Beware of blackmail, legal expert warns women

Activist educates over 10,000 young women on ways to confront online extortion

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Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH
— A Saudi legal adviser has cautioned young women against online extortionists who would exploit them for sex, money or other criminal purposes.

Noura Al-Qahtani, who is also a women's rights activist, emphasized the need to educate women about extortion, which has become common with the support of modern technology and social media networks.

The woman lawyer made the remarks while addressing a meeting on the concept of online extortion, its types and psychological and social implications as well as the possible mistakes on the part of victims.

Al-Qahtani explained how young women can escape from criminals who blackmail them to achieve their vested interests, and the legal recourse women have to get the extortionists punished.

Al-Qahtani launched an initiative two years ago to protect young girls from blackmail with the support of modern technology. She was successful in educating more than 10,000 girls on the issue with the cooperation of schools, education departments and NGOs.

"We have noticed that many women have shown interest to participate in this kind of programs," she said while speaking to Al-Watan Arabic daily.

"We can confront blackmailers through religious education, enhancing legal awareness, informing people about their rights and creating technological awareness," she added.

Al-Qahtani launched a campaign on Twitter with the hashtag "Protecting girls from extortion."

She wanted the authorities to take up the campaign for the benefit of a large number of young women across the Kingdom.

She said official statistics published by a government agency in 2016 showed that extortionists' demands range from sex to money, along with many other vested interests.

Sexual demands accounted for 74 percent while demands for cash represented 14 percent, the statistical report said. The remaining 12 percent included controlling the actions of the victim and pressure to withdraw complaints in police stations or courts, among others.

Saudi Arabia has passed a law to fight information crimes 10 years ago, she said. The law has 16 articles classifying information crimes and their penalties, which includes provisions to deal with abuse of technology, which entails penalties ranging from imprisonment to fine.

"This law can play a major role in preventing people from committing such crimes, including extortion," she added.

In order to avoid blackmailing through social networking sites, Al-Qahtani cautioned girls against responding to anonymous people. "We should make balanced responses while dealing with unknown people on electronic media. We should not publish personal information, including images through social networking sites.”

Al-Qahtani recounted a number of real-life stories to make her point. She said a 10-year-old girl was blackmailed through a game app. The blackmailer asked her to steal money from her parents and hand it to him.

"Unable to bear the psychological pressure, the girl slipped into a bad mental state, which affected her education," Al-Qahtani said.

Following a number of counseling sessions with a psychologist, her parents were able to find out the person who blackmailed her. Police then arrested him.

Explaining another story, she said: "An extortionist obtained personal information of a woman after hacking her computer. He took her photographs to morphed them to make them look vulgar. After learning that she has landed a government job, the man first asked her to pay SR5,000, then demanded her to hand him her ATM card and he continued to withdraw her money for two years."

Al-Qahtani added: "When the woman got married the extortionist asked her to pay him her full dowry and the marriage failed. After four years her mental condition became extremely weak while her debts snowballed. She later contacted official agencies and informed them about the blackmailer. Police then arrested the man, ending her ordeal."


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