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?
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.