Sextortion and blackmail…
Of blackmail, Sherlock Holmes said this:
‘…do you feel a creeping, shrinking, sensation, Watson, when you stand before the serpents in the Zoo, and see the slithery, gliding, venomous creatures, with their deadly eyes and wicked flattened faces?..He is the king of all the blackmailers. Heaven help the man, and still more the woman, whose secret and reputation come into the power of…[Charles Augustus Milverton] Milverton…’. p572, 1981, The Penguin complete Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Section 21 Theft Act 1968: A person is guilty of blackmail if, with a view to gain for himself or another or with intent to cause loss to another, he makes any unwarranted demand with menaces; and for this purpose a demand with menaces is unwarranted unless the person making it does so in the belief-
(a) that he has reasonable grounds for making the demand; and
(b) that the use of the menaces is a proper means of reinforcing the demand.
(2) The nature of the act or omission demanded is immaterial, and it is also immaterial whether the menaces relate to action to be taken by the person making the demand.
(3) A person guilty of blackmail shall on conviction on indictment be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.
14 years for threatening someone with menaces?
Why so harsh a sentence, you may ask? Lord Lane, Chief Justice as then he was, in the Court of Appeal in R v Hadjou, 11 Cr. App.R.(S) 29 said that in the calendar of criminal offences blackmail was one of the ugliest and most vicious because it involved what one found so often, attempted murder of the soul, (my emphasis) Archbold, p2366, 2017 edition.
It is a lifestyle offence, usually involving someone trying to make an unwarranted demand for an amount of money in relation to the financial means available to a victim. (i.e. that the threat of harm is disproportionate to the sum or property claimed).
Let us consider the three components necessary for blackmail namely: the ‘demand’, ‘menaces’, and ‘unwarranted’.
It could be a demand made in writing, or by speech or by conduct. It could be explicit, or implicit, provided that an ordinary reasonable man would understand that a demand was being made.
As to ‘menaces’, in Thorne v Motor Trade Association  AC 806-807, HL, Lord Atkin said:
‘The ordinary blackmailer normally threatens to do what he has a perfect right to do namely, communicate some compromising conduct to a person whose knowledge is likely to affect the person threatened. Often indeed he has not only the right but also the duty to make disclosure, as of felony, to the competent authorities. What he has to justify is not the threat, but the demand of money. The gravemen of the charge is the demand without reasonable or probable cause: and I cannot think that the mere fact that the threat is to do something a person is entitled to do either causes the threat not to be a ‘menace’…or in itself provides a reasonable or probable cause for the demand’.
All demands made with menaces are ‘unwarranted’ unless the defendant is able to demonstrate that he had reasonable grounds for making the demand, and use of the menaces was a proper means of reinforcing the demand. A threat to take criminal action such as to kill, to main, or to rape, as a matter of law can never be justified means for making a demand.
Sextortion is the name given to a child who becomes enslaved by the will of another/others to perform acts of a sexual nature or have images made of themselves published on the internet, against their own will, placed in compromising positions, in order to avert the possibility that earlier images of themselves (taken and sent in confidence, in the false security that they are private), are not published to friends and family. This is modern-day blackmail over the internet.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Team (‘CEOP), a division of the National Crime Agency, records that hundreds of children from the UK have been subject to Sextortion. A child is groomed through social media or chat room forums, into thinking they are communicating with another child. Images are sent of various parts of a child’s anatomy, and then the pretend child, who is really an adult, and not necessarily the gender your child thinks they are, threatens the manipulated child into finding money, or having more explicit photos taken, or else the original photos would be distributed or exposed to all of their friends and followers, for example.
Imagine the embarrassment, and humiliation and the fear of a young child caught up in what was considered a few saucy photos of themselves to their assumed trusted and loved ones, or sent just for a laugh naively thinking they would only be seen by the recipient, to then be caught up in such a wicked web of deceit.
If your child has been caught up in such a scheme, there are various people you can contact. by clicking here
As a parent, do not ignore the signs. Your child may become anxious, depressed, or withdrawn. They may start covering themselves up, or conversely, being more daring and pushing boundaries.
If you are a child reading this and are still too scared to say anything to your friends, or family, click the link above, and speak with someone from the various charities who are there to listen and give you guidance and offer you hope, in confidence.
Professor David Rosen is a Solicitor-Advocate, partner and head of litigation at Darlingtons Solicitors LLP where he practices both commercial and criminal litigation. He is a member of the Society for Legal Scholars, RUSI, and Resolution amongst others. He regularly lectures at Brunel University as an Honorary Professor of Law.
This blog post is for information purposes and should not be relied upon as legal advice because it does not consider or take into account your own personal circumstances. If in doubt, seek legal advice.
Professor David Rosen is a solicitor-advocate, partner and head of litigation at Darlingtons Solicitors LLP. He is a strategic legal advisor for diyLAW, a member of the Society of Legal Scholars amongst other memberships, and honorary professor of law at Brunel University where he regularly lectures on practical legal skills and procedure, and advocacy amongst other subjects.