Project description

This investigation highlights the growing scale of the crime of sextortion, where criminals persuade a victim to perform sexual acts in front of webcam or share explicit material before threatening to send the pictures or video to friends and family or post it online if money is not paid. The investigation exclusively revealed that the numbers of reports being made to police had grown rapidly from a very small number a few years before.

By also collecting information on the outcomes of the cases reported to the police, the investigation found that only a very small number across England and Wales led to anyone being charged, with most closed with no suspect detected, supporting the National Crime Agency view that organised gangs view the crime as a low risk way to make money through easily accessible online victims.

As well as overall numbers, the investigation also revealed details of the reported cases, giving more insight into how criminals carry out the offence and the ways in which they target people, often through friend requests on social media. This was important in terms of giving readers a clearer idea of what the crime involves and also for warning potential victims of the ways in which they could be targeted.

What makes this project innovative?

The story is based on a dozens of Freedom of Information act requests to police forces in England and Wales in order to gather detailed data that otherwise would not be available. Sextortion is a crime that is often reported based on individual cases and warnings from police, so it was important to gather a dataset that gave an indication of the growing scale of the issue.

In order to gather all the data and ensure it was as detailed and up to date as possible, on occasions internal reviews and appeals to the Information Commissioner were needed to get some of the public bodies to release the data needed. Data protection was an issue frequently cited for refusing to release details about cases, but it was important to appeal these refusals as it was clear that it was possible for police forces to provide some details of cases while also protecting individuals privacy.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

The story was published in a number of newspapers and on news sites, and was well read and shared on social media.

Source and methodology

Freedom of Information requests to police forces across Britain, collated in Open Office. Careful records were kept to keep track of the responses received, and ensure those who had yet to reply could be chased. The information received was then entered into a spreadsheet so it could be analysed in order to draw out national and local stories.

Technologies Used

The data is analysed in Open Office. The bulletin system is based on stories written in Google Docs, which are then sent out via Gmail using a script that collects the data from the Google Doc and creates emails that are sent out based on a spreadsheet of contact details.

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