Keep your kids safe from online sextortion—cases are soaring in Canada
I have heard the term sextortion, but what is it? As a parent of a teenager about to start high school, do I need to be worried about this?
According to Brieanna Charlebois of the Canadian Press, “Sexual extortion, or sextortion, occurs when someone threatens to distribute private, often sexually explicit, material online, if the victim doesn’t comply with their demands, usually for money.” Victims may be duped into sending personal sexual images or engaging in sexual acts which are recorded without their knowledge. Then the predator threatens to share the images online or to friends of the youth, or possibly to their school. This will scare the victim, and if compliance is gained, the scammer extorts with demands for more images or more money through such apps as PayPal or gift cards for Amazon, Google Play, or Visa. E-Transfer is also used.
On August 23, 2020, Statistics Canada data indicated that “police reported sextortion cases in Canada rose by nearly 300 percent in the last decade, but the crime significantly rose during the pandemic.” RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Crime Centre received 52,306 complaints for the year 2020 to 2021, a 510 percent increase over seven years earlier. Even with these alarming statistics, Staff Sgt. Graham Smiley of the Calgary Police thinks such crimes are “vastly underreported.”
From east to west across Canada, the police warn parents about sextortion targeting young teens and tweens as young as 11. This crime has been made all the easier by social media platforms, says the Canadian Centre for Child Protection’s executive director Liana McDonald. Cybertip.ca, Canada’s tip line for reporting online child sexual abuse, received 57 sextortion reports a month from December 2021 to May 2022. There was a 150 percent increase in young people being sextorted. In June 2022, they received over 106 sextortion reports. Seventy-seven percent of the incidents happened on Instagram and Snapchat.
According to Cybertip, in ‘Online Harms: Sextortion,’ boys are usually extorted for money and girls for images. Eighty-seven percent of sextortion cases reported involved young boys with a demand for money, often from international organized crime syndicates. A review of 322 cases by Cybertip found that when gender is unknown, 92 percent of the cases involved young males.
These predators are clever. They engage the youngster and befriend them. They may offer a prize if the youth shares graphic intimate photos or videos. They may pretend to be someone of the same age or a preferred gender looking for a sexual encounter. They may create several accounts. Then, when the images are shared, they threaten to ruin the young person’s life by targeting their friends, siblings, family, or school. Sometimes the youth is so distraught that suicide is attempted.
Parents need to talk to their children about this growing crime and how youth are being targeted. They are a huge vulnerable pool because one in three Internet users worldwide is a child, and one in five is a Canadian.
Talk to your kids about the dangers of posting explicit images or videos online. Tell them to limit posting personal information and to use social media privacy settings so they can control their contacts. Suggest they refuse unknown friend requests and avoid clicking on links from unfamiliar sources.
Please encourage your kids to keep their Webcam covered when it is not in use. Recommend they never send intimate images on electronic devices. If a scammer engages them, advise them to cut communication with the predator and tell an adult.
Parents, be sure to monitor your child’s online activities and who their friends are. Converse with kids about the dangers of sharing information and befriending strangers. Explain sextortion, fake profiles, and fraud. Be approachable for problems and questions.
If you are a victim of sextortion, tell your parents. Do not comply with threats. Stop communication with the predator. Save all the texts and images sent to you for the police. Call the police and report the incidents to Cybertip. Also, be sure to report the perpetrator through the social media platforms where you have been extorted. Adults understand this is embarrassing and stressful for you. Be aware that help is available. Please do not be too ashamed to tell.
Further information and resources:
‘Sextortion cases targeting youth are on the rise’ writes Ottawa City Counsellor Jan Harder. Do be cognizant, educate your children, and report the crime.
Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.
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