Every day, 19 kids are the victims of online sexual exploitation.
We wish we were kidding but you read that right.
The online predators of today are changing their tactics as they prey on young kids. It’s not just about deceiving them into thinking they’re talking with a fellow teen like the catfishers we grew up with. They’re going a step further now and, as these traps for kids exponentially grow, the consequences can be deadly.
What is the name of this new online danger?
It’s called sextortion and it happens when a predator threatens to expose a child’s sexual images for their own personal gain.
It only takes a predator on the internet three steps to trap a child.
Step 1) They make contact, pretending to be someone else (often a member of the opposite sex).
Step 2) They establish a romantic relationship and ask the kid to send explicit photos.
Step 3) Once the photos are sent, they threaten to post them on social media sites unless the kid gives them money or more sexual images in exchange for silence.
Through their threats to publicize the sensitive photos of their victim, the predator takes control of the situation. They play on the kid’s shame and fear of what will happen if the pictures are released to force them to comply. Even if the kid meets their initial demand for additional pictures or money, many online predators will escalate their threats and extract more from their victim as they continue to blackmail them into compliance.
Now, we know how shocking this is.
Maybe you’re thinking it sounds too crazy to be true. Or that your kid would know better and never fall victim to such a threat.
Here’s the thing…
…sextortion is not going away and it’s becoming more dangerous than ever.
These stats can’t be ignored:
The FBI has tackled over 3,000 sextortion cases but estimates the number is much larger because many are too ashamed to report their case.1
Boys aged 14-17 are the primary target of these schemes.
In 79% of cases, the predator demands money from their victim instead of more explicit images.2
At least 12 suicides have been directly linked to sextortion.
Boys as young as 10 have been the targets of sextortion.
Now that you know what sextortion is, let’s answer the burning question.
How do we protect our kids against online sexual exploitation?
As fellow parents, we know it’s terrifying to think your kid might fall victim to a predator on the internet like this. But you can’t stand there frozen in fear. It’s time to spring into action because ignoring the problem leaves our kids vulnerable.
Be proactive by sitting down with your kids who are online and putting a 4-step plan of action in place in case sextortion ever happens to them.
Step 1) Tell someone about it.
An online predator’s greatest power over their victim is their ability to exploit the kid’s natural sense of shame over the sexual images they sent. Frantic over how it could affect their reputation or expose them to bullying, a kid may feel that the worst thing that could happen is the release of their pictures. Rather than run the risk of exposure, they quietly comply with their abuser's demands.
Online predators rely on this silence to continue the extortion. Without it, they lose control over their victim.
If your kid has become one of the victims of sextortion, it’s vital they speak up immediately. Remind them that NO MATTER what they’ve done, your opinion of them won’t change. Reassure them that they are safe to confide in you without fear of judgment or shame. Tell them you are always on their side to protect and help them in any situation.
When you establish this foundation with your kid, you give them the key to breaking a cycle of sextortion. Instead of suffering shame in silence, you empower them to speak up before the situation spins further out of control.
Step 2) Stop all contact with the predator.
When caught in a cycle of sextortion, this might sound terrifying to your kid. What will happen next? Will their abuser follows through with their threats to post the explicit images they have online?
Sextornionists keep control by making their victims believe their life will be over if they don’t comply. They will convince kids that they don’t have options and that there’s no way out. The predator is wrong and the greatest risk lies in continuing to comply. Meeting their abuser’s demands doesn’t mean they will stop and, many times, the demands only increase.
As you’re educating your kid about how to respond if they fall victim to online sextortion, teach them what the real question is. It’s not “What will this predator do if I stop communicating with them?”
Rather, the question is “Am I willing to do this forever?”
Remind them that compliance doesn’t mean the online predator will leave them alone. It doesn’t solve the situation. Any more chats or sessions keep them in the manipulative grasp of their abuser. Help them to break free from the situation by empowering them to end all communication.
Once the contact is severed the battle to bring them to justice can begin.
Step 3) DON’T delete anything.
If your kid has been caught in a sextortion scheme, it’s natural they’d feel an overwhelming sense of shame and embarrassment after they’ve managed to free themselves. They may feel the urge to get rid of the images and messages that remind them of the terrible situation they just went through.
It’s absolutely necessary to keep your kid from acting on this urge because those details are the key to bringing an online predator to justice.
Keep every single interaction between your kid and the sextortionist.
Your support becomes critically important at this point. As you’re guiding them through the aftermath of being a victim of sextortion, encourage them with affirmations of their self-worth. Remember how difficult it may be for them to show you the details of everything that happened during their sextortion.
As they open up about what happened, it's likely they’ll feel afraid that your perception of them will change. The best thing you can do is to be their biggest advocate and remind them it’s no longer their shame to bear. In their vulnerable position, they will need to hear this over and over from you.
As their parent, you can be the rock they turn to as they begin to face the emotional and mental ramifications of suffering such abuse.
Step 4) Get the Authorities and Experts Involved.
If your kid has been abused by a sextortionist, it’s imperative to get law enforcement and child advocates involved as soon as possible. It may be tempting to feel like there are little resources available but thankfully that’s not the case! Here are two powerful agencies you can turn to.
The Department of Homeland Security
Within the department, an entire team of special agents tackles crimes against children every single day. Gather up the details of your kid’s case and get them involved. If you’ve saved every interaction your kid had with their sextortionist, you can help HSI agents in their search for the online predator.
Not only will you help in the fight for justice for your kid, you can protect other kids from being victimized the same way. The Department of Homeland Security has noted that online predators often work within networks of friends. If they’ve threatened to share explicit images of your kid, they’re likely also threatening friends or others your kid knows. One little detail can make the difference in bringing a predator to justice!
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)
NCMEC is the largest and most influential organization leading the fight to protect children and has a multitude of resources for victims and their families.
Their sextortion tip line, CyberTipline.org, is a powerful tool for getting your kid connected with the right law enforcement. As soon as NCMEC reviews the details of a case, they compile a report and make it available to the government agencies that will get involved to help you and your kid.
NCMEC also provides support services like crisis intervention and local counseling referrals for kids and families trying to recover in the aftermath of sextortion. It’s a harrowing experience for all and not one that needs to be handled alone. NCMEC’s Team HOPE program connects families with others who have had similar experiences and can offer compassion and teach coping skills.
The list doesn’t stop with these organizations, though! There are many other resources out there, fighting for justice and hope for victims and their families.
In the end, sextortion is deadly serious but not hopeless.
As a parent, the biggest step you can take to prevent sextortion is to communicate with your kid. Have an open and ongoing conversation about the dangers of sending explicit images to an online stranger but don’t forget to reinforce over and over your unconditional support and love.
This is the key. Become the most trustworthy person in your kid’s life so they’ll never hesitate to turn to you.
Want to be proactive rather than reactive? The Aqua One smartphone was made for moments like this.
With the activity feed in your Parent Dashboard, you can see every action they take on their Aqua One smartphone. Every picture they take. Every message they send or receive. It’s all there.
Through their answers to the Mental Health Checks, you’ll have unparalleled insight into the ups and downs of their emotional health. With all this knowledge, you can start conversations about predators and sextortion before they become victimized.
Ready to dive in?