What parents need to know and what kids can do to help keep themselves from being victimized
Sextortion, the extortion of victims involving sexual images, is a daily problem for the youth of Newfoundland and Labrador. The Canadian Centre for Child Protection, a trusted partner of Canadian police agencies, reports that youth-related sextortion is increasing, based upon reports to its Cybertips.ca line. Furthermore, one in five youths report that they have been pressured into sharing intimate images. Sextortion takes many forms and occurs when someone is threatened to send a sexual image or video, often referred to as “nudes,” if money or more sexual content isn’t provided.
Sextortion is illegal. While it is not a crime specifically named in the Criminal Code, most sextortion cases involve serious criminal offences, including extortion, luring and child pornography.
Sextortion can be for financial gain or sexual gratification. The predator may be known or unknown to the victim. In all cases, the first goal of the predator is to convince the victim to provide a “nude” so that it can be used to threaten the victim to comply with further demands. The predator typically threatens to share the nude images of the victim to people on their friends list on social media.
Tactics by predators vary. For example, a current or former boyfriend/girlfriend may ask for nudes as proof of the person’s love for them. Girls can be duped by a predator who offers up what is often referred to as a “sugar daddy” relationship — the predator offers to pay for nude images but then goes on to use them against the victim. Some predators offer “modeling opportunities” to ensnare victims.
Recently, older teenage boys have been increasingly targeted. They are particularly susceptible to females, usually unknown, who approach them on social media and offer to exchange intimate images. In most cases, the female then extorts the victim for money, to be paid through a credit or gift card.
The popular social media app Snapchat has been involved in recent cases. Snapchat has a “My Eyes Only” folder option where the user can save personal media. Predators have learned to dupe victims into believing that they have accessed or can access content in this folder that the victim would find embarrassing should it be shared more widely.
Victims comply often due to shame and embarrassment, which predators capitalize on.
The thing to remember if your child is victimized by sextortion is just that: your child is a victim. Do not blame or criticize the child. Focus instead on addressing the problem and making this a learning experience.
Youth are still developing. Their brains are wired in such a way that they need to establish relationships. Online activity is one way of doing that. This need predisposes today’s youth to dangerous online activities and possibly victimization, a threat most adults today didn’t face growing up.
With incidents of sextortion increasing, there are basic steps that youth, and people of all ages, can take to protect against being victimized:
- Don’t put too much information on social media. The world does not need to know your full name, date of birth or school. Predators use information as weapons.
- Use privacy settings on your social media accounts. Don’t let just anybody see all your information and don’t make friend lists available to everybody.
- Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know!
- Don’t accept a video chat from people you don’t know. If you do, leave the camera off until you confirm that the person is legitimate.
- Don’t create or even share “nudes.” What doesn’t exist can’t be used against you.
- Establish acceptable boundaries for online conversations. When you encounter something online that crosses those boundaries, end the communication.
Unfortunately, mistakes will happen. Predators can be very skilled and aggressive. If you are targeted in any way, especially after sharing a nude image, the best advice is to stop communicating and never comply with demands. Find a safe adult to talk to about what happened.
Do not let shame or embarrassment stop you from seeking help from a trusted adult or the police. And remember, a mistake doesn’t have to define you for the rest of your life. You can learn from it and move on.