In a society where pornography is illegal and moral hypocrisy is high, undressing for a video call is fraught with risk.
The heady thrill of a blossoming romance can make a person throw caution to the wind, behaving in a manner that leaves them susceptible to extortion.
That was the fate of Linda (not her real name), a 24-year-old university student and recruitment worker from Tangerang, west of Jakarta. In December, she met a man named Rival Jasita (35) on Facebook. They chatted frequently via WhatsApp. When they met in person, Linda fell in love. Rival, who lives in Mangga Besar, West Jakarta, did not tell her he was married.
Attracted by Rival’s boyish good looks, Linda agreed when he proposed a business deal, unaware he was merely tugging at her heartstrings to loosen her purse-strings. She gave him Rp25 million (US$1,765) for his spurious welding business after he promised to repay her capital plus a 30 percent return within just one month.
When Rival made a video call to Linda, he asked to her take off her clothes. She consented. Rival then made three screen captures with his phone. He later sent the three images to Linda via WhatsApp and demanded she transfer Rp35 million (US$2,470) or he would publicly upload the photos. Terrified, Linda made the transfer.
A few days later, Rival demanded a further Rp65 million (US$4,585). Linda implored him to stop the extortion, insisting she had only Rp20,000 (US$1.40) left. Rival showed no mercy. In a series of intimidating and obscenely rude messages, he claimed she still had a lot of money. He vowed to shame her by sending the compromising photos to Linda’s family, boss and neighbours. He also threatened to show proof she had visited him at a hotel.
Genuinely lacking sufficient money, Linda went to police on January 7. They set a trap for Rival, instructing Linda to arrange a meeting with him to collect the money. Less than three hours later, Rival was arrested at the meeting place.
He faces charges of fraud and extortion, and could be spending up to nine years in jail if tried and convicted of both offenses. Much will depend on whether Linda can afford the stress, humiliation and expense of going through a trial process.
Tangerang Police chief Ewo Samono urged people to be more careful when using social media and not to place too much trust in new acquaintances.
In a sad indictment of the professionalism of the Indonesian media, some online news outlets published Linda’s real full name and home address – and the unedited blackmail photos; yet they pixilated Rival’s face when publishing a photo of him. Police are partly to blame for the photo leak – they confiscated Rival’s two smartphones and then shared screen-grabs of the incriminating WhatsApp images with the media.
Collectors of amateur pornography in Indonesia have devised a method of tricking women into sending nude or semi-nude photos of themselves. After choosing a young target, they browse through the woman’s list of contacts on her social media accounts. They’re looking for a friend who is a health worker or a university student, ideally a medical student. Then they create a fake social media account, posing as the friend. They send a message, claiming to be conducting medical research on skin colour, so could the woman please strip down to her underwear or less, take some photos and send them.
Dana Paramita, a television news presenter from Central Java, received unusual messages on the popular chatting application Line from a person posing as her friend Levina, a medical student. “Levina” said she was researching the relationship between nutrition and skin colour in women, comparing the skin of women who had and had not given birth.
Dana was asked to send full-body photos in only her underwear as “research material”. “Levina” said she urgently needed the photos because her research deadline was looming and she had a lack of sampling.
Suspicious of the request, Dana consulted a doctor friend, who warned her it was bogus. Dana then checked her Line contacts and noticed two listings for Levina: one genuine and the other an imposter.
Punish the Victim
Thanks to rampant corruption in Indonesia’s jails, inmates are able to have access to smartphones. There have been several cases of prisoners posing online as wealthy men in order to attract women, who are blackmailed after being tricked into sharing nude photos or videos.
In a recent case, a policewoman from Makassar, South Sulawesi, thought she was communicating with a police officer from Lampung province, but he was actually a convicted criminal, serving an eight-year sentence for murdering his jealous gay lover.
The woman shared lewd selfies and an 11-minute nude video with the murderer, Alfiansyah (23), who in 2014 had beaten his boyfriend to death because he considered him too possessive and too demanding. Alfiansyah said he had received his smartphone from another prisoner, who was being released. He then created a Facebook account posing as a police commissioner and looked for women to extort. After tricking the policewoman, he later shared her nude photos and video online.
How did authorities respond to the case? Did they punish the Lampung jail’s chief for allowing an inmate to have a smartphone? Of course not. Instead, they punished the victim, firing the policewoman for her “immoral conduct”.
Indonesia’s Child Protection Commission this month warned parents that sextortion cybercrime targeting children is on the rise. Adult predators, usually men, pose as children on social media and reach out to real children, establishing trust and trying to make them fall in love.
Commission member Putu Elvina said that once an online relationship becomes intimate, the predator will send a nude photo of a boy or girl, claiming to be the person in the photo, and ask the victim to send them similar photos in return. If the victim complies, the extortion commences. They will be asked to transfer money or telephone credit, otherwise their nude photos will be uploaded to Facebook or Instagram and shared with their family, friends and school.
Putu said she had received reports of victims moving schools to avoid the risk of stigmatisation, but they continued to be threatened by their online predators. She urged parents to provide guidance to children and regularly check their social media interactions.