 385 in 2015 to 864 up to November 2016, the BBC reported. The true figure is likely to be even higher because of the shame and embarrassment many victims feel about reporting the crime, the NCA said.
An overwhelming number of victims were men or boys (95%), and while 21 to-30-year-olds were the most affected age group, many victims were as young as 11 and as old as 82. Four men have committed suicide in the last year after falling victim to the crime. It's clearly a "very damaging and invidious crime", said Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt, who leads the National Police Chiefs' Council in cases of kidnap, extortion and adult sexual offences. He added: "This is organised crime. Whilst the individual cases themselves may involve relatively limited amounts of money, this is being organised by well-equipped, often off-shore organised crime groups that are facilitating this activity," the BBC reported. The NCA has released a terrifying video to raise awareness of sextortion and the ease with which someone can be entrapped by these criminals. The stigma surrounding it is one likely reason why being a victim of webcam blackmail can feel so devastating and lonely. As such, the NCA advises victims not to panic and reassures them that the police won't judge. It also urges them not to pay, as it could encourage the criminals to make further requests for money and sometimes they'll continue to post the videos anyway. Victims should also ensure they record all communication with the criminals by making screenshots of all messages, to suspend their social media accounts to preserve the evidence and report the situation to social media sites. Visit the NCA's website for more information.