Australia makes rare arrest in international 'sextortion' case
Beh Lih Yi
3 MIN READ
KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Australia has charged a foreign national on suspicion of “sextortion”, police said on Thursday, in a rare move to tackle a crime seen as a growing problem in the country.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) said a man living in the South Australian capital of Adelaide was arrested for threatening to share intimate photos and videos of his ex-partner after their relationship ended.
The AFP said the arrest was one of its first sextortion cases and it was made after receiving reports from law enforcement officials overseas, as the victim lives outside Australia. There have been other cases probed by state police.
Local media reported that the man was Nepalese but police declined to comment.
“Online threats of this nature can be devastating for victims,” AFP’s South Australia Crime Operations Superintendent Gail McClure said in a statement, adding fear and manipulation have often deterred victims from reporting.
“Make no mistake, this behavior is a crime and police will investigate any complaints about this type of online conduct,” she added.
The 25-year-old man faces up to five years in jail, if convicted in court, said police, who also seized his electronic devices.
From Britain to Germany and South Korea, sextortion cases have become increasingly common in recent years, with the advancement and easy access of technology enabling perpetrators to blackmail and sexually assault women.
Examples of such cases include non-consensual sharing of intimate photos - commonly known as ‘sextortion’ or ‘revenge porn’, or upskirting - the surreptitious filming or taking of photographs under girls’ and women’s clothes.
Australia last year joined countries like Britain, Japan and Singapore to outlaw ‘revenge porn’ under new legislations.
“This is a growing problem,” said Julie Inman Grant, the Australian government-appointed eSafety Commissioner whose office has helped more than 1,700 victims to remove their intimate images from the internet since 2017.
Most revenge porn victims are women and girls, often targeted by current and former partners to distress, extort or humiliate them.
Strangers also hack into people’s devices and social media accounts to steal private images to post online.
Commonwealth prosecutor Bonnie Russell told the court that the accused and victim were in an intimate relationship in the United Kingdom before a break-up.
She said the accused then moved to Australia on a two-year student visa in June.
"The defendant has contacted the victim in the UK and threatened to upload some of the videos and images that were taken in their intimate relationship," she said.
She said the victim had since married.
The court was told that in August, the defendant called the victim's husband and used the internet to show him screenshots of the intimate videos.
Ms Russell said about three months later, the accused called the victim and again threatened to upload the images, which were of a "private sexual nature".
"Some of the screenshots have been sighted by authorities in the United Kingdom," she said.
She said UK authorities notified the AFP, who then arrested the accused.
"The victim is quite distressed about the situation," Ms Russell said.
Ms Russell said the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions opposed bail because of the risk that if released, the accused could access the 'cloud' and upload the images.