Blackmail is the act of extorting or coercing someone by threats of public exposure or criminal prosecution. The actor may promise not to reveal damaging or compromising information about someone. In exchange, they demand payment or other benefits to keep the information hidden. Blackmail is not only a criminal offense but also prohibited by academic integrity policies at universities across the country. Being found guilty of blackmail may result in severe consequences, including expulsion from school and jail time.

Understanding Blackmail

A key element of blackmail is the intent to obtain benefits from a victim by not revealing information. The gain doesn't have to be financial. It can be performing a service, exchanging goods, obtaining property, and more. Blackmailers will generally claim to have damaging information about their victim that could threaten things like their finances, job, image, or relationships. Blackmail is a crime whether or not the information being used is accurate or related to an illegal act.

Blackmail laws differ from state to state. In many states, blackmail is considered a form of extortion. Extortion is similar to blackmail in that it involves threatening a person to get them to do something. A significant difference is that extortion is a crime based on force. It requires a threat of violence or destruction of property. Blackmail is typically classified as a crime based on information, though that doesn't make it less severe. States usually classify blackmail as a felony, and punishments can include lengthy prison sentences. In Washington D.C., for example, any person convicted of blackmail can be imprisoned for up to five years under statute 22-3252.

Blackmail and Academic Misconduct

Students must abide by academic integrity policies set forth by their school. These policies require students to maintain ethical standards and values. They commonly revolve around things like cheating, plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, and forgery. If students violate these policies, the university can charge them with academic misconduct.

Although many academic integrity policies fail to mention blackmail specifically, it is still prohibited. Educational institutions frequently use their integrity policies to punish students who participate in blackmail. Here are some of the common types of blackmail found on campuses:

Contract Cheating

This form of academic misconduct involves paying students to complete their academic work for them. A student might promise payment to a company or fellow student to complete an assignment in exchange for them. People who engage in contract cheating might later blackmail fellow students for violating academic integrity policies. They can seek payment or other benefits to keep this information away from the school.


Cybercrime has been prevalent on college campuses since the rise of the internet. A common blackmail technique involves using cybercrime to hack or obtain confidential information from others. A student can use malicious software to infiltrate computers and find damaging information. They will later threaten to expose their findings unless they receive payment. Blackmailers used this strategy in attacks on faculty at Michigan State University, Columbia College Chicago, and the University of California San Francisco.


Students may also blackmail others through extorting sexual information or images. They may hack someone's private computer or phone to collect sexually explicit photos, messages, or videos. This sensitive data is later used to extort the other person. The extortion could involve paying money or performing a sexual act.

Violations of Academic Integrity

There are wide-ranging consequences for breaches of academic integrity at universities. Although schools handle violations on a case by case basis, there are many grounds for punishing blackmail. The University of California Berkeley defines academic misconduct as “any action of attempting action that may result in creating an unfair academic advantage or disadvantage for any other member of the academic community.”

According to their code of conduct, the following rules may apply to punish students accused of blackmail:

  • Cheating by using fraud, deceit, or dishonesty. For example, students who coerce other students to do their assignments or give them test answers by the threat of blackmail.
  • Theft of or damage to intellectual property. This includes sabotaging or stealing another person's software, such as stealing a student's data for purposes of blackmail.
  • False information and representation. They prohibit furnishing false information, failing to identify yourself honestly, or providing false or misleading information on academic assignments.

Consequences of Blackmail on College Campuses

Students charged with blackmail face severe consequences by their academic institution and law enforcement. Schools typically hold a hearing to determine academic misconduct. The punishment for blackmail will depend on the circumstances of the misconduct. Students may face sanctions by their university, such as course failure, probation, suspension, or expulsion.

Punishment for violating academic integrity typically depends on the severity of the offense. Since blackmail is a deliberate violation of policy, the penalties are usually more severe. Regus University, for example, threatens serious corrective actions for a first time Level III offense, defined as “flagrant disregard for academic integrity policy, or egregious violations of the policy.” Institutional sanctions include course failure, grade changes, program suspension, academic dismissal from a program, expulsion from the university, or retractions of degrees and certificates awarded by the university.

Importance of Retaining an Experienced Attorney Advisor

It's common for schools to take fast disciplinary action in response to academic misconduct allegations. Accused students will typically go through a hearing to determine the outcome of the misconduct. Students have the right to an advisor to defend them during this process. It is crucial to consider an academic misconduct attorney in these instances. They have the experience to protect the student's rights and protect them from unfair treatment by their university. Schools may try to take advantage of a student's inexperience and unfamiliarity with this process. A lawyer can prepare a defense and ensure a student's voice is heard to obtain a fair outcome. Having experienced representation will give the student a better opportunity to negotiate and reduce their sanctions.

Have you or someone you know been accused of academic misconduct?  Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are here to help. They have years of experience defending students and achieving positive outcomes. Contact the office today at (888) 535-3686.