- Sextortion Affecting Thousands of U.S. Children
- Cleveland FBI warns of rise in sexual predators targeting children, adults in online sextortion
- Sextortion of children on the rise
Sextortion Affecting Thousands of U.S. Children
Sextortion is a type of online sexual exploitation in which individuals coerce victims into providing sexually explicit images or videos of themselves, often in compliance with offenders’ threats to post the images publicly or send the images to victims’ friends and family. The FBI has seen a significant increase in sextortion activity against children who use the Internet, typically ages 10 to 17, but any age child can become a victim of sextortion.
The FBI is seeking to warn parents, educators, caregivers, and children about the dangers of sextortion. Sending just one inappropriate image to another person online could become the catalyst for sextortion if that image, shared publicly or with their family and friends, is considered compromising to the victim. Offenders easily misrepresent themselves online to appear to be friendly and age appropriate or simply an adult who will listen to a child. This relationship can be manipulated to groom the child to eventually send inappropriate images or video to the offender. Furthermore, children may send images or videos to a known individual on purpose, but an offender may come into possession of those images or videos through the sextortion of the original recipient or if the original recipient puts the image on the Internet and the offender comes across it. Younger children can become victims when their friend or sibling is being sextorted and the offender threatens to make images or videos public if their requests to include the sexual abuse of younger children in the images or videos are not satisfied.
Children tend to be trusting online and will befriend people of any age or sex they may not know. Offenders take advantage of this naivety and target children who openly engage others online or have a strong social networking presence. In most instances, they openly post pictures or videos of themselves. Offenders can gain information from the online presence of potential victims by reviewing posts and “friends lists” and pose as an acquaintance, another teen from the same or a different school, or a stranger with similar interests. “Friends lists” may serve as a source to identify additional victims once the sextortion process starts. Once a child becomes a victim of sextortion, the victimization may last for years. Victims have reported having to meet demands for sexually explicit images and videos multiple times per day. The FBI has identified cases in which children committed suicide, attempted suicide, or engaged in other acts of self–harm due to their sextortion victimization. In one instance, the victim purposely engaged in activity that put them in the hospital to get a break from their offender’s demands. As soon as the victim was released from the hospital, the victimization continued.
Sextortion is a crime. The coercion of a child by an adult to produce what is considered child pornography carries heavy penalties, which can include up to life sentences for the offender. The FBI does not treat a child as an offender in the production of child pornography as a result of their sextortion or coercion. In order for the victimization to stop, children typically have to come forward to someone—normally a parent, teacher, caregiver, or law enforcement. The embarrassment of the activity a child was forced to engage in is what typically prevents them from coming forward. Sextortion offenders may have hundreds of victims around the world, so coming forward to help law enforcement identify the offender may prevent countless other incidents of sexual exploitation to that victim and others.
The following measures may help educate and prevent children from becoming victims of this type of sexual exploitation:
- Make children aware that anything done online may be available to others;
- Make sure children’s apps and social networking sites’ privacy settings are set to the strictest level possible;
- Anyone who asks a child to engage in sexually explicit activity online should be reported to a parent, guardian, or law enforcement;
- It is not a crime for a child to send sexually explicit images to someone if they are compelled to do so, so victims should not be afraid to tell law enforcement if they are being sexually exploited;
- Parents should put personal computers in a central location in the home;
- Parents should review and approve apps downloaded to smart phones and mobile devices and monitor activity on those devices;
- Ensure an adult is present and engaged when children communicate via webcam; and
- Discuss Internet safety with children before they engage in any online activity and maintain those discussions as children become teenagers.
What to do if you believe you are or someone you know is the victim of sextortion:
- Contact your local law enforcement agency, your local FBI field office (contact information can be found at www.fbi.gov), or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (1-800-the-lost or Cybertipline.org);
- Do not delete anything before law enforcement is able to review it; and
- Tell law enforcement everything about the encounters you had online-it may be embarrassing, but it is necessary to find the offender.
Cleveland FBI warns of rise in sexual predators targeting children, adults in online sextortion
The most common targets are children.
Rise in Exploitation of Children
Predators Pretend to be Teens Online
Record Compromising Videos of Victims
Source: NewNet5 Cleveland
U.S. federal officials and advocates are urging educators and parents to help raise awareness at school events.
In sextortion cases, preying adults typically pose on social media as someone younger to coerce victims into sending inappropriate photos or video clips. Once initial images are delivered, the adult threatens to expose them publicly unless the victim sends more explicit pictures.
40% in teen sextortion tips
Last September, the centre said it saw a spike of 40% in teen sextortion tips in a six-month period.
“There is no question in my mind this is happening on a regular basis with kids,” said Signy Arnason, the centre’s associate executive director. “We see situations where they get in over their heads and don’t really appreciate that it’s actually an adult on the other side doing it to them.
“We have to have more parents attuned to the fact this is going on with kids.”
Det.-Sgt. Paul Krawczyk, of the Toronto Police child exploitation section, senses all areas of child exploitation are increasing.
“Reporting of child pornography being distributed, everything seems to be increasing and we are getting, I would argue, the most cases we’ve seen, ever,” he said.
“Sextortion is just part of that. We find when we get these cases, it’s a large number of victims we’re dealing with. That’s the difficulty is getting through the evidence.”
Krawczyk said another hurdle law enforcement officials have is figuring out where the perpetrators are based on their IP addresses.
“We used to be able to contact the Internet provider and get the information and now we have to write to the provider and write out a full judicial authorization, so that’s going to extend an investigation from three to five days,” he said.
“I believe (sextortion) is increasing because of the ability to be online all the time now,” Krawczyk added. “Most teenagers have smartphones and are constantly connected and you constantly have a camera with you. Some of these people control these people’s lives where they have to check in every 10 minutes. And yet they’ve never once met this person.”
Toronto District School Board spokesman Ryan Bird said the board’s literature speaks in generalities when it comes to student safety online. Anything related to sextortion training would likely be tied into Ontario’s health and physical education curriculum, he said.
“Students learn how to get help if online harassment or abuse occurs,” education ministry spokesman Heather Irwin said. “Specific reference to the benefits of using technology and also the dangers of online sharing of sexual images or information, as well as cyberbullying, begins in Grade 4.”
Amanda Todd Suicide
Amanda Todd, of Port Coquitlam, B.C., took her own life after an online tormentor posted pictures of her flashing her breasts.
Suggest Parents to Have Conversations With Youth
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection suggests parents have conversations with youth about risks associated with the Internet:
In Sextortion Cases
- Youth will often comply with threats received online in effort to try to manage the situation on their own.
- Situations can escalate quickly and youth may find themselves in over their heads.
- It is often very difficult for them to seek adult assistance as they are embarrassed and terrified that the sexual images/videos will be distributed to people they know.
- Adults have an obligation to be responsive and supportive when youth make mistakes.
Reminders for Youth
- Never comply with the threat.
- Stop all forms of communication with the individual (block from accounts).
- Deactivate all accounts used to communicate with the individual.
- Speak to a trusted adult about what is happening.
- Contact law enforcement or Cybertip.ca.