Skip to main content

Breaking the Silence around Sextortion: The Links between Power, Sex and Corruption

Sexual extortion or “sextortion” occurs when those entrusted with power use it to sexually exploit those dependent on that power. It is a gendered form of corruption that occurs in both developed and developing countries, affecting children and adults, vulnerable individuals (such as undocumented migrants crossing borders) and established professionals. While evidence shows that women are disproportionally targeted, men, transgender and gender non-conforming people are also affected.

Sextortion has long been a silent form of corruption, hiding in plain view. Until recently, it was never discussed or recognised as a distinct phenomenon within either the corruption framework or the framework of gender-based violence. Lacking a name, sextortion remained largely invisible, and few research projects, laws or strategies were developed to address it. Barriers to reporting sextortion and obtaining effective redress further contributed to its low profile. As a result, researchers have failed to ask survivors/victims the right questions to properly understand sextortion; statistical systems lack the appropriate categories to register the few cases that go to court, and complaints have been poorly handled. The result has been that survivors/victims have largely been denied justice.

This report assesses the state of knowledge about the links between corruption and sextortion. It presents evidence on the prevalence of sextortion and the existing legal frameworks to address it, and it proposes recommendations for how to tackle it. The findings paint a disturbing picture.