Keeping Young People Safe Online

Online Blackmail

Online blackmail refers to the act of threatening to share information about an individual to the public, their friends or family online, unless a demand is met. Online sexually motivated blackmail, commonly referred to as ‘sextortion’ is a cyber enabled crime and is a form of child sexual abuse online. It is something that no adult could ever imagine happening to a child in their care. However according to the police, young people, particularly young males under 18 years of age are targeted and sadly incidents are on the rise.

Click or Tap this box to learn more about where you can find support

If a child has been a victim then they are not alone and support is available.

  • Seek advice from Children’s Social Services Gateway team using the contact details below. Don’t worry if you aren’t sure about your health trust. The gateway team will be able to direct you to the right person:
    • Belfast HSCT Gateway: 028 9050 7000
    • South Eastern HSCT Gateway: 0300 1000 300
    • Northern HSCT Gateway: 0300 1234 333
    • Southern HSCT Gateway: 0800 783 7745
    • Western HSCT Gateway: 028 7131 4090
    • Out of office hours and bank holidays – all Trust areas: 028 9504 9999
  • You can report grooming online to CEOP.
  • The Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline is a free, 24/7 helpline and webchat for anyone over 16 with concerns about domestic and sexual abuse. Call 0808 802 1414 or email [email protected]
  • The NSPCC helpline is available for information and advice about a child’s safety or wellbeing on 0808 800 5000 or email [email protected]
  • If you or someone you know is in distress or despair contact Lifeline for free on 0808 808 8000 or text 18001 0808 808 8000.


If an adult has communicated sexually with a child

Communication can include written note, email, photo, video, livestream, text message through social and gaming sites, chatrooms, etc. You can contact local police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.

If someone is threatening to post or share personal sexual material

Threats and blackmail should be reported to the police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.

If a child receives a nude or semi-nude of a child under 18

Contact the police on 101 for advice and guidance. Do not delete the image and don’t save the image or send it to another person as you may be committing an offence.

If a child has sent or shared a nude or semi-nude image or video

They may feel scared or embarrassed. It’s important to be approachable and supportive, and reassure them that they are not alone. The quicker you respond the more control you have. Contact the police on 101 for advice and guidance. Even if the young person has technically committed an offence, the matter will be dealt with sensitively by the police, who will take into consideration all the circumstances.

If a nude or sexual image or video of a child under 18 has been posted online, try the Report Remove tool to get it taken down.

What you need to know

Typically, a person uses a false identity to befriend a victim via social media. The exchange may start with flirting or flattery and involves a blackmailer grooming a child and manipulating, tricking or coercing them into sharing sexual photos, videos or livestreams. Once sexual content has been shared, the blackmailer will extort their victim by threatening to publish and share the images or recordings unless demands are met. Typical demands include money or more sexual material.

Watch the video below from the police that shows how an online chat can quickly develop into blackmail. The PSNI website provides further advice and information.

Being blackmailed is a frightening experience and can have a devastating impact on victims and the personal and psychological toll they face can be immense. Although victims of online blackmail are never to blame, fear of judgement or getting into trouble is often a big barrier to them reporting. But it is important that young people and their families do not let embarrassment or the fear of getting into trouble stop them from reporting to the police. Watch the video below from the police about a victim’s experience of online blackmail ‘sextortion’.

Try not to panic and remember the following:

  • Don’t respond to demands and don’t pay up
  • End all communication with the blackmailers, do not continue to message them
  • Block the blackmailer on all platforms and change your password on all accounts
  • Blackmailers are breaking a number of laws so make sure to report any concerns to the police on 101, report it online or phone 999 in an emergency
For parents, carers or other adults involved in a child’s life, it can be difficult to know what to say and do if they speak out about online blackmail and abuse. It’s important to listen, reassure and report.
  • Listen carefully to what a child is saying, believe them and let them know that they have done the right thing by telling you
  • Reassure a child that it’s not their fault, and that irrespective of the content or circumstance, the responsibility always lies with the person who groomed them
  • Report a concern to the police and seek advice as soon as possible

The NSPCC have produced an animation and resources that include simple tips to ensure children always feel listened to.

One of the greatest barriers to a child or young person seeking help and reporting online abuse, is feeling they are to blame for something that has happened to them. It is important that an adult response is supportive and non-judgemental. Language and behaviour that implies that a child or young person is complicit in, or responsible in some way, for any harm or abuse they’ve experienced or may experience is victim blaming.

Remember, a child or young person can never be expected to predict, pre-empt or protect themselves from abuse, and irrespective of the content or circumstance, the responsibility always lies with the person who abused them.

  • Having early, often and open conversations with a child or young person about their online activity can help them understand who to trust online and empower them to avoid or safely deal with inappropriate contact. Internet Matters provides lots of advice and tips about how to start the conversation
  • Discuss how easy it is for someone to hide their identity online and the risks with sharing sexual messages, images, videos and/or livestreams with strangers or new online ‘friends’ that they don’t know in real life
  • Help them to recognise and report inappropriate and unhealthy communication, this might include:
    • Engaging with strangers or ‘friends’ that they haven’t met offline
    • Conversations about sex or sexual activity
    • Receiving or requests for nudes, sexual videos or livestreams
    • Requests to share personal info and asking to meet up offline
    • Receiving gifts and money from someone they haven’t met
    • Someone forcing them to do things, including sexual activity
    • Anything that makes a child feel unsafe or uncomfortable
  • Make sure that a child understands the basics:
    • Keep it private and don’t share sensitive, private of personal information online. Use privacy settings to protect their personal accounts and content
    • Keep their guard up, be careful about who they befriend online and be mindful that people online aren’t always who they say they are, predators and criminals are skilled at faking their identity! Be careful about who they befriend online.
    • Ignore, block, report and tell a trusted adult if anything upsets them or makes them feel uncomfortable online
    • Always avoid nudity and never share intimate and sexual images, videos or livestreams in online spaces. If a child has shared an image of themselves then encourage them to report it and seek help