New Brunswick

Sextortion on the rise in N.B. — how to protect your child

Last week, New Brunswick RCMP reported they’ve received 23 reports of online sextortion since the start of the year.

Increase linked to overseas criminal networks, boys 15-17 most often targeted

A cell phone with social media apps open is shown in the palm of a hand.
Last week New Brunswick RCMP said they’ve received 23 reports of online sextortion since the start of the year. (CBC)

WARNING: This story contains details about sexual extortion.


More Canadian young people, including those in New Brunswick, are becoming victims of online sextortion, according to the RCMP and experts in the field.

Last week, New Brunswick RCMP said they've received 23 reports of online sextortion since the start of the year.

Stephen Sauer, director of Cybertip.ca, said the organization receives about 10 reports a day from youth across Canada looking for help related to sextortion.

"We're seeing ever-increasing numbers of kids coming in looking for support," said Sauer. 

What is online sextortion?

Online sextortion is when sexually explicit images and video are used to blackmail individuals for money or other financial gain. The images can be ones actually taken by the victim or manufactured to look like the victim. 

In the case of young people, the images are often sent to what the victim may think are other people their own age on social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram or Wizz.

Sauer said much of the rise of online sextortion can be linked to overseas criminal networks.

A bald man with glasses wears a navy shirt.
Stephen Sauer, director of Cybertip.ca, says the organization receives about 10 reports a day from youth looking for help in sextortion schemes. (Canadian Centre for Child Protection)

"A lot of the extortion cases that we're dealing with come from criminal or organized criminal networks in Africa, in Nigeria specifically and in the Ivory Coast," said Sauer. 

"It's really about groups that are coming together and realizing that they have this vulnerability in North American youth and in terms of their ability to comply and pay money."

However Matthew Johnson, a director of education for Media Smarts, said while crimes committed by overseas gangs may draw more headlines, it's important to remember there are also bad actors closer to home.

"Based on the best evidence we have, in about two-thirds of cases young people know the perpetrator," said Johnson. 

"It is very often peers, past romantic partners, other people whom they know."

Who is being targeted?

Anyone can be targeted by sextortionists.

But Sauer said there does seem to be an increase in targeting youth — especially teenage boys.

"Right now, the demographics are showing that, especially for financial sextortion, that it is about 70 to 80 per cent males and we have mainly ages between 15 and 17 being affected," said Sauer.

"However, we see kids as young as 10 coming in when they've been extorted as a result of an incident."

What can youth do?

Sauer said young people need to learn about the dangers — and how to protect themselves.

"I think kids need to know a little bit more about what online sexual violence is and the control that they have over stopping this or at least preventing it," said Sauer.

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'It's so important that as parents we have an open and ongoing conversation with our kids about their media lives so they know that if something like this happens, they can come to us and we will help them,' says Johnson (Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock)

"[If] someone that they don't know is contacting them, it's important that they [don't] reply to them. There's no need to reply to aggressive tactics."

If a youth does become a victim of sextortion, Johnson said they should record the evidence and seek help from the authorities.

"You want to have evidence that this demand has been made that someone is asking you to do something, is putting this pressure on you," said Johnson.

"And you want to seek help from someone who's in a position to help you."

What can parents and caregivers do?

Parents and caregivers can best help to prevent sextortion by having frank, honest, non-judgmental discussions with their children about sexuality and online safety, said Johnson.

A bearded man in a burgundy button-down top sits at a desk front of a computer, turning to look toward the camera.
Matthew Johnson, director of education for Media Smarts, says while crimes committed by criminal networks overseas may draw more headlines, it’s important to remember there are also online dangers closer to home. (Toni Choueiri/CBC)

"It's so important that as parents, we have an open and ongoing conversation with our kids about their media lives so they know that if something like this happens, they can come to us and we will help them," said Johnson. 

"We're not gonna freak out. We're not going to take away their devices or their social networks. We're going to help them find a solution."

Sauer said it's also important not to blame parents when sextortion happens.

"There's no way they can watch their kid 24/7," said Sauer. 

"There's no way you can monitor every activity that your child is engaged in online, no matter what kind of software you have."

Where to get help

Johnson said there are ways to force websites to remove sexually explicit images.

"Under Canadian law, under the intimate images law, a judge can order an intimate image that was shared without consent to be taken down by any online platform anywhere in the world," said Johnson.

There are also several places to reach out to if you've been the victim of online sextortion:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jordan Gill

Reporter

Jordan Gill is a CBC reporter based out of Fredericton. He can be reached at jordan.gill@cbc.ca.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton and CBC News at 6

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