Staying Safe Online: How to Minimize Your Risk of Image-Based Sexual Abuse

By Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI)

Cyberspace can be both a safe and dangerous neighborhood at the same time. Many of the platforms, devices, and apps we use for communication and entertainment with trusted individuals are also hunting grounds for predators and abusers. Presently, 1 in 8 adult social media users are targets of at least one form of Image-Based Sexual Abuse (IBSA), and advancements in generative artificial intelligence (GAI) and other forms of machine learning may increase this ratio. With easy and cheap access to these tools, a predator only needs a photo of someone’s face to create highly realistic, sexually explicit images of them without consent. That’s why staying safe online is crucial.

While there is unfortunately no way to completely eliminate the risk of image-based sexual abuse, there are some precautions you can take to reduce your vulnerability.

Recognizing Potential Predators

While connecting with strangers online can be a positive experience, it is a good idea to be wary of messages or requests to connect from anyone you don’t know. If a stranger asks to move a conversation from a public thread to private messaging, that’s a sign to be extra cautious.

A helpful strategy for staying safe online is to assume that strangers might not be who they seem or claim to be. Sexual predators often create fake online identities—a practice known as “catfishing.” They use photos of other people, AI-generated photos, and/or fake profile information to entice unsuspecting internet users into sharing intimate images.

Be alert against “phishing” attempts, which is the use of email, texts, phone calls, and other communications to trick the recipient into revealing sensitive information (such as social media account login details or bank information) or to click on links or attachments. These links and attachments can be used to install monitoring software or computer viruses. Once a device is compromised, a perpetrator can take control of microphones and cameras on that device with the intent to secretly capture intimate material, which can then be used for sextortion or to trade on the dark web.  It is a good idea to scrutinize emails and messages that request personal information, invite you to click on links or open attachments, or direct you to unfamiliar websites.

Security Steps You Can Take

  • Select the strongest security settings on all your devices; use strong, unique passwords; and enable multi-factor authentication (MFA).
  • It is a good idea to physically cover your webcams when not in use. There are many affordable commercial webcam covers available; you can also use a post-it note or a piece of tape.
  • If possible, do not make your friends or contacts list visible or accessible to others. This list is often the first thing that perpetrators copy for blackmail purposes.
  • It is a good idea to keep your operating systems, browsers, and all security software up to date to protect against vulnerabilities.
  • It is a best practice to avoid using public Wi-Fi for sensitive transactions and to be wary of QR codes that are not securely shielded.
  • Try to make it a habit to lock and/or log off devices when not in use.
  • Regular monitoring of your account and network activity can help you spot unauthorized access or anomalies.
  • If you create intimate images of yourself, try to leave out details that may be used to identify you. That includes your face, unique tattoos, and scars, as well as unique furnishings, décor, jewelry, or other personal items. Keep in mind that family members, former intimate partners, and roommates may be able to recognize these details.

Responding to IBSA

Discovering your likeness online in sexually explicit material is shocking, violating, and upsetting. It can be helpful to feel prepared about what to do if you or someone you know is a target of IBSAAlways remember that the only one to blame for IBSA is the perpetrator, never the target.  

The first and foremost concern is your immediate physical safety. Although the majority of IBSA is not associated with physical assault, it is a crime that may lead to assault, either by the abuser or by others. For instance, if the abuse is accompanied by doxing (exposing your address or contact information), this indicates that the abuser may be attempting to incite someone to cause physical harm. If you feel you are in imminent danger, you may wish to contact 911 for assistance.

If you are not in immediate danger, you can consult the comprehensive guidance provided in the Safety Center on the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) website. The CCRI Safety Center recommends first steps to take, such as preserving evidence; requesting image removal from the internet; and contacting additional community resources.  The CCRI Safety Center also includes a list of relevant state laws relating to IBSA and a roster of attorneys who may be able to assist with a criminal or civil case.


Another resource is the CCRI Image Abuse Helpline (1-844-878-2274), which is the only service in the U.S. specifically dedicated to image-based sexual abuse, serving over 26,353 callers to date.

The Helpline offers free assistance to individuals aged 18 and older who need help staying safe online. The Helpline provides emotional support, information, resources, and referrals to attorneys. In the United States, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) offers assistance to individuals who were minors in the image.

You Are Not Alone

It is scary to experience technology-facilitated abuse. If you have experienced this or have questions advocates from The Hotline and the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative are available for support. You are not alone.