The Internet is (for the most part) a magical place. You can get virtual hugs from the nicest place on the Internet, make your pet’s Instagram famous and generally just do anything you need to do quicker and easier than ten years ago. But while the Internet is getting safer, thanks to things like quantum Internet technology, there are still a ton of risks online, particularly for younger people. A new study from the Brookings Institute finds that sextortion — the practice of using personal information like photos to lure someone into providing more explicit photos and video — is a lot more common than you think. Yikes.

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“It’s a new form of sexual assault because you can do it without being in the person’s presence and you can do it at scale,” researcher Benjamin Wittes says about sextortion during a webcast about the study, according to CNN Money.

Benjamin and his team studied 78 cases of sextortion with more than 3,000 victims, and found that 78 percent of the victims were minors and all of the perpetrators were male. He also predicted that there could be more than 6,000 sextortion victims dealing with this problem right now, pointing out that while child pornography laws protect the majority of sextortion victims, those who aren’t minors generally have a difficult time finding legal protection. Double yikes.

“It’s the tip of a much, much larger iceberg. We are certain that the data is incomplete…. that the problem is more widespread than we are able to capture,” he said. “It’s a remarkably common form of sex crime… These are cases of remote coercion of sex in a fashion that’s closer to a sexual assault than it is to anything you would call innocent.”

Super scary. Awareness is the first step toward protecting yourself, so tell your friends and family about this disturbing new trend ASAP.

How do you protect yourself from Internet creeps? Tweet us your thoughts @BritandCo.

(Photo via Getty)