Why young boys are increasingly the targets of 'sextortion' in Canada, according to experts
Experts are raising the alarm over an increase in threats against children based on sexual images, a tactic known as 'sextortion.'
"I would say the most common ages that are targeted are 15 to 17-year-olds. But in the last few months, we're seeing younger and younger children targeted for sextortion," said Signy Arnason, associate executive director at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (C3P).
"We've seen 20 per cent of our cases involving kids 13 and under."
Canada's tip line for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children, Cybertip.ca, now receives an average of 10 sextortion reports per day. Within these cases, 91 per cent of victims are male.
"Sextortionists have come up with a recipe that works. The engagement with them is quite quick. It is highly sexually charged. Boys are vulnerable to that," said Arnason.
Parents need to have open conversations with their children about the potential risks of online activity, Arnason says.
"You cannot bury your head in the sand and think this is never going to happen to my child because it happens so quickly, especially with sextortion," she said.
"We're continuing to see more and more kids ending their own lives as a result of this. It's every parent's worst nightmare," cautions Arnason.
Tied to the rise in sextortion is the emergence of so-called "recovery scams," where fraudsters retarget their victims, claiming they can recover intimate images for a fee.
But once a photo is online, the chances of deleting it completely are very slim, warns cybersecurity expert Steve Waterhouse.
"Depending on the extent of where the pictures were taken, we can assume nowadays in 2023 that they've been copied over and over and over again across the internet. So, for one to say they will be able to get a hold of the pictures of someone, yeah, he could get a copy of them. But somewhere else at the other corner of the internet, somebody will still have a copy of it," he said.
With the return to school around the corner, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) says it is aware of the issue and has adjusted its sex-ed curriculum. The EMSB has partnered with organizations like The Canadian Child Protection Centre and Love Quebec to make lesson plans about safety online and offline.
"It's teaching kids how to be safe and that what you put online is no longer yours. The more education we give, hopefully, they will make better, more informed choices as they're getting older," said Jamie Quinn, an educational consultant for EMSB.
Montreal police say there has been a rise in cases, particularly since the start of summer. The Internet Child Sexual Exploitation Unit has received just over 100 complaints so far in 2023,compared to 30 for the same period last year.
Police say these tips can help teens stay safe:
- Use a pseudonym and profile photo that do not reveal your age, place of residence or interests
- Activate controls and adjust application privacy settings to restrict the audience for posts, photos and videos, and set your profile to private
- Never undress in front of a camera (photo or video), even for your partner. Once intimate images of yourself have been sent, you lose control of them
- Immediately cease all communication with anyone who threatens to produce or publish a video, and immediately inform an adult. It's illegal to threaten anyone, whether on the Internet or in real life
- Never send money or new photos or videos
- Be on the lookout for signs to watch out for, such as insistence on staying in close contact and conversations that quickly take a sexual turn.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE A VICTIM OF SEXTORTION
- Quickly notify an adult of the situation
- Contact your local police station or call 911
- Keep the originals (e-mail, text message, photo, video, etc.). These are pieces of evidence that may contain information that can be used to trace a person.
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