‘If a child has access to electronics, then a predator has access to them’: Experts warn sextortion of kids is increasing

'If a child has access to electronics, then a predator has access to them': Experts warn sextortion of kids is increasing

The shocking death of a 12-year-old boy in B.C. is renewing conversations about how to better protect young people online.

Police have linked his suicide to online sexual extortion, the practice of demanding sexual favours or money, by threatening to expose intimate images of the victim online. A youth gang and exploitation counsellor says the young boy isn’t alone in his pain.

“If a child has access to electronics, then a predator has access to them,” said Mia Golden, who works through the Pacific Centre Family Services Association with the Mobile Youth Services Team (MYST), which she coordinates with Victoria Police.

Experts in the field agree: sextortion of kids is on the rise.

“We’re seeing an increase. RCMP are seeing an increase across Canada, so yeah, it is a growing challenge,” said Brandon Laur with the White Hatters, a Langford-based digital literacy and internet safety education specialist company which facilitates workshops and provides presentations on technology safety and privacy subjects.

Canada’s national youth tipline for online sexual crimes receives an average of 50 sextortion reports every week. Predators overwhelmingly target boys, typically for money. Girls are extorted for more images.

Predator packages, a template much like a call centre salesperson has, are even being sold on the dark web.

But there’s an even darker trend emerging.

“Now what we’re seeing which is new, is they’re grooming children into the world of pedophilia,” said Golden. “They’re sending a 14, 15, 13, or 12 year old, images of six-year-olds.”

Golden says some kids are being groomed by pedophiles to normalize pedophilia, asked to send sexual pictures, which are used as blackmail to keep the child in the pedophile circle or to provide more photos.

“I was talking to one young boy and they said ‘a MAP is talking to me.’ I said ‘a MAP?’ He said ‘yeah, you know, a ‘minor attracted person.” So even the language is being minimized. It’s being normalized,” said Golden.

Those conversations are happening wherever kids are online, experts say. On Roblox, video games, Instagram or Snapchat.

“Love bombing is probably one of the most effective tactics. Giving gifts, giving virtual gifts. A lot of online games you can pay for in game items,” said Laur.

“Then it begins to turns a bit sexual. And then that social obligation comes in, they think you gave me a gift so I should probably stay in talks with you because that would be the polite thing to do. But again, you’re under no obligation to maintain that conversation.”

Some predators catfish, creating online accounts, a tactic often used by gangs using the images of their existing sex trafficking victims. Organized criminals have them record bait videos, asking their online target to do something sexual on screen which is later used as blackmail.

The advice from experts for parents? Keep the conversations open and ongoing.

For kids: don’t believe the threats.

“Although they often say they’re going to post these images online, most of the time it’s not going to happen,” said Laur, referring to a common threat predators make in their sextortion attempts.

“If they post those images, there are way too many law enforcement agencies in North America that are going to latch onto that, and do an investigation and that’s a risk they just don’t want to take. They’re just looking for money.”

If something inappropriate is happening on the internet, you can seek help and advice through NeedHelpNow.ca and report it CyberTip.ca.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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