Children are not only avid users of social media, they are also fairly naïve. That makes them ideal candidates for sextortion. One of the newer forms of sexual exploitation, sextortion uses the internet to coerce victims, including unsuspecting children, in order to obtain sexual photos, videos or money, or to engage in sex.
Here’s how it often works. A girl reaches out on social media to share feelings or vent. Then one day she receives a response from a boy she doesn’t know, who offers understanding words. A correspondence ensues and before long explicit photos are exchanged. Escalating from here, the boy, who is actually an older man, wants more photos and threatens to expose her if she doesn’t provide them.
Sextortion predators snare victims through phone and tablet apps, social networking sites and video chats. Detective Sergeant Chris Cecil, a crime investigator with the Indiana State Police, says the majority of sexual predators use sextortion to collect photos of victims, building a library of images and videos they can share on the Dark Web, an encrypted network that makes the items difficult to trace.
Offenders can find out a lot of information about potential victims “within a couple of quick clicks,” Cecil says. Then they develop bonds through flattery, hiding their true identity. “For boys, 9 times out of 10, men will pose as teenage girls.”
Sexual predators are savvy. They will scour Facebook, Twitter, kik and other online platforms to learn as much as they can about potential victims. Then they will use a variety of manipulation techniques, such as complimenting victims on how pretty or hot they are.
In an analysis of sextortion reports received between October 2013 and June 2015, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) found the following
- Seventy-eight percent of victims were female, 12 percent were male (in 10% of reports, no gender was given)
- Female victims ranged from 8 to 17 years old, males, from 11 to 17 years old
- In 22 percent of reports, there was suspicion or knowledge of multiple children targeted by same offender
Sadly, once explicit images get onto the web, it’s hard to remove them. Detective Cecil notes many are recycled for years. “I‘ve seen stuff that has been around since the ‘70s,” he says.
The best weapon against sextortion is to prevent it from happening in the first place. If you suspect a child you know is being pursued or is a victim of sextortion, immediately do the following
- Do not erase any texts, messages, images or videos
- Contact local law enforcement
- File a report with the NCMEC CyberTipline or call 1-800-843-5678
“Listen to your spider sense,” Detective Cecil encourages. “If you think something isn’t quite right with a child, you are likely correct.”
BeAKidsHero™ is an initiative to educate parents, teachers and other caring adults around the globe about protecting the children in their lives from abuse and neglect. Founded by Child Advocate and Child Forensic Interviewer Ginger Kadlec, www.beakidshero.com spotlights child protection best practices and tips, as well as features a host of resources and information about issues related to child abuse awareness, prevention and intervention ranging from child sexual abuse facts and prevention to cyberbullying, sextortion and Internet safety. Parents are invited to participate in a free three-part video training series about protecting kids of all ages from sexual abuse. To enroll, visit www.sexualabusepreventionsystem.com.
The BeAKidsHero™ column on CW NEWS is released biweekly on Tuesdays.