Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Sextortion: A problem on college campuses

Savannah Shustack
Calvin works to educate students about crimes like sextortion — including through on-campus posters like the one shown above — and provides support and safe spaces for students to report this crime.

While walking around Calvin’s campus, it’s hard to miss the posters that say #StopSextortion. On the poster is information about sextortion and contact information for Campus Safety. These posters highlight a nationwide issue. 

Sextortion is an act of fraud in which one is extorted for money by someone threatening to reveal evidence of their sexual activity. According to the FBI, this crime usually happens in online environments where criminals create fake accounts and form relationships with young people who often feel safe in online spaces.

In January of 2023, the FBI released a public safety alert highlighting the dangers of sextortion; in the previous year of 2022, “law enforcement agencies have received over 7,000 reports related to the online sextortion of minors, resulting in at least 3,000 victims, primarily boys,” the press release said, and “more than a dozen sextortion victims were reported to have died by suicide.”

While the FBI alert focused largely on minors, it is an increasing problem on college campuses as well. In the spring of 2023, a number of universities noted an increase in cases and hosted information sessions on the issue. 

At Calvin, while the number of cases is not high –– about four to six cases per calendar year — Campus Safety has noticed “an increase in these types of incidents being reported,” according to director of Campus Safety William Corner. 

Calvin’s Clery Report — data recording every instance of reported crime related to a college — is inconclusive, given the fact that sextortion falls under the label of extortion and descriptions of the crimes aren’t standardized. However, in 2023 thus far, there were four instances of extortion involving “compromising” pictures or “photos of a sensitive nature.” 

According to Lauren Horras –– Title IX coordinator and director of Safer Spaces –– as of November 1, the number of cases addressed this year already matches the total number of cases addressed last year. These are only students who have come forward for help; “We anticipate more have been impacted and didn’t come forward for various reasons,” Horras said. 

To protect someone from falling victim to one of these schemes, Corner recommended “guard[ing] their personal information carefully. Don’t ever share sensitive information or photos with someone you don’t know.” Evaluating the profiles and subjects of conversation of a person one is conversing with over social media is important as well; Corner said red flags include: a request to show oneself on camera, while the person with whom one is communicating does not have a “working camera”; a new profile without posts and/or numerous spelling mistakes; immediate contact upon following; and making claims in conversation that seem too good to be true. 

If by chance one does fall victim to some such situation, Corner told Chimes the best course of action is to cease all contact, do not comply with requests for money, collect evidence and document communication, block all social media accounts and contact law enforcement. 

Campus Safety and Safer Spaces are available to help with recovery and further courses of action. “Sextortion is a criminal offense in the state of Michigan and there can be serious consequences if a perpetrator (not the victim) is convicted,” Horras said. 

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