A record number of blackmail offenses were reported to police in England and Wales last year, figures show.
Charity Victim Support is urging the government and police to take this crime – which includes a growing number of “sextortion” cases – seriously.
Home Office figures show police forces across England and Wales recorded 22,064 blackmail offenses in the year to March – more than double the number in 2019- 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic.
It was also the highest since comparable records began in 2012-13, with nearly every police force in both countries seeing records broken.
According to the latest population estimates, the Cumbria Constabulary recorded 6.7 offenses per 10,000 people last year – the highest rate of any force in England and Wales.
Blackmail is punishable by up to 14 years in prison and is one of the fastest growing crimes over the past decade.
Victim Support said the increase could reflect more crime or that victims feel more empowered to come forward, but warned that many still choose not to because they feel embarrassed.
Diana Fawcett, chief executive of the charity, said: ‘This sharp rise in blackmail reports is very concerning – with only 1% of cases resulting in a charge, we are at risk of victims losing faith in the justice system criminal.
“It is essential that victims of blackmail receive practical and emotional support to help them recover and seek justice.
“The police force and the government need to take this crime seriously and understand why we are seeing this increase.”
Although Home Office figures do not detail the type of blackmail carried out, the National Crime Agency said “sextortion”, or webcam blackmail – where victims are tricked into performing sex acts on video – is a growing threat.
And the Revenge Porn Helpline, which supports those who have experienced intimate image abuse, said it was their most reported issue of 2021.
Zara Ward, a senior practitioner at the service, said: ‘In many of our cases we only see the tip of the iceberg and so many of these cases go unreported because the scammers have a huge impact on their victims. , and that can lead to a lot of silent victims.
She said the pandemic has taken much of people’s daily communication online, including relationships, and many scams are now starting on dating apps or social media.
The National Council of Police Chiefs said the increase in blackmail crimes is largely due to improved recording.
He encourages anyone who has been victimized to report it to the police – where they will receive continued support – and not to give in to demands.
Separate figures show that of the 20,360 blackmail investigations closed nationwide in 2021-22, only 1% resulted in a charge or summons, and 59% with no suspects identified.
A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘We are supporting the police by funding crime prevention measures, including equipping the police with better technology to help catch more criminals.
“We are working with partners across the criminal justice system to increase the number of cases charged and prosecuted.”