Blackmail can feel like an impossible, unfair, stressful, and scary situation, but it’s also an old, old trick. Your blackmailer, no matter who they are, wants you to feel terrified and alone and ashamed and rushed, so they can control you. It’s OK to feel all of those things. It’s also OK to breathe, slow down, and take your next steps carefully.
Blackmail is a cruel attempt to take away your agency and control over your own truth, body, and dignity. Whether the perpetrator is someone you know IRL, or an online scammer, blackmail is a gross violation of your privacy and dignity. Here are some foundational guidelines we’ve gathered after talking to dozens of blackmail victims, lawyers, and digital security experts.
First Things First
- Don’t pay up
Whatever they’re asking for–money, favors, sexual acts, etc–remember that you can’t buy silence, you can only rent it. Blackmailers often start with small asks to test you, then come back for more.
It’s okay if you’ve agreed to their demands before; it’s a common reaction to just want it to go away. It’s not too late to refuse their demands starting now. (More on this below).
- Don’t delete the evidence
Resist the urge to delete everything. It might feel like it minimizes the taint of the situation, but it actually increases the imbalance of leverage.
Remember, the blackmailer is in the wrong here. What they’re doing is cruel, unacceptable, and in most jurisdictions, illegal. If you’re able to, keep screenshots and proof of their threats, in case you need them later.
- Reporting options
Blackmail threats are against most online platforms’ terms of service. If intimate images or videos of you are posted without your consent, you can also report them for removal. Laws and police procedures vary from place to place, and contacting police isn’t an option for some people. Most departments have a non-emergency number you can contact for more information about what they can do. Here is more info on US laws. Reporting can be helpful in some cases, but it’s rarely an end-all solution that addresses the root of the problem. So let’s talk about that next.
Neutralizing the Threat
It’s easy to focus on the “evidence” the blackmailer has on you, but the reality is that it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make them un-have or un-know that thing. The actual leverage blackmailers have on you is fear and shame. They want you so scared that you’ll do anything to make it go away. The solution? Neutralize the threat by taking the power of shame and fear away; they don’t get to control you.
First, the blackmailer.
They want you to be scared? Let’s show them you’re not. We can’t control what they do, so let’s act like we don’t care. What they’re doing is wrong, and they’ll have to handle their own consequences for that.
One option is simply not responding or blocking the blackmailer. It effectively sends a message that you’re not willing to engage with them. Especially with online scammers trying to make money off of this tactic, they’ll often move on from unresponsive targets after it’s clear you’re not engaging.
If it’s someone you can’t easily ignore or that you have more connections to in your life, there are also ways to respond directly and communicate that this blackmail isn’t going to work on you. Sure, it might be a bluff. But true or not, communicating this sentiment cuts off their access to your fear and shame. Find a way to do this that feels okay to you, in your own voice. Some places to start:
- I don’t engage with blackmail.
- I can’t do that. I don’t have it.
- I’m proud of my body. You can’t hurt me that way.
- What you’re doing is wrong and illegal.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this; follow what feels right to you.
Next, your people.
We don’t know whether or not the blackmailer will follow through with their threats. In some cases, they may have done something already to scare you and keep pressuring you. Regardless, we can’t control or stop them. But you can start taking away their targets. Who is the blackmailer threatening to contact or expose you to? Can you get to them first?
Consider what it would look like to take the narrative back into your own hands. It’s not fair that you have to do this now, but it may give you more control of how things play out.
- Reaching out first
Who are the most critical people that this might impact? Explaining the situation to them may gain you sympathy and support. This could be through direct conversations or private messages. Or, if it feels more effective, you could also post it somewhere it’ll reach a wide set of folks the blackmailer might reach out to, like a friends-locked Facebook post or an email to your contact list.
- Hi, I’m hoping you can help me out. I’m being blackmailed, and they’re threatening to send you [X]. If you get a message from [NAME], please block and report them and don’t look at what they’ve sent. Thank you so much.
- I need to bring up something that’s really hard for me to talk about. I’m being blackmailed about it, so I’m coming to you under pressure, but I want you to hear it from me.
- Preparing a message in reaction
Maybe you don’t want to make a lot of noise ahead of the threat being followed through. Craft a response message now, rather than in the moment, for if the worst happens.
- Thanks for letting me know. This person has been blackmailing me. I’m disappointed that they followed through on these manipulative threats. Please do not engage with that person, and please delete what they’ve sent you.
- Flipping the pressure back onto them
If the blackmailer is someone you know, think about who might have the influence to help you. This could be parents, friends, school admins, discord admins, a boss, etc. Consider explaining the situation to them if they might be supportive.
- I’ve been going through something really challenging, and I wanted to talk about it with you. [NAME] has been blackmailing me, and asking me for [X]. I’m [scared and embarrassed], but I don’t know how to deal with this alone. Can you help?
Again, these are starting points and examples. Find a way to do this in your own voice; you know yourself and your relationships best.
Finally, check on yourself.
Blackmail is designed to make you feel attacked, betrayed, alone and vulnerable. It’s important to address those feelings, too, not just the situation.
Take inventory of your basic needs. Are you sleeping, eating, taking medication, moving your body, or doing your self care routines? Start there. Ask and accept help where you need it.
Reach out to your loved ones for support. If you don’t want to share details, say you’re having a hard time and could use the company and comfort. Having distractions, feeling less alone, and knowing you’re cared for can make a world of difference.
There’s no perfect solution for a clean resolution. If you want someone to talk to, reach out to the Games and Online Harassment Hotline by texting SUPPORT to 23368 from anywhere in the USA.