A teenage girl sends a message via social media to a teenage boy who has shared online how upset he is with school and his parents. The boy doesn’t know the girl, so he checks-out her Facebook profile picture — wow! She is beautiful! They strike up a friendship. Soon, the friendship takes a more serious turn and she sends him a naked photo and asks him to send her one in return. He complies. Then the bottom falls out.
The boy learns that this beautiful girl with whom he has shared his most intimate secrets is actually a 47-year old man, posing as a young girl.
Soon, the man demands additional photos… and videos of the boy… performing various sex acts. If the boy doesn’t comply? The man threatens to share the initial naked photo on social media, send it to his parents and also share it with administrators and teachers at his school.
And so it begins…
Sadly, this scenario is playing itself out all over the world. This newest form of child exploitation via digital blackmail is called “sextortion”.
What is sextortion?
Sextortion is the newest form of digital blackmail where victims are coerced into sending sexually explicit images (or videos) to a perpetrator who uses threats (blackmail) regarding the release of those images and then extorts additional images from the victim. Sometimes, sextortion extends to monetary payment from the victim or even in-person sexual acts.
Detective Sergeant Chris Cecil with the Indiana State Police is a cyber crime investigator who has seen a rise in the number of sextortion cases involving boys and girls. “We are seeing children being victimized from all over the world,” Chris shared in a BeAKidsHero podcast interview about sextortion. He notes that many child exploitation images are recycled over the years and adds, “I’ve seen stuff that has been around since the 70’s.”
Chris shares that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) tracks images of children around the world who have been exploited. NCMEC uses mathematical algorithms to digitally track and catalog these images with the hopes of eventually identifying victims.
“(We) just don’t know who (many of) these children are,” Chris says. “We just hope one day someone, a police officer or someone else, will be able to identify them.”
Chris shares a few NCMEC sextortion statistics:
- The average age for a sextortion victim is 15
- Typical age range for females = 9-17
- Typical age range for males = 12-17
The NCMEC also reports that, “Sextortion most commonly occurr(s) via phone/tablet messaging apps, social networking sites, and during video chats.”
Sextortion most commonly occurr(s) via phone/tablet messaging apps, social networking sites, and during video chats.
He adds that 78% of sexual predators use sextortion with the end goal being to collect additional photos of their child victims. While some extort money or actually meet the child in person for the purpose of sexual assault, most build a library of images and videos that they can view and also share on The Dark Web.
“It’s like going to a conference of perverts where they are sharing different things they’ve done,” Chris states. He says The Dark Web offers anonymity to criminals with various interests from credit card theft to child predation. Through blogs that are very difficult to access, child exploitation images are traded and shared, with a large demand for ‘new material’ which is one factor driving the ever-growing sextortion industry.
To get those additional images, sexual predators are savvy. They will learn all they can about a potential child victim through that child’s online presence via Facebook, Twitter, kik, Omegle and other social media platforms.
“Within a couple of quick clicks, you can find out a lot of information about someone,” Chris cautions.
He also shares that a variety of manipulation tactics are used by sexual predators. They will develop bonds with kids through flattery (“You’re so pretty” or “You’re so hot”). Girls are often a target for sextortion, but Chris reminds us that boys are victimized, as well.
“For boys, 9 times out of 10 men will pose as teenage girls,” Chris shares. He said another common ploy is for a predator to say, “I’ll show you a picture of me and my girlfriend having sex if you’ll send me a naked photo of you.” The perpetrator then captures random porn from the Internet and shares it with unsuspecting teen, who often then complies after viewing the video.
A current sextortion case: the FBI requests your help!
In one of the largest cases of online sextortion, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is asking for the public’s help. From the FBI:
“Lucas Michael Chansler victimized nearly 350 teenage girls over a several-year period ending in January 2010. To date, the FBI has identified and located 109 of those victims and is actively working to identify others to help provide them closure and assistance. If you have information that may help identify victims of Lucas Michael Chansler—or if you believe you may have been victimized by him—please complete our Office for Victim Assistance’s confidential questionnaire.”
The FBI shares three videos about sextortion and this horrendous case, in particular. Parents of teens, please share these videos with your kids so they can better understand the very real dangers in what, on the surface, may seem to be innocent relationships being struck-up online.
In this video, Jacksonville Special Agent Larry Meyer who led the FBI’s investigation of Lucas Michael Chansler, shares information about the case and what the public can do to help identify additional child victims.
One of Chansler’s victims, Ashley Reynolds, was only 14 when she was victimized by this online predator in 2009.
Feeling there was no other way out, Ashely shares, “I gave him the pictures and I got to keep my reputation.” (See video below.)
What can parents do?
In Ashley’s video (above), she offers insight for parents, teachers and other caring adults that might help them protect a child in their life who has been victimized:
“… I just wish there were, like, outlets—available outlets—for a 14-year-old’s brain if they are too afraid to go to their parents, because they don’t want to go to their parents and tell them what’s happening to them. So if they had a different way to go about it, then I think that would make it a lot more comfortable and it would make it, it would kind of start get the ball rolling for them and to put an end to what they are going through.”
If you discover your child or a child you know is a victim of sextortion, immediately do the following:
- DO NOT delete or erase anything, be it texts, messages, images, videos… anything!
- Immediately contact your local law enforcement agency
- You can also file a report to the NCMEC CyberTipline or call 1-800-THE LOST (1-800-843-5678).
To help prevent your child from becoming a victim, “Take an interest in what your kids are doing!” Chris says. He recommends parents actively look at their kid’s digital devices to review their apps and/or take the time to Google and learn more about what certain apps do… if it allows anonymity or the ability to delete histories and things like that, “they are bad news”, Chris says.
Listen to your “spider sense”, Chris encourages. If you think something isn’t quite right with your child, you are likely correct.
Chris also says computer monitoring software can be very helpful, but parents need to beware of falling into the trap of solely trusting the software and cautions it shouldn’t be relied on as a supervisory tool in place of parenting.
Remember: your action… or your inaction… can greatly impact your child’s online (and offline) safety.
A decorated U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Chris Cecil’s diverse background lead him to his current position as Detective Sergeant in the Cyber Crimes Unit of the Indiana State Police where he serves as a computer forensic examiner. Notably, Chris served as the lead forensic investigator in the federal child exploitation case involving former Subway spokesman Jared Fogel and the former Jared Foundation Executive Director Russell Taylor. He began his studies in computer forensics at the University of Central Florida and graduated cum laude from the University of Evansville where he double majored in Archaeology and Religion, while minoring in Philosophy. Later, he briefly attended law school at the California Western School of Law in San Diego, California. Cultivating his investigative interests, he was a terrestrial/nautical archaeologist in various locations around the U.S. and was also certified as a commercial hardhat diver, performing most of his archaeological dives off the west coast of Florida. Chris later entered the world of retail and was recognized as a leading sales representative for the Men’s Warehouse. It was there that he met an Indiana State Trooper who forever changed the course of Chris’ career. Joining the Indiana State Police in 2004, he was later assigned to the Tactical Intervention Platoon (TIP) and, for five years, served as a Hostage Crisis Negotiator (HCN). In 2007, Chris was promoted and reassigned to the Criminal Investigations Division as a detective.
Chris began his law enforcement career in computer forensics in 2010. He was one of the few Indiana State Police sworn personnel selected to be a Digital Media Recovery Specialist (DMRS) and has conducted numerous investigations concerning the dissemination of child pornography over the Internet via peer-to-peer file sharing programs, many of which have been successfully prosecuted in federal court. A decorated law enforcement officer, Chris has received several awards including:
- United States Attorney’s Award from the Office of the US Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana for ‘Outstanding Contribution to a Prosecution Resulting in a Guilty Plea’ for his leadership on a complex child exploitation investigation involving multiple child victims from northern and southern Indiana
- 2013 National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s Certificate of Honorable Mention award for his efforts to combat online child exploitation
- Indiana State Police Meritorious Commendation Award for leading a complex child exploitation investigation involving multiple child victims
To connect with Chris, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to listen to Chris’ podcast interview with Ginger.
Raising awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse has become Ginger’s life mission. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger regularly blogs about child protection issues and has produced printable references for parents and other caring adults including “12 Scary Apps”. Click here for your free copy of this informative 13-page report. Along with her husband John and pets Lexi and Chase, Ginger enjoys traveling, skiing, hiking, brisk mornings, colorful sunsets and just hangin’ at home with “the Pack”.
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